Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bad Ideas For Class Field Trips

'12 Years A Slave' is considered the overwhelming frontrunner to take Best Picture at the Oscars this year. Let us say, perhaps, that you have seen this movie. Let us further say, perhaps, that you would like to visit one of the plantations in person, so that you may learn more about the institution of slavery right from the horses' mouth.

Let us say you are sorely mistaken as to what you're going to be seeing at that plantation. As Lisa Hix of Collectors Weekly explains in a very in-depth article which you should be clicking on right now instead of listening to me prattle on, many of the Southern plantations open to visitors are run by the descendants of the people who actually ran the plantations in antebellum days. Which sounds like a nice link to the past, but think about whose side of the story that means you're getting. You will be hard-pressed to find a plantation in which the slaves were not, to hear the owners tell it, happy to be enslaved (as invariably, the plantation owner was 'one of the nicer slaveowners'; you will never once find a plantation run by an owner that is admitted to being the slightest bit mean). You will in fact be hard-pressed to find any exhibit featuring life as a slave, especially not any of the implements used to keep the slaves in line, and if you do, it will be only a tiny, microscopic cameo compared with the rest of the tour. You will sometimes not even see the word 'slave' at all, with some plantations preferring the word 'servant'.

What you will see instead is stuff. Lots of stuff. Architecture. Fine china. Antiques. Grand pianos. Nice stuff the plantation owners had in their mansions. All the stuff that completely misses the point of why the building is historically important. Stuff that in reality a slave was ordered to polish up and/or beaten on the accusation that they were trying to steal it. Stuff that a lot of the slaves never even got to see because they spent all day in the cotton fields and in some beat-up shack that served as their home (which has typically long since been torn down so as not to draw attention away from the stuff, and if it's been kept around, it's presented as an example of how the slaves chose to live, which, no no no no no no no no no).

This is considered an improvement from years past, when the plantations didn't mention it nearly as much.

Again, do go ahead and click through to Hix's article.

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