Imagine that some 250 years of slavery that unleashed untold suffering by some 10 million enslaved human beings was done for one reason only: to find a cure for cancer. Imagine the slaves worked from 4 am to 10 pm seven days a week for centuries and at the end, found the looked-for cure. Would that have justified the practice?
No, no, no and again, no. But the salt in the wound is the fact that so much of slave labor was about making sure Europeans and later, North and South Americans, could put sugar in their tea. And later, drink coffee instead of tea, have a piece of chocolate and smoke a cigarette after dinner. All that human misery for sugar which rots your teeth, depletes your energy and makes you fat, for coffee that gives you a little buzz so you have the energy to further exploit the world and for tobacco, that will clog your lungs and eventually kill you. Chocolate is another matter, but hey, we could have lived without it. And then later cotton was more useful, but we got along for millennium without it and still managed to be clothed.
These thoughts and a hundred more bubbling up from the tour of the Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans, the only one dedicated to telling the story from the enslaved Africans point of view. And they do it masterfully. First, by humanizing the statistics with names and first-hand stories. The first side of some bad things happening is the increase of words like “collateral damage,” the purposeful disconnection of heart from head by reducing living, breathing, suffering human beings to some cold data. So the first step in healing is putting faces and names on the people devastated by the system of oppression. But side-by-side is the thoroughly researched and documented evidence of the stories not told and the chilling statistics of the sheer number of human beings treated like property and cared for less than the master’s favorite teacup. Besides the big facts were the small ones describing the process of making sugar and how it created a 4 am to 10 pm daily schedule with barely a moment of rest for seven days a week for the entire lifetime of the worker. Again, so some fat European could sweeten his tea.
And then all the complicity by priests, scientists, politicians, teachers and such to normalize it all and make it legal, morally correct and religiously sanctioned. I’m adding Pope Nicholas V to my list of evil human beings who unleashed a tsunami of human misery, death and destruction and daily crucifixion in the name of his Lord Jesus Christ when he proclaimed his Dum Diversas in 1452. Read for yourself.
As I wrote in Facebook: My new “if I was in charge of the world” rule would be that every tourist in New Orleans (and native citizens as well!) would not be allowed a drink on Bourbon Street until they first went to the Whitney Plantation. The most depressing part of the tour was the guide telling us that the story of slavery was not in the Louisiana school curriculum and thus, simply not taught in schools. This is how purposeful and malicious ignorance goes on that deludes people into thinking they’re qualified to vote. Anyone want to help me make the new law? Tell the bartender one story from one enslaved person per drink. And after knowing those stories, you may just need that drink.