On Monday night, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a riveting speech that ended with a mic drop so loud, that it rang from sea to shining sea.
The most gut wrenching part of her speech was when she acknowledged that it means a lot for her to see her two girls playing on the White House lawn with their two dogs, knowing that they were living in a house built by slaves. She said,
That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
What FLOTUS said was a punch in the face for those who glossed over that fact in their 7th grade civics courses, one of those people being Fox News pundit Bill O’Rilley. Instead of taking the comment for what it was – a stain in the fabric of our country’s history – Bill O’Rilley offered his thoughts on the subject, and now he looks like a jack ass.
He said on his Fox News Channel show, The O’Rilley Factor, on Tuesday night,
“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.”
The problem with his comments is that it contains a lot of inaccuracies and assumptions.
That said, I did a little research about why Bill O’Rilley’s response to Michelle Obama’s speech is an issue.You can thank Very Smart Brothers for the style of writing inspo.
So what’s wrong with what Bill said? Slaves were paid, am I right?
You are absolutely correct. But it wasn’t like they were getting money to pay their mortgages and horse carriages, while taking the kiddos out to eat at the local restaurant on Friday nights. Nope. Many were trying to purchase their freedom. According to DC.gov, as the nation’s capital was developing, a vast majority of those slaves were not paid for their work, and the ones who were free were not permitted to freely roam about the country.
Oh really? How so?
There were no laws in DC that allowed slaves or blacks to leave the area.
Plus, at that time, getting caught outside of the city where you lived and worked as a black person was not the headache you wanted in your life during slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 authorized local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners, as well as giving penalties to anyone who aided or abetted in a slave’s escape. That said, a lot of mistakes were made when it came to the Fugitive Slave Act.
The worst case scenario in relation to the Fugitive Slave Act was that many slaves, especially the ones who could prove they were free, could find themselves kidnapped. Was being kidnapped a bad thing during slavery? Well Solomon Northrup – a free man who lived and worked in New York – was kidnapped for dollars, sold into slavery, and remained one for 12 years. But for Harriet Tubman, who had her niece kidnapped (it’s believed that her niece was actually her daughter conceived by rape), this was perhaps a good thing.
But weren’t some of them free? Operative word, “free”?
Once again, free slaves could not leave the area.
As for the ones who were still in bondage, but permitted to earn money, the word “freedom” was a tricky word. A lot of slave owners granted their slaves freedom when they purchased it, in their wills upon their deaths, or after the slave reached a certain age. But there is a such thing as being screwed over in a contract or will.
For example, Harriet Tubman’s family, who were a slaves in Dorchester County, Md. (a 2 hour drive from DC), were completely screwed over in their master’s will. Her father was manumitted, but the rest of her family was still enslaved. Being the naturally inquisitive woman that she was, Harriet took her deceased master’s will to an attorney to check the legal status of her mother’s freedom. If her mother was free, then that meant the children were free too.
The attorney found that although Harriet’s whole family were to be freed at the ages of 45, their owners had ignored the stipulation, and still made them work as slaves. Legally challenging her master’s will would have been a joke at that time. (Source)
Harriet is just one example. But please believe that other slaves were having the same issues with being screwed over in their master’s wills.
A joke? Come on! She could have totally gone to court and challenged it.
I doubt it.
For starters, there probably weren’t many attorneys who would have taken the case, and the first black attorney didn’t get his law license until 1844. Granted, Harriet didn’t escape until 1849, but she was a slave who more than likely wasn’t getting the paper she needed to effectively sue her owners. Plus, if she sued her owners, where would she live, sleep, and eat? Her body was an investment, and her owner would have sold her off for money before dealing with any lawsuit nonsense. Selling a slave in that era was like selling a dog or a yak. That’s why the word “chattel slavery” is used when referencing slavery in America.
Also, an attorney who took on that kind of case at that time would probably be committing career suicide by challenging the will of a slave owner. Seriously, it was really hard being a sympathetic white person during slavery. Even Thomas Jefferson, who hated slavery, was looked at as a “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
And that was a respectful diss.
Okay, I get it, I get it. But isn’t she race baiting by even bringing it up?
I think you’re using the word “race-baiting” a little too loosely.
According to Merriam-Webster, race-baiting is “the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people.”
In this instance, FLOTUS wasn’t race baiting at all. Making it plain that slaves contributed to the building of a structure in which she wouldn’t have been socially or legally permitted to live in 50 plus years ago is a fact. That’s not swaying an attitude or influencing anyone’s actions. That’s more like addressing the elephant in the room.
A better example would be when New Gingrich brought all of his fragile feelings about illegal immigration to a fact fight during his CNN interview at the 2016 RNC.
Okay, maybe she wasn’t race baiting. But why even bring up the fact that slaves built the White House? Talking about race will divide us quicker than it will unite us, amirite?
If we want to grow as a country, and even as human beings, we have to talk about difficult topics.
So to bring it all home, if you think that blacks were treated unfairly during Jim Crow or slavery, then you’ll probably want to talk about these things, and use your rights as a voter to prevent that disunity from happening again.
Well I don’t want to talk about race. Why can’t we talk about other things, like food porn?
Well, I am definitely a connoisseur of quality food porn, and I’d love nothing more than to
sit around all day, and talk about buttery soft rolls that bounces when they drop on the plate, boudain balls that melts in your mouth, and ooey gooey pizza cheese that wraps around your tongue and runneths over your cup. Whew!
But just like any other black family, I’m raising a black child who still has to live in a world where he must work his butt off to avoid being thrown into special education classes, when he has no disability. He has to be careful when rough housing with his white friends in public, so he isn’t looked at as beating up the child, when really he’s doing what normal 7-year-old boys do. He has to sit in the back seat of our family vehicle, and watch his father get disrespected by police officers when he’s pulled over. That’s just a glimpse of what he has to deal with as a black person in America.
You may want to talk about food porn all day, and that’s your right. But once you come out of that kitchen, you have to live in a world where millions of blacks are having shared experiences that are difficult for us to live in, let alone talk about.
Plus, my food porn is slightly different than your food porn, because I’m black. If you ask me, that’s awesome. Who doesn’t love a good, warm sweet potato pie with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweet potatoes so warm and silky that find yourself questioning your sexual appetite?
Who wouldn’t melt in their chairs after they sink their teeth into a crust so golden and crunchy that it tastes like what Heaven feels like?
So if you want to live in a world where Sarah Lee apple pies are considered the zenith of desert standards, knowing full that Patti LaBelle laughed her way to the bank about it, then be my guest. This America, and you have the freedom to do so.
But as for the rest of us, we know the truth.