Lens

“Of all forms of slavery there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color. One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.”  ~Booker T. Washington (source)

That’s an actual quote by Booker Washington.  You can read more of his words at Wikiquote, or download his books from Project Gutenberg.

It’s important to note how he really spoke.

I’m reading a biography of him written during the 40s, and it’s somewhat confusing.  The author is lavish with his praise and unflinching in describing the myriad obstacles Washington was forced to overcome, yet read this sample of dialogue:

“O Lawd, de cotton am so grassy, de work am so hard, and the sun am so hot dat I b’lieve this darky am called to preach!”

That’s racist, demeaning, dehumanizing, and based on the works Booker Washington created in his lifetime, it’s not historically accurate– yet that’s the way every Black person speaks in this book.

I’m sure the author thought of himself as progressive and impartial, and never saw the log in his eye.  He didn’t think of himself as a bad person with bad thoughts, nor did his neighbors, his editor, or his publishers, or his audience.  That was the way Amos ‘n’ Andy talked on the radio, they way Blacks were portrayed in movies, and I’m sure he considered this an accurate representation of Black speech patterns.

And that’s a lesson we should all take to heart.  In the lens of his own time, he was ahead of the curve; that’s why we all have to be on guard against the ingrained preconceptions and prejudices of or own times, and do our best to recognize and break patterns that don’t serve the greater good.

 

1 Comment

  1. excellent!

    Like

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