5 of the worst whitesplaining excuses for racism | In The News: Harvard, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Top Photo: 2016 found a number of white folks giving half-assed apologies for racist behavior.

READ: 5 of the worst whitesplaining excuses for racism | Fusion


In the News

In Covering Civil Rights, Reporter Enhanced His Words With Film

Rachel L. Swarns and Darcy Eveleigh, Feb. 4, 2017, The New York Times

The copper-jacketed bullet tore through a civil rights worker’s shoulder, stopping within an inch of his spine. The shotgun blast shattered the car windows of four voting rights activists and gouged the wall of a nearby home.

And a fire destroyed voter registration equipment and materials outside the city’s Voter Registration Headquarters, leaving the street strewn with rubble.

It was 1963 in Greenwood, Miss., a major battleground in the fight for civil rights, and white officials were playing down and ignoring a series of attacks intended to discourage thousands of African-Americans from registering to vote.

Claude Sitton, the renowned New York Times correspondent, shot photos and took meticulous notes, exposing the racial violence with his pen and with his lens.


Of all the stats about US prisons, Louisiana’s incarceration rate is among the most shocking. For every 100,000 residents, 868 are in state prison. That’s 0.86% of Louisiana’s population, or nearly 1 in 100 (the worst among all states).

This is what people must mean by mass incarceration.

Instead of debating drug reform or systemic police discrimination, we want to understand prison rates historically. Inspired by Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, we began with the idea that the South’s approach to incarceration has its roots in slavery. Or more specifically, in the Jim Crow laws that targeted former slaves after the Civil War. These laws were eventually abolished, but we know that their legacy continues to the present day. Louisiana’s tragic incarceration rate is just one example among many.



Harriet Tubman fled a life of slavery in Maryland. Now a new visitor center opens on the land she escaped.
By Michael E. Ruane, March 4, 2017, The Washington Post

CHURCH CREEK, MD. — She preferred moving in the darkness of long winter nights.  She didn’t wait for late passengers: The “train” for Zion always left on time.  And she carried a pistol, in case of trouble or flagging hearts.

Her branch of the line began here, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, near places like Tobacco Stick, Kentuck Swamp, and Skeleton Creek, off the Choptank River, to the north.

She was small and the color of a chestnut, as her owner described her when she first ran away. But she was hardened by whippings and work on the timber gangs, and she knew the wilderness as well as a hunter.

On March 11, the National Park Service and the Maryland State Park Service plan to unveil a new visitor center here dedicated to the life and mission of abolitionist and legendary Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.


By Jennifer Schuessler, March 5, 2017, The New York TimesCAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In 1976, archivists at Harvard’s natural history museum opened a drawer and discovered a haunting portrait of a shirtless enslaved man named Renty, gazing sorrowfully but steadily at the camera.  Taken on a South Carolina plantation in 1850, it had been used by the Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz to formulate his now-discredited ideas about racial difference.

On Friday, Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, stood at a lectern under a projection of Renty’s face and began a rather different enterprise: a major public conference exploring the long-neglected connections between universities and slavery.

Harvard had been “directly complicit” in slavery, Ms. Faust acknowledged, before moving to a more present-minded statement of purpose.

“Only by coming to terms with history,” she said, “can we free ourselves to create a more just world.”


The gathering, which featured a keynote address by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, (above) drew an overflow crowd of about 500, including researchers from more than 30 campuses.  Between sessions, there was plenty of chatter about grants and administration politics, as well as some wry amazement, as one scholar was overheard saying that “something we’ve been talking about for 200 years has suddenly become urgent.”


DIGITAL: Slavery’s History in the Age of the Database | Dangerous Times Petition | Harriet Jacobs | Descendants of Criminals

Vincent Brown discusses slavery and the database at Duke University

Source: DIGITAL: Brown on Slavery’s History in the Age of the Database – African Diaspora, Ph.D.

READ: Collective Statement by U.S. History Scholars on Civil Rights and Liberties in Dangerous Times Petition | The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

***** Thanks to Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel for these stories:

Biography of Harriet Jacobs.

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. Harriet’s mother, Delilah, was the slave of John Horniblow, a tavern-keeper, and her father, Daniel Jacobs, a white slave owned by Dr. Andrew Knox.

Source: Harriet Jacobs

Criminals on our shores

Americans have rather romantic ideas about how their country was founded.  We’ve long been fond of the mythology surrounding persecuted people freely traveling to the New World and building the greatest country on Earth.  But, like all history, it’s much, much messier than that.  Our history includes plenty of genocide, slavery, and just a dash of prison folk — and the latter may be news to many Americans who wouldn’t hesitate to make jokes about Australia being populated by the descendants of criminals.  READ

In The News: Hamilton, Harvard, Georgetown, Native American slaves

‘Hamilton’ and History: Are They in Sync?

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER | APRIL 10, 2016 | New York Times

As “Hamilton” fever has swept America, historians have hardly been immune. The megahit Broadway musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has won prestigious honors from the profession, including the 2015 George Washington Book Prize.  More than one scholar has marveled at the show’s detailed presentation of the founding period’s complicated politics — not to mention the way Mr. Miranda’s dazzling rap lyrics pull off rhymes like “line of credit” and “financial diuretic.”

But even among historians who love the musical and its multiethnic cast, a question has also quietly simmered: does “Hamilton” really get Hamilton right?

Read more


Harvard unveils plaque in memory of slaves

By Laura Krantz | The Boston Globe | April 06, 2016

CAMBRIDGE — Harvard president Drew Faust unveiled a plaque Wednesday to honor four slaves who worked at the school in the 1700s, part of a new push by the college to acknowledge slavery’s role in its history.

Faust was joined by US Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights leader who said the best way to cleanse the country of slavery’s stains is not to wipe out its traces but to acknowledge them.

The ceremony came a week after Faust wrote an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson that the “presence and contributions of people of African descent at Harvard have remained a largely untold story.” She has set up a committee of historians to advise her on additional ways Harvard should remember its own ties to slavery and plans to hold a conference on slavery at Harvard soon.

Read more (top Image)


Horrors Pile Up Quietly In ‘The Other Slavery’

April 17, 2016 | Genevieve Valentine | NPR

 “I preferred a country where I should be absolute master.”

 In 1839, Captain John Sutter arrived in California and began acquiring Native American slaves from several nations to work the land he purchased.  He eventually owned several hundred “Indian slaves,” whom he treated notoriously badly even by the standards of fellow slave-owners.  The circumstances that let Sutter keep these slaves in an ostensibly free territory are part of the complex political and social forces that Andrés Reséndez sets out to unpack in The Other Slavery. But if the book makes anything clear, it’s that the single organizing force was simple: greed, and an absence of empathy that meant a slow genocide for the victims.

The Other Slavery is a necessary work that occupies a loaded historical landscape; Reséndez keeps a deliberate scholarly distance from the material, bringing forth evidence and constructing careful — even conservative — arguments.  But that evidence speaks for itself, and the horrors quietly pile up. The enslavement of communities from North America and the Caribbean broke down entire nations, and irreparably erased cultural and political ecosystems.  American schoolchildren are taught that smallpox was the epidemic that gutted Native American populations after exposure to Europeans; an illness to which they had no immunity ravaged their numbers.  Reséndez suggests nothing less than that the epidemic was actually the Europeans themselves.

Read more


272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

By RACHEL L. SWARNS | APRIL 16, 2016 | New York Times

WASHINGTON — The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South.  Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance.

But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.

Their panic and desperation would be mostly forgotten for more than a century.  But this was no ordinary slave sale.  The enslaved African-Americans had belonged to the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests.  And they were sold, along with scores of others, to help secure the future of the premier Catholic institution of higher learning at the time, known today as Georgetown University.

Read more

In the News: Wall St. Prince of Darkness, Panama Papers

Shane White discusses his new book at the Gotham Center for New York History


Prince of Darkness:
​The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 | Skylight Room​

Shane White reveals the larger-than-life story of a man who defied every convention of his time, Jeremiah Hamilton.  He wheeled and dealed in the lily-white business world, he married a white woman, he bought a mansion in rural New Jersey, he owned railroad stock on trains he was not legally allowed to ride, and generally set his white contemporaries teeth on edge when he wasn’t just plain outsmarting them.  An important contribution to American history, Hamilton’s life offers a way into considering, from the unusual perspective of a black man, subjects that are usually seen as being quintessentially white, totally segregated from the African American past.

All events are free and open to the public, and take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th & 35th Street. Seating, as always, is “first come, first served.”  Books will be available for purchase and signing. For more information, call (212) 817 8471.

More information: http://www.gothamcenter.org/events.html


The Panama Papers –> A massive trove of documents leaked this weekend from a Panamanian law firm connects more than 70 current and former world leaders to offshore tax havens used to secretly hoard billions.  Vladimir Putin plays a central role, reports Luke Harding for The Guardian: “Though the president’s name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern – his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage.  The documents suggest Putin’s family has benefited from this money – his friends’ fortunes appear his to spend.  The files are part of an unprecedented leak of millions of papers from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.  They show how the rich and powerful are able to exploit secret offshore tax regimes in myriad ways.”

++How Mossack Fonseca helped hide millions from Britain’s biggest gold bullion robbery


A memorial to Rebecca Mitchell, a woman born into slavery, at Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond, Va. Credit Brian Palmer

Why Slaves’ Graves Matter

By SANDRA A. ARNOLD | New York Times | APRIL 2, 2016

I GREW up in a small rural town in West Tennessee. My family is rooted in that region, where my ancestors were once enslaved. In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, we regularly attended an old country church that was located in the curve of a gravel road and surrounded by undeveloped Southern land. The church had rustic wooden floors, handmade pews and a piano that was often missing an accompanist. The congregation didn’t mind though; they made their own music, tapping the pews and the floor as they sang.

A short distance away, at the dead end of a dirt path, was the church’s cemetery. According to local oral history, it was established sometime during the 1840s. Most of its burials had headstones with names, dates and sometimes epitaphs. However, the cemetery also contained an area with graves marked only by plain rocks of various sizes. I would eventually discover that the rocks marked the graves of people who had lived and died in the community over the years, including those who had been enslaved.

 Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/opinion/sunday/why-slaves-graves-matter.html

Recognizing Slavery at Harvard

By Drew G. Faust | The Harvard Crimson

I write today about history, about legacies, and about our responsibility to our past and our future. On the morning of April 6, I, joined by Congressman John Lewis, will install a plaque on Wadsworth House in memory of four enslaved persons who lived and worked there during the 18th century in the households of two Harvard presidents. I have also convened a committee of historians from our faculty to advise me about other sites on campus that should be similarly recognized as significant symbols of Harvard’s connections to slavery. Next March, with support from the Office of the President, the Radcliffe Institute will host a major conference on universities and slavery, offering a broader exploration of the complexities of our past.

Listen at: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/3/30/faust-harvard-slavery/


White People Have No Place In Black Liberation

There is no answer to the question of what white people can do for Black liberation, but racism veils reality so easily and efficiently.  It is anti-reality. It makes the impossible seem not only possible, but a worthwhile endeavor.  It truly does keep you, as Toni Morrison said, “from doing your work.  It keeps you explaining, over and over again.”

The dilemma of what white people should do to address racism has the same exhausting function of racism, because this dilemma is racism.  Because for white people “to do” anything means that whiteness must be centered in a way that would perpetuate its oppressive essentiality.

Indeed, there would be no white race, no “race” as we know it, if whiteness weren’t positioned in violent dominion.  That is the only thing it can do.  Whiteness cannot operate in any way that does not first perpetuate white supremacy.