“But the burden of whiteness is this: You can live in the world of myth and be taken seriously.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Last December, the long-time editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer, departed from the venerable American magazine. A number of prominent writers quickly began to publicly mourn his departure, and one that did not was the award winning African-American journalist and writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Instead, he wrote a piece for The Atlantic, a subaltern version of the magazine’s history, quite Trouillotian, and reminded lamenting folk that Foer was, indeed, alive and well, as was the magazine’s ardent racism during his tenure. Then, the sharks began to circle.
“I argue that enslaved women entered the [Civil] War already abandoned– as outside war. Despite pro slavery narratives of Black loyalty, Black women’s resistance to slavery had already marked them as inside war…as enemies of the state. The War elaborated that position. Their flight, fight did not go unmarked as Confederate forces targeted them for torture, massacre and re-enslavement.”–Duke historian, Thavolia Glymph
I have been thinking of these words, taken from a 2011 lecture, by historian Thavolia Glymph for the last few days. Speaking, she names three Civil War battles I know little about, save for their names, their memorials, their state parks—Mark’s Mills, Goodrich’s Landing, and Miliken’s Bend. Her words depict the landscape of violence that was these famous battles between 1863 and 1864, the gratuitous color of red nothing new, in particular. I imagine, through her descriptions, the families of Black plantation women and children at Goodrich’s Landing bolted inside of cabins for the sole purpose of live incineration. In this lecture as with the bulk of her work, she sorts out Black women, names them, then speaks of the ways in which their bodies were used and disposed during these campaigns or placed intentionally on plantations by Union officials who knew well in advance that Confederate soldiers would attack those same plantations with the intentions of either killing or re-enslaving Black women who had sought asylum and safety.
I am currently working on an article that looks at both the legal and defacto policies of racial segregation within Canada’s public schooling system through the 1960’s. This curiosity comes from a larger, more pragmatic desire to articulate the relationship more clearly between Canada’s self-perception as one distinct from the racial traditions of its neighbor and the bottom line of Canadian anti-Black racism itself. Canada’s racism is felt, and its demographics and sociology tell me a familiar story.
I have been thinking about the bleeding geographical line of race that separates the US and Canada, particularly in relation to the way that Canadian abolitionist and media propaganda in the 1800’s harnessed early race discourses with an eye of blame towards and self-distinction from the US. Looking this week at the Separate School Act of 1850 in Upper Canada, it occurred to me that this law was enacted at the same time as the Fugitive Slave Act—the law that, as Eric Foner has described, gave slavery “extra-territoriality,” thus binding a nation to slavery and attaching the legal status of slavery to the Black body wherever it may travel. Here, I am thinking of Saidiyah Hartman’s gorgeous words about the Black body as white spectacle—this idea that the Black body, in its most brutalized historical moments, achieves a recognition, a kind of baseline humanistic agency, if you will, only through white veracity. The Fugitive Slave Act gave white folks the power to say what a Black body was, regardless of the extent or vigor of Black protest. Thus, Solomon Northup.