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February 09, 2008

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Jennifr

An excellent post. It speaks of your knowledge, your ethics and your sensitivity to an issue that is ingrained in our history. I commend you.
Like most people, I don't know all 32 of my gg-grandparents, although I know a good amount. All of them were here during the Civil War because I am a descendant of slaves and probably slave owners. It is a fact of my life that I do take for granted until I try researching my ancestors past 1870.
I do not assign guilt. I am more interested in getting documentation of my ancestors' existence. However, maybe because there is some residual shame and guilt, many descendants of slave owners are slow to relinquish the proof to verify the slaves lived.
"I am not satisfied with simply outing my slave-owning ancestors. It is too convenient to simply discredit and dismiss them as a way of distancing myself from the values and attitudes that allowed them to participate in and to profit by a racist system that countenanced slavery. It is too simple to project the expectations of the present on the past. Social change is neither quick nor self-evident..." I agree. It is a complicated undertaking that has taken over 150 years but I think a change is coming.

Tim Abbott

Thank you, Craig. You anticipate what I believe the next steps in this personal journey will be. Moral superiority is something I firmly reject, but how to address and own what is my own part of the story? I make a distinction between guilt and accountability and am striving for the latter. The closer in the narrative I get to my own time, the more difficult it gets, but also the more human the fraility and strengths of those I know and love becomes, and so humanizes the complex human relationships of those I only know through family legend and my genealogical research.

This has felt a bit like taking a self guided tour of the Inferno without any Virgil to interpret. But this medium ensures that I do not walk these paths alone and unobserved. Thanks for what you have offered.

Craig Manson

You have taken on topics that others shy away from. And you seem to have done so with your eyes wide open to the complexities and contradictions inherent in these issues. One thing you say strike me as especially important: "It is too simple to project the expectations of the present on the past. Social change is neither quick nor self-evident..." It's also important not to fall into the trap of deciding comparative moral superiority; we all lose on that account. You also say "I am not satisfied with simply outing my slave-owning ancestors. It is too convenient to simply discredit and dismiss them as a way of distancing myself from the values and attitudes that allowed them to participate in and to profit by a racist system that countenanced slavery." That's important; but don't make the mistake of wearing their shame instead of your own. What am I to make, for example, of the apparently consensual post-bellum relationship between my gg-grandmother (born a free woman of color) and the son of a major slaveowner? This stuff, as complicated as it can get, must be confronted soberly.

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