Playing Down Slavery: Denying Systemic Racism

We are still getting various commentators today who like to play down the seriousness of slavery as part of our history. We are a nation based on about 246 years of slavery, more than half of our history.

The extreme oppressiveness of U.S. slavery is thus not taken seriously by many white Americans. Not surprisingly perhaps, brochures circulated by some southern state governments still provide a distorted view of U.S. history. One South Carolina brochure provided to visitors at the state’s travel centers has a two-page history of the state from the 1500s to the present, with not a single mention of slaves or slavery there.

Yet, slavery was central to the state’s economy for a very long period of time.

Similarly, a recent research study in North Carolina examined the way slavery has been portrayed at twenty slave plantations that are now tourist sites. Seven of the plantation websites do not even note the presence of slavery there, and only three devote serious efforts to present the experiences of those enslaved. The others sites accent such things as the furnishings, gardens, and the white families. Some play down the brutality of slavery and project images of “happy slaves.”

The lead researcher, Derek Alderman, accents the point that “plantations were not just about their white owners. As we come to terms with the legacy of racism in the United States, we have to recognize . . . that there was brutality that happened in the Old South.”