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“A necessary part of the process…”

February 7, 2011 3 comments

Okay, I’m not going to lie, I felt like I was really kind of dragging to get myself through the entire Olmstead text. However, one thing that I was particularly struck by as I moved through the text was the multiple references to the effects of slavery not on those enslaved, but on their owners. Olmstead mentions how several gentlemen he encountered “honestly and confidently believe the institution to be a beneficial one” and consider cruelty to be “a necessary part of the process” (112-113). Later in the text Olmstead recounts meeting a woman from Ireland who, when living in Ireland wouldn’t have dared to own a slave, but “very soon had to change her views on arriving in Texas…and now she had just as lief whip a [slave] as not” (249). As if this isn’t disturbing enough, I went ahead and read Chapter 10 from An Empire for Slavery, which states, “Masters complained regularly about the difficulty of managing slaves and emphasized the need for strict discipline” (207).

After I got over my initial “wait…what??” reaction to reading these passages, it struck me that this may in fact be some of the earliest instances of White privilege and self-centeredness. It seriously sounds as though these slave owners are sitting around looking at each other saying, “Man, it sure is stressful having to manage/beat my slaves on a daily basis, but someone has to do it!” In case you’re not feeling icky enough just thinking about this whole institution, Olmstead’s text makes several references to indications that the slaveowners legitimately believed that those they enslaved not only wanted but needed to remain in such a state. The text is oozing with statements such as “Norther folks talk about abolishing Slavery, but there wouldn’t be any use in that,” or “Oh! the negroes were the laziest things in creation; there was no knowing how much trouble they gave to look after them” (120). After I shook off the “icky” reaction to reading these blatant attitudes of Whites that they not only deserved to own slaves but that it was for the slaves’ own good, I started to wonder if there are any narrative texts written by slaveowners from the time period? I’m sure there exist some diaries or documentation somewhere, but I’m almost positive that I’ve never heard of a major narrative text based from the point of view of a slaveowner. This is probably because it would be appalling and almost impossible to stomach and push through, but I can’t help but feel that it might provide some interesting insight into the inner workings of the institution. I’m sure any narrative text from a slaveowner’s point of view would have been heavily edited to flatter the White people more, but I’m still intensely curious about what exactly these texts might say. Maybe by understanding the attitudes and inner thoughts of these slaveowners we could better understand why so much effort has been put in to covering up slavery in Texas.