“Plainly there was more to American race slavery that white masters brutalizing resentful Negroes,” Derbyshire writes. “Slavery is more irksome to some than to others; and freedom can be irksome, too.”
The above comes courtesy of John Derbyshire. Previously, yours truly covered the former National Review columnist's "remix" of The Talk, giving sensible white Americans everywhere 15 easy-to-follow steps to indulge in their fear and avoidance of the dreaded Negro.
Derbyshire's latest beef involves the new movie 12 Years a Slave. He hasn't seen the movie yet, by his own admission, but he's still a bit upset over what he sees as "abolitionist porn." Derbyshire's VDARE column also puts a positive PR spin on the peculiar institution, noting how slaves were simply "happier" during their time of bondage and servitude:
Life expectancy? After crunching the numbers:
U.S. slaves had much longer life expectations than free urban industrial workers in both the United States and Europe.
We’re talking about a period, remember, when life was very wretched for a great many free men: the period of Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, and of Hugo’s Les Misérables.
According to Derbyshire, the average Negro of the period should thank his lucky stars he was bound and chained, otherwise he'd have to live a short, brutish Dickensian life like other free men.
But this is where Derbyshire's column jumps off the rails, over a shark and into the pseudo-intellectual abyss:
Take the matter of what Scarlett O’Hara referred to as “slave concubinage.” Where did all those mulattoes come from, if not from plantation owners and white overseers having their way with helpless Negro slave women?
Genovese quotes Mary Chesnut’s diaries on this topic:
Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children. Any lady is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household but her own. Those, she seems to think, drop from the clouds.
Northerners who visited the South came to similar conclusions.
Fogel and Engerman, however, go to the numbers:
It is not the eyesight of these travelers to the South which is questionable, but their statistical sense. For mulattoes were not distributed evenly through the Negro population. They were concentrated in the cities and especially among freedmen . . . The share of Negro children fathered by whites on slave plantations probably averaged between 1 and 2 percent.
Plantation records and diaries show that overseers were sternly warned against fraternizing with slave women, and were generally dismissed if they did so, as their adventures “could undermine the discipline that planters so assiduously strove to attain.”
Venturing into very seriously un-PC territory, Fogel and Engerman argue that Southern white men anyway did not desire black women, an aversion the authors put down to “racism.” They support this with some data from Nashville:
The 1860 census showed that just 4.3 percent of the prostitutes in that city were Negroes, although a fifth of the population of Nashville was Negro. Moreover, all of the Negro prostitutes were free and light-skinned . . . White men who desired illicit sex had a strong preference for white women.
Again, the authors are on their way here to a refutation of the stereotype of black promiscuity. Fogel and Engerman really meant well.
It has done them no good, of course: their fascinating book is down there with The Bell Curve in liberal esteem. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.
Here, Derbyshire makes great pains to diminish the mulatto phenomenon, often times living and breathing proof of one-sided master/slave sexual relations, as evinced in the following instance:
The following passages sketch the nature of the master-slave relations, and their consequences:
"Maria was a thirteen-year-old house servant. One day, receiving no response to her call, the mistress began searching the house for her. Finally, she opened the parlor door, and there was the child with her master. The master ran out of the room, mounted his horse and rode off to escape, 'though well he knew that [his wife's] full fury would fall upon the young head of his victim.' The mistress beat the child and locked her up in a smokehouse. For two weeks the girl was constantly whipped. Some of the elderly servants attempted to plead with the mistress on Maria's behalf, and even hinted that 'it was mass'r that was to blame.' The mistress's reply was typical: 'She'll know better in the future. After I've done with her, she'll never do the like again, through ignorance'" (Stanley Felstein, Once a Slave: The Slaves' View of Slavery, p.132).
Here, the mistress was able to take out her aggressions on the girl rather than the guilty master. I suppose we could empathize with the frustration and betrayal these wives felt, but the outlet of their aggressions often became the slave girl. Women in the south were quite powerless. Because the option of divorce was not readily available, the mistresses often times punished the slave women for their husbands' wrong-doings.
Or in this particular instance:
"Louisa Picquet had even less choice. Interviewed after she was set free, she recalled: Mr. Williams told me what he bought me for soon as we started for New Orleans. He said if I behave myself he'd treat me well; but, if not, he'd whip me almost to death. He was over forty; I guess pretty near fifty.
Q. Had you any children while in New Orleans?
A. Yes; I had four
Q. Who was their father?
A. Mr. Williams.
Q. Was it known that he was living with you?
A. Everybody knew I was housekeeper, but he never let on that he was the father of my children. I did all the work in his house(...)nobody there but me and the children. When he had company, gentlemen folks, he took them to the hotel.
When Mr. Williams told me what he bought me for I thought, now I shall be committin' adultery, and there's no chance for me, and I'll have to die and be lost. I had this trouble with my soul the whole time. I begin to pray that he might die, so that I might get religion. It was some time before he got sick, He said that if I would promise him that I would go to New York, he would leave me and the children free. In about a month, he died. I didn't cry or nothin', for I was glad he was dead. I was left free, and that made me so glad I could hardly believe it myself" (Dorothy Sterling, ed., We are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century, p. 24)
It wasn't uncommon for slaveowners to take "liberties" with some of their attractive chattel, whether their bound charges wanted to or not. And it's not surprising to see Derbyshire make a book noted for its liberal helpings of slavery apologia as one of his go-to references for this particular piece. For a bit of supplemental reading, he should crack open the pages of Herman G. Gutman's precision-guided dismantling of Fogel and Engerman's work.
John Derbyshire's hand-waving of slavery in a greater effort to dismiss a movie he hasn't even bothered to see would be hilarious - if such dismissals weren't already so commonplace in mainstream society. As Bob Cesca notes, he would have made the perfect "noble" slaveowner - one who only and "reluctantly corrects" his slaves, most of whom would have appreciated the (barely) dry lodgings, square meals (from scraps) and the structured activity and lifestyle that being enslaved affords.
Remember, this is the same man who believes that white supremacy is one of history's "better arrangements." Little wonder the man was unceremoniously jettisoned from the National Review, itself a decidedly conservative publication.
The cherry on his stacked shit sundae comes in the form of a comparo of slavery to, of all things, communist China:
People are born, raised, educated, and find themselves in a certain kind of society to which those around them are all accustomed. American slave society was a way of life; a settled way that most people took for granted, as most people will anywhere.
There were aspects of life resembling slavery in the communist China where I lived, 1982-3. People had no liberty to find their own employment. You were “assigned” to a “unit.” If unhappy there, it was a devil of a job to get re-assigned.
Families broken up? One of my Chinese colleagues lived alone because his wife was “assigned” to a distant province. He only saw her once a year.
The guy drank a lot.
Yet while there was much grumbling, and some scattered seething rebelliousness, most Chinese got along with the system. A lot of people were very happy with it. You didn’t have to think much, or take much responsibility. And that suits many of us just fine.
At this point, I think I need a stiff drink.