One of the indications that we're not in a "post-racial" society is that we're still in denial about the basic elements of American history, namely that one of the realities of the American system of chattel slavery was that masters raped their slaves. I say "rape" because property is incapable of giving consent. Slavery apologists can refer to such encounters as "affairs" if they want. But they were rapes. Largely as a result of this, African Americans aren't so much "black" as we are mixed.
Just to give an impression of how widespread the phenomenon of masters raping their slaves was, between 1850 and 1860, the mixed race slave population increased by 67 percent while the black slave population increased by only about 20 percent. This was happening while slavery was being justified by the idea that black people were not actually human. The rape of slaves puts the lie to the idea that those who endorsed slavery didn't think black people were persons, and didn't really understand what they were doing. They understood. They didn't care. Maybe that's why we don't like talking about it.
The only reason that the fact that Michelle Obama has white ancestors is a "revelation" to some people is because we as a country have been unable to face this basic fact of our history, because we just don't like what it says about us. It's staring us in the face every day. There's a reason why black Americans range in skin tone from Anatole Broyard to Serena Williams. Obviously these days, it's not just because of what happened in the past, but that's a part of it. If we can't face the truth about bad things that Americans did more than a hundred years ago, how are we supposed to seriously consider the effect of race on society today?
Photo of Cosby Show cast via Wikimedia.
-- A. Serwer
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