Matthew P. Schmidt
What to the Modern White Guy is “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”?
I have always been inspired by the story of Fredrick Douglass, a slave who escaped slavery to become a renowned orator and author. His is not the story of a man who was second-rate, shooed into the spotlight only for his relative accomplishments compared to his past. What use would that be? No, he was not merely any random speaker, but Fredrick Douglass, a name that survives to this day in history books, no matter how often it is skimmed over.
This is a post that is not about race. To put the world of modern racial tensions of America–the world of Barack Obama and #BlackLivesMatter–into the mouth of a man who is now dead is a cruelty in itself. Do modern liberals say the U.S. Constitution was founded by slave-owners for the sake of slavery? By no means was this Fredrick Douglass’s idea, and he vociferously argues for its immense ideals while condemning America’s grossest hypocrisy. Putting modern ideals and arguments into the writings of those who can no longer speak at all makes a mockery of both the past and the present.
(Perhaps the best way to avoid such atrocities is to read the original document: here is the speech in question. It is also a tragedy in that most copies of it are abridged. Is the urge to force our ideas into him not enough, that we must force his ideas out of the way?)
No, today, I wish to meditate on not the words, but that they were said. Far too much virtual ink is spilled in this modern age over how this person said this and that person said that, but in the end, nothing changes; no hearts are stirred, no stands are made that would be uncomfortable to hold for more than half an hour. What difference does it make if you are pro-Life or pro-Choice or pro-anything at all if you would not overturn a national holiday to decry a nation’s actions as the vilest evil?
Though legalized, official slavery is no more (human trafficking has not been ended) the mark remains that the nation–and more particularly, the American Church–allowed it to occur. Perhaps, like as for men, the Lord will wash away America’s sins in His divine blood. Or perhaps the history books show no mercy, for there is none to be hand.
But seeing–seeing for a moment, through the eyes of a black genius who was enslaved for manual labor, seeing the untold suffering which is not written in any history book–I see ourselves. The American Church could end abortion. It could end gun violence. It could end capital punishment, usury, adultery, pornography, and yes, human trafficking, the modern slavery–but it does not.
Perhaps, in the end, because it fears to do so.
A shameless plug for someone else.
I have seen, and admittedly indulged in that fan activity I will call the Fact Checking Game. It goes like this: First, you take some work of fiction, particularly a popular one, and you find some fascinating idea or claim it has. Then you deconstruct it with real world logic, checking all the facts and invariably coming up with an unrealistic or at least implausible conclusion. At this point, bemoaning that the creator did not think of this may commence. As a sequel, you can find some plausible counterpoint, and argue with the proponents of the former conclusion until the cows come home.
This is not, in itself, a bad thing.
No, this is not a post about the culture war. Chill.
This post is about writing other cultures such that they are believable–not as middle-class Westerners wearing funny hats, but as fundamentally different worlds.