11/20/2016 by syrbal-labrys
*If you do not get that title reference? You are lost and a slave to the right wing bullshit machine – so shut up.
Earlier this week Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, wrote an email to the faculty, staff and students of the university. In this email, regarding the recent election of Donald Trump to the office of the presidency, Sullivan quoted Thomas Jefferson (you know, the man who built the university), stating:
“By coincidence, on this exact day 191 years ago – November 9, 1825, in the first year of classes at U.Va. – Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes.’ I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”
The students, and many of the faculty members of UVA erupted in anger, and were “deeply offended” at the use of Jefferson’s words. They claimed that the email and the presidential quote was outrageous and reprehensible action given that Jefferson was a slave owner, that Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence did not match with his actions during his lifetime. They claimed that to breathe continued life into his words in our own time was incompatible with modern views since UVA now includes students and faculty of different races, creeds, faiths and so on and so forth.
Fine. People don’t like the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner. So they proceed to condemn his memory and the monumental accomplishments that he handed down to future generations of Americans. Jefferson is now disparaged and vilified in the corridors of the university that he built, Virginia’s first “true” public university (sorry, William and Mary). Well…here is another quote by Jefferson, from the original, unabridged version of the Declaration of Independence:
“He (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
And here is another one, from his A Summary View of the Rights of British America:
“The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the infranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa.”
Need another regarding Jefferson’s personal views on slavery? This one is from the Draft of the Virginia Constitution:
“No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever.”
I can continue to provide examples of Jefferson’s PERSONAL loathing for slavery, but I will move on and let readers do their own research into the mind of Thomas Jefferson – something that current faculty and students at UVA evidently are incapable of – preferring instead mindless rage directed at one of the great men of American, and global history. Instead let me ask a few questions of not only the delicate flowers of UVA, but of anyone who so insensibly castigates and scorns not only the writings of men such as Jefferson, but of his modern proponents like Teresa Sullivan and myself.
Should we, as a society, ignore all that history offers because historical persons were imperfect, just as we today are imperfect? Given that slavery is the underlying issue with UVA students and Jefferson, who should we quote, let alone look to for inspiration going into an increasingly turbulent future?
George Washington…no, slave owner. Yet he is held up as a paragon of American democracy – which he likely deserves since he kept us from war for the first eight fragile years AS a democracy. But still, he WAS a slave owner — had many more slaves than Thomas Jefferson.
What of the mighty “warrior for justice”, Abraham Lincoln? The president who abolished slavery deserves nothing but saintly praise…again, no – Lincoln did find slavery a vile practice, but he had no intentions of ending slavery in the American nation. He intended to prohibit the spread of slavery to new states, but he was going to allow slave owning states to continue the practice. So, I guess no more Lincoln quotes. History happily forgets that Lincoln was not primarily an abolitionist. History also happily forgets that abolitionists didn’t want free black slaves as free citizens — but as deportees back to Africa, to newly made Liberia!
Perhaps we can look to Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiration. After all, this man is one of the most important names in the civil rights movement – and rightly so, King was brave beyond the comprehension of most modern Americans, a determined advocate for equality under the law for all people, regardless of race. Unless you happened to be a woman. King was not interested in bringing about the demise of male supremacy, only white supremacy. Check another hero off the list. Due to his patriarchal religious underpinning, women were not amongst his list to be liberated.
Let’s talk more about the northern colonial abolitionists? No – they wanted all slaves shipped out of the fledgling country. Northern factory jobs were precious to white immigrant labor, as well as the original “nativists”. They didn’t need freed blacks as competition. Thus the establishment of the nation of Liberia with Monrovia as its eventual capital.
The French? They outlawed slavery in the home kingdom – all a slave had to do while in France was to demand freedom, and he or she was given freedom. But wait, their colonial possessions were exempt from that prohibition against slavery, and once the French Revolution occurred slavery made a swift return to the French homeland. So I suppose the enlightened French are out of favor as well. And black men in France, like the father of writer Alexandre Dumas, General Thomas Alexandre-Dumas – a war hero OF the Revolution? Ultimately, they were sacrificed to the new aims of the National Assembly.
What of Rome? Hellenic Greece? China? The Islamic kingdoms? No. They all sanctioned slavery, including your beloved Spartans – how else to form one of the finest military forces in the history of this wide planet? In fact, unlike the rest of the Hellene city states, the Spartans even enslaved their fellow Hellenes!
But there yet remains one sanctified and inviolate group that surely must have strong proscriptions against slavery – the Christian faith? Ahh…but no. Even the beloved faith of the multitudes warranted slavery. And it was a fact that in Rome, the first Christians were often slaves, and women. Yet, still the “book” was the last word that carried across to America the idea that dark skins were inferior and only fit to serve the oh-so-godly whites.
Should we ignore all the great and admirable actions of our national and global ancestors because they committed wrongs? Jefferson was a slave owner, an unavoidable fact. But he demanded, on more than one occasion, the abolishment of slavery. The 13 colonies denied him that victory.
What of Plato? I disagree strongly with most of what Plato taught – but he is widely admired in our time (not to mention admired throughout the centuries); he also was a fan of slavery (of the worst kind, being the proto-fascist that he was). Men of “gold and silver” were the free men, the decision makers. Men of “iron” did the scut work and women stayed in the house and kept their pregnant mouths shut. So yeah, I think we can agree if even Plato had it wrong and yet we read and study his works? We might give Thomas Jefferson a bit more leeway. After all “Hamilton” is SUCH a hero, he of the federalized banking service and rule of money? Do you never wonder if Broadway is not simply musically training you to accept your corporate masters? Hamilton was “mulatto” as it was put in his day and yet he served interests that certainly did not benefit others like himself. He was a magnificent writer, a man of severe nigh unparalleled intellect and driving passions. But he was no more perfect than Jefferson.
The offended parties at UVA have chosen to rally against Jefferson, and the current president of UVA – why? Why argue against the man, who along with the statesmen and soldiers of colonial America, procured modern American freedoms? Imperfect as they are (and I will be the first to admit that our nation had then its flaws, and has now flaws that need to be addressed), they are a far cry better than much of the world now, and in 1776 the ideals espoused by men like Jefferson shocked the world. Why, UVA students and faculty, do you not focus your rage and anger against targets more deserving of action?
This nation has just elected a president that is entirely unfit for political office. A man who promotes nationalism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, blatant racism, and hatred on a scale not seen since the rise of Hitler. His vice-president is even more reprehensible in my opinion. Trump is currently building his cabinet and designating his presidential appointees – and the individuals he is empowering are not men and women who are friendly to your multi-cultural needs. The Religious Right finds this new “dream team” perfect – that should tell you that it is a nightmare for everyone not white, male, and Christian.
I am not certain why students at UVA (and other institutions, this is only the most recent offense against historical figures) are so enraged at Jefferson. Their declamations against the author of the Declaration of Independence are based on ONE aspect of his life. Their anger at Sullivan is…what? A feeble attempt at forcing a change that impacts nothing beyond banning (censorship? Oh, say it isn’t so in the ‘home of the brave’ and land of fucking disenchantment? -Thank you Slayer!) the use of Jefferson’s words in the modern age, despite the fact that Jefferson was a humane and progressive human being, who, if alive today, would likely align himself with men like Bernie Sanders. I expect that these students (and all other offended and severely injured parties) shall henceforth cease quoting and idolizing, well, everyone in history – because no man or woman who has ever drawn breath has been perfect in all points of life – including your precious Mother Theresa with her belief in “redemptive pain” for the dying!
So please, continue fighting your pointless battles with long dead politicians. Wage your war against words that might possibly offend anyone. Continue carrying the allegedly untarnished flag of progressive horseshit forward in all the meaningless fights you choose to pick, instead of fighting the battles that desperately need to be fought; economic equality, ending the racism that is still rife in this country, ending the misogyny that haunts this country (and the world), ending the political and moneyed interests that are happily and successfully crushing the dream of what this nation could, and should be moving forward into the future. Basically, ending the hegemony of patriarchal right wing religion in America, to say nothing of the corporate control of our political fortunes.
So, to all of you high-minded and allegedly educated word-fascists, intent on protecting the feelings of everyone every where, how does 1984 sound? Redacting the dictionary does not redact reality, something that even Winston Smith, living in the world of Big Brother, knew full well.