Dear Rep O’Rourke,
Congratulations on your recent discoveries and the impact they’ve had on you accordingly. As a historian with a genealogical focus, I am all too aware of the impact such documents can have. I also applaud you for naming the article after the slaves, and Noh your ancestors, although your personal connection to them took precedent. That being said, I’d like to steal your ear for a moment.
Recently, while spending some time at home in South Carolina, I had the increasingly rare opportunity to explore the local community genealogical archive at the regional library headquarters (very thankful to the genealogists at the Kennedy Room. They are truly a blessing). As a historian and genealogical fanatic, it was such s pleasure to sift through old documents, from probate records to newspapers, and immerse myself in an era that’s passed us by.
Both my maternal and paternal branches of my family have called South Carolina home for over 200 years (I, myself, being born there) , so I utilize this opportunity to look for more information about my own ancestors. Being African American, this information is often limited due to the ramifications of slavery and a disappearing paper trail. Failure to recognize my ancestors as individuals and human beings during the antebellum period, has resulted in the essential erasure if a portion of my heritage.
I, however, was pleasantly surprised this visit. One of the genealogist had found for me a book of about 28 records, which recorded the pleas of guardianship filed by free persons of color in the Spartanburg County District. For background : a free person of color during the period of slavery, though free, were required to have a white guardian vouch for their good character and agree to accept any ramifications if the person of color violated the law. Essentially, it was infantilization of adult people of color, in order to support the idea that white conduct was superior.
In the book, I found the records of two of my own ancestors (whom I had known were free). While I was about to see documents directly related to my ancestors and deeply enthusiastic about the breakthroughs it allowed in my own history, it also struck in my a few cords of discomfort.
Here are a few things I would like to say shout this records.
- It indicates a need for “white validation”. The idea that society does not give weight to the rights, needs, and words of people of color until backed by the support of someone white. These documents literally suggests that a person of colors personhood should be decided by white bodies.
- 2. It highlights the use of the dilemmas of people of color and their exploitation purely for the gain of the white individual. In many of these instances, the “guardian” of the person of color was given access to and control of any land and estate the person of color had. This often lead to situations of theft an abuse, wherein the white individual was advantaged, and the person of color was left defenseless.
- 3. It magnifies the disparities prevalent in that era, specifically regarding education. On one of my ancestors documents there is a place where he marks an “X” in lieu of his name, due to his inability to write. Due to his illiteracy. It magnifies the very real ramifications of a system which forbade people of color, the decency just to learn.
So you make ask why I brought this to your attention , Rep. O’Rourke: why after your post I felt it necessary to write this response. Here’s why.
- Your post discusses your revelation of having Slave owning ancestors, as your reason for advocating for reparations. You focus on two men (white men) who owned people of color, and their connection to yourself, as your stimuli towards advocacy : at least in this peace you did. As such, your piece reads less as one advocating for reparations because it’s what right, rather because you feel guilty. People of color don’t want “white guilt”, we want real awareness and genuine advocacy. We don’t want your validation of what we’ve been arguing since 1865 is entitled to us, just because you feel bad. To be honest, we don’t want your validation at all. Clearly, we’ve dealt with that enough. We don’t need your story of your slave owning ancestors to define our worth, we have that under control —- we just want your active support, because it’s the right thing to do.
- 2. I am concerned about your motivation for such a new active support for reparations , considering just months ago news articles circulated regarding your oppositions to the matter. You were elected in 2013 and in 2016, a UN committee released recommendation that the US pay reparations, yet you were silent – until now. It’s only logical to question if your advocacy is tied to your own personal gain, which rings quite similar to inauthentic support given in the 1800s, which I have referenced previously.
- 3. The effects of slavery had very real ramifications and continue to have very real ramifications, for those descendant of those in bondage. The problems we gave because of past disparities exist and affect us on the day to day. While I applaud and encourage your validation enthusiasm for legislation, I also urge you to think about ways you can assist communities of color on the day to day. You have benefited from the burden that fell in the back of ancestors, how will you assist and advocate and give back to disadvantaged communities without the office of President? How are you doing so now?
Rep O’Rourke , I applaud you for your advocacy and i encourage you to continue to support reparations. Yet, I believe what I have said, should be taken in consideration when you consider your transmittal. We don’t need guilt, we need alliance. We don’t need to hear about feeling bad because your ancestors were slave owners, we want to see your active work in uplifting communities who have been disadvantaged because of systemic racism. This isn’t about you or your ancestors, this is about the people of have been forgotten, and no deserve to be in the forefront.
Please keep that in mind