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.

  1. 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.

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.

  1. 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.

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

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Shaquan McDowell

Shaquan McDowell

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Leading @PurpleParty2036 : A political youth organization focused on creating a platform of unity. @AJAM ‘s Edge Of Eighteen. @ShaquanMcDowell on IG and Twitter