First of all, I want to thank Kanye West for reminding us this week that money will not buy you wisdom. The good book says: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7)
These words could never be more true than they are in the current moment when the nation is divided and there are numerous troubling situations here and around the world – sporadic terrorism, global refugee crisis, gendered violence, school shootings and the ever widening gap between rich and poor. People are literally searching for wisdom, trying to understand the moment we are in.
In the midst of all this, Mr. West has weighed in with the incredible statement,“Slavery was a choice.” To that he added something about mental slavery as if one was not a consequence of the other as Bob Marley
tried to tell us. Many have responded quickly and vociferously but none better than Russ Bengston who said: “Slavery wasn’t a choice but listening to Kanye is.”
I was not going to weigh in on this controversy when one of my students while handing in her final paper just assumed I would have something to say. After all, one of the questions on the final was about the public memory of slavery.
Some have speculated that it was a publicity stunt; West was trying to create some buzz for his upcoming album. Others say he is unwell or perhaps still grieving the death of his mother. If the latter is true, my hope is that this will not be another Michael Jackson or Prince scenario where someone brilliant truly needs help, but instead of getting help, is encouraged to continue down a dangerous path.
Why, I often wonder, should some rich black men at the top of this society also die young? If they can not live to be octogenarians, who can?
So if he is unwell, my hope and prayer is that THIS time, people around him will stop profiting from his freefall and get him the help he needs.
If, however, he has said these things consciously and intentionally, may we as a public 1) exercise “free thought” and not listen to his music or buy his apparel or sneakers because freedom works both ways; 2) read all the books and articles that he decided he did not need to read because his money somehow bought him wisdom.
It did not.
If we are truly seeking wisdom, then I would recommend we take a look below at this very partial list of books to read and places to visit. Others have good lists too. Maybe I will call
this the KW Slavery Reading List. Since the slave narrators of the 19th century and W.E.B Dubois in the early 20th century, we have had over one hundred and fifty years of scholars, writers and musicians “dropping knowledge,” as they say. Many struggled and still struggle today to tell to the full story of America and of the Black Atlantic. And still, the half has not been told
. And still, there is so much more to learn. I, myself, am still on that journey.
Finally, I have spent most of my life trying to honor in death those who were not honored in life. Those who suffered so that I could have the life I live now, which while not perfect, is not a life of unending deprivation and servitude.
Those who were sold on the auction block and separated from their families through no choice of their own.
Those who attempted to run away or to fight and were severely punished or killed through no choice of their own.
Those who in spite of all this suffering, treasured their families and their faith, built schools and churches, fought wars and nobly served their country, created a culture that has influenced the world and whose descendants continue to do the same.
Slavery was not a choice, but listening to Kanye West is.
Get wisdom and as you acquire it, get understanding.
BOOKS TO READ
My Face is Black is true: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations, Mary Frances Berry
Arn’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Deborah Gray White
The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, Manisha Sinha
The Charleston Syllabus, eds. Keisha Blain, Chad Williams, Kidada Williams.
Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology, Deirdre Cooper Owens
Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing and Slavery in Jamaica, Sasha Turner
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, Annette Gordon Reed
Reparations for Slavery and the Slave trade, Ana Lucia Araujo
“The History of Mary Prince as a Historical Document of Slavery in
Antigua and the British Empire,” in Antigua & Barbuda International Literary Festival Magazine, no. 2., Natasha Lightfoot
Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Stephanie Camp
Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the 19th century, Tera Hunter
The Half has never been told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist
Classic Slave Narratives, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The Souls of Black Folk and other books by W.E.B. Dubois
Remembering Slavery, Ira Berlin
Black Families in Slavery and in Freedom, Herbert Gutman
Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, Catherine Clinton
A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including their Narratives of Emancipation, David Blight
Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions, Rashauna Johnson.
Liberties Lost: Caribbean Indigenous Societies and Slave systems, Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd
The Slave Ship: A Human History, Marcus Rediker
Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Eric Foner
PLACES TO VISIT
While reading or after, I highly recommend taking
trips to various places in the African Diaspora: Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Goree Island in
Senegal, (slave ports), Egypt, Kenya, Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, Brazil, Britain, France and so many more.
PEOPLE TO LISTEN TO
Bob Marley and so many many more that I hope to share in another post. Dear readers, please also feel free to add to this list. It is, by definition, incomplete and a work in progress.
Anne C. Bailey
Author of The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History
Cape Coast Castle (slave port), Cape Coast Ghana
By Albgoess – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51960131
Balme Library, University of Ghana, Legon/Accra, Ghana
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons