In his 2009 book, “Letters to the Editor: Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative,” Sen. Jon Hubbard (R–Ark.) stated, “The institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise.” The quote reads like something from a backward 1920s textbook. It seems incredible that a man holding these views can be seen as a respectable member of the community, let alone be elected to represent an entire state and make laws that influence the entire country.
It would be easy to dismiss Hubbard’s statement as the ignorant opinion of a lone politician. However, Dr. Alford A. Young Jr., professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and chair of the University’s Sociology Department, believes that Hubbard’s statement reflects a wider problem. According to Dr. Young, there’s “something about this country that allows him to speak in this way as a public official.” He said “a number of people feel safe and comfortable uttering sentiments that they might have kept more private in the past,” because the idea that we’re living in a post-racial society has taken strong hold.
I have to admit, as an upper-middle class white person, there’s some appeal to the idea that slavery had its benefits. It would let me off the hook a little bit, especially with the increase in white guilt that I’ve been feeling during this season of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Also, as Dr. Young points out, it “affirms some sense of greatness of American culture and society.” The idea that the United States is so exceptional that people forcibly removed from their cultures, enslaved for decades, then faced with immeasurable prejudices and discrimination — even in the present day — should be grateful for all of the above because they are able to live in America.
Now, I love my country and believe those who live here are fortunate enough to take advantage of the rights and freedoms that the U.S entails. However, I find it hard to believe that African slaves wouldn’t have preferred deciding for themselves when to leave their homes and come to a new continent. Seriously, in this country we used to buy and sell human beings and force them to work for us. We had to tear the country apart to end slavery — we hardly treated slaves as human beings, let alone full citizens under the law, for another full century. These are the citizens that Sen. Jon Hubbard believes should treat their slavery as a “blessing in disguise.”
Hubbard goes so far as to say that African Americans must “understand that even while in the throes of slavery, their lives as Americans are likely much better than they ever would have enjoyed living in sub-Saharan Africa.” However, Dr. Angela Dillard, a professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African studies, says, “the view of slavery as a civilizing force for Black slaves only makes sense if you believe in their inferiority — not only racially but socially, politically, religiously and so forth. It’s not driven by fact, but by belief and biases.”
According to Dr. Young, since there is a black man in the president’s office, many Americans believe that racial issues must be less prevalent than in the past. However, with an incarceration rate of African Americans six times higher than that of Caucasians and high school graduation rates 20 percent below the white average, the long-standing consequences of racism and slavery are still evident today.
Of course, this is America, and one of the great things about this country is that Hubbard has the right to say anything he wants. It’s allowed. However, it’s disturbing that this view is held by people in our country, particularly by the people responsible for representing the citizenry and making laws. As Dr. Dillard concluded, “Having someone in elected office with these kinds of beliefs and biases may be perfectly allowable from the standpoint how representative democracy works, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier for me to sleep well at night.”
Mary Gallagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.