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Thread: the sins of our ancestors

  1. #1
    libertine librarian sandwitch's Avatar
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    the sins of our ancestors

    I listened to this NPR piece about a writer's personal truth and reconcilliation project. He seeks the history on his ancestors' slave ownership and meets descendents of the slaves.

    I recently realized that part of my ancestory could include former slave owners. I've learned more about my paternal great-grandfather's origins, and our surname is common of US slaveholders. While it's unlikely that I can identify my parentage beyond him, I've decided that it's important to learn more about my ancestors' actions. As of yet, I'm not sure what to do with this knowledge, and I don't feel like white American society* has properly addressed this part of our history.

    What responsibilities do descendents of oppressors have to address unresolved violence? Many communities, and all "world powers", have some kind of discrimination and oppression in their modern history. What does it mean for those of us who do not feel directly connected to the misdeeds, but have inherited their genes and indirectly benefited?


    I realize that this is very descendent-of-oppressor-centric, but I'm not even sure how to approach questions for descendent-of-victim and I don't want to say anything dense.


    *Generalizing my own experience there- I grew up in the pacific northwest, where I felt very distant from US slave-holding history. This may be better addressed in other places. Another point of interest (to me): Diasporic movements seem to inhibit the process of reconcilliation.

  2. #2
    Senior Member jyng1's Avatar
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    My first wife's family were probably slave owners. Her Great Grandfather was rumoured to be the last cannibal that was convicted here so I imagine he was probably eating those defeated in battle and who were either kept for food or as slaves.

    I guess most Maori either kept slaves or were slaves pre-european days.

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    DOA Space Invaders Champion Neville's Avatar
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    There was a slave owner on my mother's side. The slaves have long since been freed and their owners and all those involved long since dead. I bear no guilt or shame.

    I've never understood this sins of our fathers nonsense. All civilization is fed on the blood of the defeated. All life for that matter is fed upon the blood of the defeated. Why must humans pretend they're special?

  4. #4
    凸(ಠ_ರೃ )凸 stuck's Avatar
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    Jubilee sounds like a fine idea, the case of Haiti is particularly disgusting.

    Slavery is still a problem.

  5. #5
    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Don't you have enough that you've done in your life to feel guilty about? Do you really need to borrow from your ancestors?

    Taking the blame for your ancestors bad deeds is like taking credit for their good deeds: hubris. What have you done? That's all that matters in terms of your glory or your shame.

    Actually, it's worse than the hubris of taking credit for what your ancestors accomplished. It's an evil that justifies transgenerational hatreds and racism. Once you've decided that you are personally accountable for the misdeeds of you distant ancestors, then the descendants of whomever they wronged or slighted are fully justified in seeking vengeance against you for damages you didn't do and they didn't feel. Bullshit.

    You want to feel good about righting some wrongs? How about spending time righting wrongs happening to people right now? Seems a far better use of one's energy than trying to make reparations.

    Yeah, you indirectly benefited from someone else's evil a long time ago. Should you feel guilt and shame for every misdeed anyone in your genetic heritage did? Do you judge it by contemporary ethics, or the ethics of the time they did what they did? If you go with contemporary ethics, there's no end to the shames your line can accomplish.

    I almost certainly had ancestors enslaved by Romans. Does every Italian descended from that slave owner owe me something? If you amoebic ancestor ate my paramecium ancestor, should you feel shame for that? I've as much attachment to my unmet human ancestors as my unknowable microbial ancestors--but zero culpability for their deeds because I didn't do them. I can't even be held culpable for not stopping them or not trying to stop them because I didn't even exist yet. Is this the atheist version of original sin? Because I thought it was just as dumb in religion. I really don't see the value in transporting it to the secular world.

    What I do is what I do. I'm accountable for the evils that I do. No one else is to blame for what I do, and I'm not to blame for what anyone else has done.

    The Hatfields and McCoys were dumbfucks. I'll not take up the shadow of their dumbfuckery.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandwitch View Post
    ...I realize that this is very descendent-of-oppressor-centric, but I'm not even sure how to approach questions for descendent-of-victim and I don't want to say anything dense.


    *Generalizing my own experience there- I grew up in the pacific northwest, where I felt very distant from US slave-holding history. This may be better addressed in other places. Another point of interest (to me): Diasporic movements seem to inhibit the process of reconcilliation.
    You could research and get in touch with your feelings as to the fact that before the 400 years of European imposed slavery there was 700 years of Moorish and general Muslim enslavement of Europeans.

    Also, you could look into the PNW's Tlingit history.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_the_Tlingit

    Slavery

    Before 1867 the Tlingit were avid practitioners of slavery. The outward wealth of a person or family was roughly calculated by the number of slaves held. Slaves were taken from all peoples that the Tlingit encountered, from the Aleuts in the west, the Athabascan tribes of the interior, and all of the many tribes along the Pacific coast as far south as California. Slaves were bought and sold in a barter economy along the same lines as any other trade goods. They were often ceremonially freed at potlatches, the giving of freedom to the slave being a gift from the potlatch holder. However, they were just as often ceremonially killed at potlatches as well, to demonstrate economic power or to provide slaves for dead relatives in the afterlife. Treatment of slaves seems to have differed from individual to individual, and both stories and historical records give examples of slaves being treated very kindly as well as very cruelly.


    Since slavery was an important economic activity to the Tlingit, it came as a tremendous blow to the society when emancipation was enforced in Alaska after its purchase by the United States from Russia. This forced removal of slaves from the culture incensed many Tlingit who were not so disturbed by its outlawing as much as by the fact that they were not repaid for their loss of property. In a move traditional against those with unpaid debts, a totem pole was erected that would shame the Americans for not having paid back the Tlingits for their loss, and at its top for all to see was a very carefully executed carving of Abraham Lincoln, whom the Tlingits were told was the person responsible for freeing the slaves. This has since been frequently misinterpreted as intending to honor Lincoln, but it was in fact done as a way to shame the US government into repaying the Tlingits for a profound loss of wealth.
    And on that last note, this discussion is out of season as we currently have a democrat in the white house and there is no political hay to make or racial animosity to foment against Republicans by having Obama telling folks to STFU. Like Bush I and Bush II before, you'll just have to wait for it to come around on the old guitar.
    Creativity is the residue of time wasted. ~ Albert Einstein

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    The Hatfields and McCoys were dumbfucks. I'll not take up the shadow of their dumbfuckery.
    I tend to follow Heph's way of thinking when it comes to these things, and that's aside from the fact that very often people are recent descendents of both the Hatfields and the McCoys, metaphorically speaking.
    Quote Originally Posted by whatloveihave View Post
    I don't find you a potential threat to human society, you're not crazy. Feces.

  8. #8
    Tawaci ki a Gnaska ki Osito Polar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stigmatica View Post
    I tend to follow Heph's way of thinking when it comes to these things, and that's aside from the fact that very often people are recent descendents of both the Hatfields and the McCoys, metaphorically speaking.
    Am recently from Hatfield/McCoy. Can confirm.
    "I don't have psychological problems." --Madrigal

    "When you write about shooting Polemarch in the head, that's more like a first-person view, like you're there looking down the sight of the gun." --Utisz

    David Wong, regarding Chicago
    Six centuries ago, the pre-Colombian natives who settled here named this region with a word which in their language means "the Mouth of Shadow". Later, the Iroquois who showed up and inexplicably slaughtered every man, woman and child renamed it "Seriously, Fuck that Place". When French explorer Jacques Marquette passed through the area he marked his map with a drawing of a brownish blob emerging from between the Devil's buttocks.

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    Maybe the real problem is that too many people in the world demand retribution for various past sins and grievances. My dad does that, and I think it's bullshit. Holding modern day Germans "accountable" is bullshit.

    I think when vengeance stops applying to individuals, and starts applying to groups, that's a point when it becomes separate from justice. And that's a rule that can apply to pretty much any side in any long-running conflict. People can argue all they want about whose fault it was in the past, but what good does that do for anyone living?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus
    Is this the atheist version of original sin? Because I thought it was just as dumb in religion. I really don't see the value in transporting it to the secular world.
    Me neither. I don't know if it's good for much more than an ocean of blood.

    Lots of different groups have acted like dicks throughout history, although the scale is not always the same.

    I suppose I'm for building a better world after all, but I don't think this is the path towards it. I think one must deal with what exists now, and what comes next, primarily. The past is useful as a guide, and a source of knowledge from which to derive understanding, but not an obsession.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandwitch View Post
    What responsibilities do descendents of oppressors have to address unresolved violence? Many communities, and all "world powers", have some kind of discrimination and oppression in their modern history. What does it mean for those of us who do not feel directly connected to the misdeeds, but have inherited their genes and indirectly benefited?
    I think there is something to this line of thinking but with a more positive spin.

    We all benefit from those who have done any good before us and we're all impacted by the bad as well. We are all cousins and pretty closely related in the scheme of things. It makes sense to me that nobody can claim a privileged position and equality of opportunity is a moral imperative for everyone conferred from our shared heritage.

    To me then it is right to try to do something about kids growing up in poverty and the number of people incarcerated but not because I'm guilty about being white but because I'm human (or a citizen).

    Now as to this specifically, you mention indirectly benefited. But with slavery most of the benefits were wiped out by the Civil War - the economy of the south lagged for years, the slaveholders had their assets freed, their houses burned and so forth. After the war it seems to me the years of Jim Crow had a negative effect on the white population relative to the rest of the country (and of course moreso on the black population). Being intolerant and divisive isn't the best way to grow your personal wealth.

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