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In Honor of Black History

Before nap time, we read. Today's book retold the story of a black slave who mailed himself to freedom. While it provided an opportunity to talk about historical and modern day abolition with my daughter, one line stopped me in my tracks.

"Henry's [slave] master had been good to Henry and his family."

I thought, "this must have been written by a white person. No black person would dream of calling a slaveholder good." Sure enough, the author is white. (The talented artist is black but that's a separate conversation). Why do we, as white people, feel the need to sanitize the past, rendering it patently false? Is it white guilt? Is it our inability to confront how truly devastating historical American slavery was? Moreover, I wonder what this means for our perspective as whites on current racial tensions in America. Do we still try to sanitize what we see rather than confront latent racism for the devastation it continues to be?
Perhaps the author was trying to gently introduce young readers to our nation's horrific past. The book did accomplish that goal and still could have done so without insinuating the commodification of people may somehow be termed "good." When it comes to our kids, let's not pretend something is what it is not. Such an approach only passes on racism to the next generation.

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