When I see some of the commentary written in response to the movie, “Twelve Years A Slave,” I can’t help but think of the above quotation.
Consider this piece, for example:
Benedict Cumberbatch is a big film and TV star of “Sherlock,” “August Osage County,” “Amazing Grace,” and the Oscar winning film “12 Years A Slave.” Starring in “12 Years A Slave” must have hit close to home for Cumberbatch because his ancestors were slave owners.
In Barbados, back in 1728, Jezebel reported, there was a prosperous sugarcane farm, called the Cleland Plantation. It was not just known for its sugarcane production, it was known for slaves. And the slaves were worked to death.
“Hit close to home”? Did Cumberbatch ever live in a home where there were slaves? Duh; no. He has never owned slaves, nor did his parents own slaves, and neither did his grandparents.
People who owned slaves in 1728 are as involved in Cumberbatch’s current life as they are in yours or anyone else’s. In fact, the farther you go back in time the more likely it is that someone, virtually anyone from your own race and region, is your ancestor. That’s the way demographics work.
How do we know that slave owners are not part of Barack Obama’s ancestry? If they are, does that mean he should feel guilty for it? It is insane for people to need to dredge up their genealogies to find out if they need to feel guilty about people whom they never knew.
Jezebel gets even crazier. After mentioning Stacey Cumberbatch, allegedly the descendent of slaves, it summarizes the thought of another writer:
Stacey Cumberbatch is doing well for herself, but obviously Benedict Cumberbatch — who has bristled about being branded “posh” — is afforded privileges due, in part, to generations of his family reaping rewards from free labor, from the slave trade, from using and abusing, black people. Their hands, their money, is red with the blood of slaves.
Do you seriously think that there aren’t plenty of people, homeless, on welfare, unemployed, and/or raised in poor households, who are not the descendents of wealthy slave-owning families from the 1730s era? Fortunes can be made and lost over and over again in a couple of centuries.
If, by some strange stroke of luck, the Cumberbatches have stayed consistently solvent through the almost thirty decades, that doesn’t mean that Benedict owes anything to slavery. To argue for such guilt-transmission you would have to prove that, in the absence of slavery, the Cumberbatches would never have built a fortune at any point in time in history to leave Benedict with the household in which he was raised. To attempt such an argument is madness. To assume without argument that the guilt transmits via bloodline is vile evil. For all we know the Cumberbatch clan was diverted from a much greater fortune by the temptation of making money through slave labor. The hands of the present Cumberbatches are clean. The hands of the blood-libellants of the present are the ones that need washing.
There are horrible evils going on in our day. The way Down syndrome infants are treated in the Western world before they are born is far worse than the way slaves were treated in the American South, as is proved by the fact that there are, in fact, descendents of those slaves still alive today. This blood-guilt game is what corrupt and decadent societies play to distract themselves from their real sins, and assure themselves that they are not moral cowards.
But the game proves the opposite.