Susan Eva O’Donovan: “To stand by silently…makes us look profoundly stupid and cruel and racist too.”

In response to the recent election, #ADPhD is sharing reflections, short takes, and responses from scholars of slavery. To submit yours, click here.

On November 14, 2016, news outlets reported that a West Virginian official — Clay County Development Corporation Director Pamela Ramsey – made the following statement comparing First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama to Melania Trump on Facebook: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an ape in heels.” Susan Eve O’Donovan, associate professor of history at the University of Memphis, took to Facebook to put the the statement in context when a follower questioned whether or not Ramsey’s words were racist. Her post is republished here with her permission:

[name redacted], the Ape reference is reprehensible due to centuries of ‘scientific’ racism that insistently located people of color at or at best one step above apes. See for instance this: one of the more infamous images of this kind of despicable thinking:

15086168_1442554262426253_1931012556_n

To follow up, this kind of science provided justification for slavery, for lynching, for segregation, for white supremacy (notice who gets top billing), for the denial of education, and for the denial of social and political rights. To stand by silently as our African descended friends and neighbors get described as ape or ape-like not only reminds them of centuries of horrific race-based violence, it also makes us look profoundly stupid and cruel and racist too. Good people, kind people, and respectful people should condemn this kind of hate talk. Not doing so makes us no better than the thousands who used to haul their kids to lynchings and who thought nothing of doing this to a man’s back:

Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863.
O’Donovan shared the aftermath of her online intervention with #ADPhD:

“Not only did the intended audience respond favorably, but as a result of a continued exchange, my friend (a playwright) and another of her friends (a stage actress) are going to get together to brainstorm a possible production that can help educate their public on the histories of race, slavery etc. I immediately offered up FSSP [Freedmen and Southern Society Project] materials as well as the Memphis Massacre narrative which all by itself illuminates the continued national relevance of these struggles. My motto: never miss a chance to teach.”

 

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YES, you can submit ANONYMOUSLY or under a pseudonym. See here for more details and the link to the submission form: https://africandiasporaphd.com/2016/11/12/editors-note-adphd-is-at-your-service/

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