This a touchy subject. One I'm a bit nervous to write about! I'm sure this will cause controversy on both sides..but especially for those who would rather pretend slavery never happened.
If you're of distant [Sub Saharan] African descent and living in Europe or the Americas, it's almost a guarantee you are a descendant of slaves. But with so many White Americans being a heinz 57 of Irish, Italian, Polish, etc descent, many don't know whether or not they are descended from slave owners.
As someone who was once an avid genealogist, I have thoroughly researched my family tree. My mom's side is Italian, so no slave owners there. They were just hardworking immigrants who faced their own discrimination and adversity.
But my White Anglo Saxon Protestant father, who I can thank for my pale skin and light eyes, has deep roots in the deep South. And while his family takes pride in their American gentry heritage, what they choose to ignore is that the wealth and prosperity of their forefathers..and by extension, to at least some degree, their own..was built on the backs of slaves.
It's upsetting to find a slave owner in your family tree. And equally upsetting to find another. But when it beomes another..and another..and another..it becomes a very humbling experience. And raises so many questions.
My 6th great grandfather Thomas owned 30 human beings. Men, women, children. Any children they may have had were his belongings at birth. It was his right to use or dispose of them as he saw fit..and why? Because they were Black. No other cause or justification. As if there could possibly be any.
And someone might say "well Abby, you never owned slaves". But does that mean I don't benefit from his inhumanity? Think of this: I'm named after my great great grandmother, Abigail, who was in turn named after Thomas' daughter, Abigail. It's something called legacy and it pervades generations.
I once visited the home Thomas and his family lived in. It's located in Virginia, the state where I have lived since age 12. It's a beautiful house and though it's been extensively modernized, it still remains very close to what it looked like the day it was built..
..by those 30 slaves.
And amazingly enough, I have cousins living there. A well to do descendant of Thomas and his wife purchased the home for their retirement after discovering the man's family connection to the property. It's sickens me when I think of the fact that my cousins live in the home my grandfather's slaves built.
To think that I only inherited my lily White skin from my Southern ancestors would be the height of naivete. My complexion comes with privilege. To live in a society that, to this day, over 150 years after the end of slavery, still says I'm superior because of it.
And I'm not ashamed to be White. I think my features are beautiful. However, I don't think they entitle me or anyone else to opportunities others are denied. And this is sadly the case.
And while I refuse to feel guilt for my father's accomplishments or my siblings' or any I may have because I still believe in the American dream, I also refuse to be blind to the fact that in some way, we're still building our lives on the backs of 30 slaves.