|"That Man" - My Paternal Grandfather|
Mostly I just enjoy the treasure hunt of the whole thing, and getting a little picture of what life in the past was like for ordinary folk.
Anyhow, news broke recently that a team of genealogical researchers from Ancestry.com had uncovered evidence that President Obama is actually a direct descendant of a man named John Punch, who was the very first African slave in America. Interestingly, the link is on his white mother's side of the family.
Evidently, Punch was an indentured servant in the early 1600's who attempted to flee, and was then enslaved for life. However, he apparently fathered a number of children with a white woman (it's unclear to me if they were actually married or not.)
At any rate, I heard an interview with one of the researchers who was asked if this was considered shocking at the time, and he responded that it really wasn't. According to the researcher, this all took place before widespread enslavement of Africans by white folk, and thus there really weren't any taboos in place about mixed race couples. This is the point that really struck me.
I guess I've always understood the narrative on slavery to be that white people of European descent figured they were superior to Africans, and thus it was OK to enslave them. But given what this guy is saying, it sounds much more like the reality is that white people found it convenient to enslave Africans, and then decided that Africans must be inferior, as a way of easing their guilty consciences.
So... while I'm sure that bigotry does indeed beget oppression, it would appear that the reverse is also true... being an oppressor begets bigotry. Bigotry is, in a certain sense, a personal defense against the reality that one is behaving in an inhuman manner.
I have no great conclusions to draw from this insight, but I thought it was very interesting. It sorta made me wonder what other ways we twist around our belief systems in order to justify our behavior.