I’m happy that American Literature is something that I’m starting to become more fond of. It’s not that I just can’t wait of getting my hands on native texts, religious sermons, or Anne Bradstreet’s anti-feminist feminism, but more or less the picking apart of what I was taught growing up. Thanksgiving is ruined. Columbus day is ruined (not that anyone really celebrates it anyways). Yes, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but he also killed a shitload of people once he got to “India.” It also turns out that when we played cowboys-and-indians every Friday in elementary gym class, it was super racist. Lastly, the fact that the Salem Witch Trials weren’t really in Salem, Massachusetts made me realize that a lot of what I was taught was wrong. But that’s not even what I want to talk about.
Growing up, you always were taught about how great our founding fathers were. Ben Franklin got struck by lightning, George Washington stood on the front of a boat that one time, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was also a super racist, which isn’t really cool. If you’ve ever read the “Notes on the State of Virginia,” you’d know. I never read it in high school, so I didn’t know.
Ol’ Tommy Boy really set me back, all right. This piece of American literature features twenty-three ‘queries,’ or sections, all talking about different aspects of Virginia. From the boundaries of Virginia to its Constitution, Jefferson brings out his true pompous colors in his work. Although tough to decipher at points, Jefferson really gives it to the African race in Query XIV, entitled ‘Laws;’ “..their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?” (OpenAmLit). So basically he tells us that Clydesdales haul heavy loads, German Shepards are the best at hunting, and the white race is superior. Fair enough, Tom. What’s your argument? “They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites… A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient…” (OpenAmLit). And so-on. He continues this for another half hour or so before referring to Homer as also being a racist 2600 years before him.
So what am I getting at? I mean, sure. A guy who grew up in a time like this is more than bound to be a racist at least to some degree. But not only did he openly write all of this in a section of his work literally called ‘laws,’ but he also wrote one of this nation’s backbone pieces in the Declaration of Independence. We are taught growing up to respect people like this in the same high school classes that teach us about how awful James Earl Ray was, when in reality they didn’t think a whole lot differently when it came to racial disputes. This is just scratching the surface. To continue to look into people like Jefferson, you won’t just find racial disputes, but disputes amongst women’s rights as well.
As for Jefferson, one would think that he’s the type of guy that would never have a relationship with a black woman. I didn’t fully get the humor in this video until just now. Ancestry.com Ad