During centuries of white-on-black chattel slavery (and then Jim and Jane Crow), the following things – black babies as alligator bait, selling black human property for medical experiments and other tortures, the skin of black people used for shoes and other types of apparel, even slave “breeding farms” — are myths and folktales only to the White Gaze and a White collective imagination deeply invested in its own innocence and nobility. Black America knows those stories to be true. Empirical reality and the historical record are evidence of the reality, the hard stuff, of life in a racialized society that has routinely made the bizarre and the “peculiar” into the banal and the quotidian.
–Chauncey DeVega on white depravity.
DeVega’s article examines why white people are so determined to deny our own histories of violent racism.
There’s an interesting quote in the article from an African man, Olaudah Equiano, describing his experience being loaded onto a slave ship. Even through the 18th century language, his horror at the monstrous callousness and violence displayed by his white captors is palpable, and he notes that they inflict it not just on their captives but on each other, such as in the flogging of a white sailor. The sailor died, and was tossed overboard without ceremony, and Equiano describes coming to the realisation that if this was how whites treated each other, what hope then for their captives?
Leveraging Equiano’s account, DeVega also draws the point that Black boogeyman stories about The White Man, used to keep children in line, are also designed to prepare them for a life of unfair treatment by actual real-life white oppressors. I think this is interesting to consider, particularly in light of the fact that a lot of European folkloric boogeymen have names that essentially translate as “the Black Man”… and do so independent of any actual deprivation inflicted on whites by people of colour.