Sometimes, I want to erase certain parts of history, to take my finger on one of those long timelines we used in 11th grade U.S. History class and just rub them out. But history is not written on a white board.
Or maybe it is. Maybe that’s why parts of it I want to ignore.
Sometimes, the lines we want to wipe away are the lashes from a whip or the scars from shackles or the streams of blood that run down legs forced open. Some of us think it would be better if we just acted like slavery was a quaint institution that we say was “horrible” and then pretend wasn’t really. “They had a place to live and food to eat.”
I want to scrub out the lines in wills or notes that grant freedom or the chalk-scrawled etchings of letters on slate in tiny, hidden classrooms, or the writing on bills of sale for families bought at the request of a father who knew his master to be, in some way, kind. If I could erase these pieces from history – not from the experience itself – then maybe people would stop pretending like slavery “wasn’t that bad.”
But slavery was bloodlines and promises kept. It was scars and hopes and songs and screams. It was everything life always is. Nothing can be, will be erased, even if we pretend.
Around all these lines – these particular experiences and particular people – around all these names a circle has been drawn – the circumference of a marble shooting ring comes to mind. This line contains all the stories that we hold up as “evidence” of “good” or “bad.”
The circle of ownership. People owned other people.
Here on this plantation, here, where I live in the very steps of people who owned and were owned, I have no idea how to wrap my mind around this. I have no idea.
A baby girl is born here. Isaetta. Her first breath shares the air with trees whose bark I caress each time I pass. She toddles her first steps here on roads where my feet stir dust.
Then, at age two, she and her parents are moved to Alabama. They do not choose to move. They do not even get to protest. They simply pack their bags and begin to walk. Isaetta cannot take this many steps on her own.
To be owned. To be circumscribed entirely by someone else’s wishes. I can’t even imagine.