The world wasn't better in the past --- but I was.

We Were All Better Then

by digby

Ta-Nehesi Coates discusses a fascinating remembrance of a freed slave for her slave days and discusses what he calls "the argument" something of which I was completely unaware: it was once a serious matter of scholarly dispute as to whether or not slaves preferred being slaves. Like Coates I think it's akin to believing in creationism to even consider that slaves enjoyed their enslavement, so this is a strange concept to me. But now that he brought it up, I can certainly see the socio-political reasons for such an argument existing and am similarly relieved that it no longer seems to be necessary.

But I'm not sure the memory of Clara the former slave is actually about slavery at all, at least as I read it. She does wax nostalgic for slave days and that might very well seem to be a very strange thing to do --- if you're a young person. What I think Coates may not realize (and certainly his daughter (?) to whom he says he read the passage and was greeted with horror) is that when people get older the world of the past always looks sweeter and lovelier, not because it was --- but because they were. That poetic lady was remembering a time in which, despite her slave status, she was young and healthy and full of energy, finding all sorts of things to love about life. In her old age, she was no longer looking forward to life but looking backward at what life had been. Any past seems beautiful when you don't have much future left. So, I don't think it was the former slave speaking there. It was the former young woman.

Anyway, it's a fascinating piece as all Coates' work is. I never fail to learn something new when I read his blog.