Slavery, Skills, and Political Opportunism

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

In preparation for this edit, I watched “12 Years a Slave,” the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning movie based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American man living in upstate New York in the 1840s. A talented musician, Solomon gets tricked, abducted, and sold into slavery in the South, where he endures unimaginable suffering and hardship for 12 years, hence the name of the movie. As Solomon faces the dehumanizing reality of slavery, and here’s the essential point, he encounters moments of compassion and hope from fellow slaves and even sympathetic white slave owners. Throughout his ordeal, Solomon desperately holds onto his identity as a free man endowed by his Creator with an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Well, maybe you need to read between the lines a little bit. 


An important lesson we can take from the movie is to not only recognize the ongoing impact of slavery but to actively strive for a society that values equality, justice, and dignity for all people, irrespective of who we are or where we originate. After all, we are all created in God’s image, and our treatment of each other should reflect this unequivocal truth. 

Now let me get to the main point. On Wednesday of this week, Florida Republican Congressman Byron Donalds joined others, including Vice President Kamala Harris, in condemning Florida’s education curriculum for teaching as part of the Black experience, the reality of slavery, but also the reality that slavery, despite its hideousness, also empowered many slaves with life skills including agricultural knowledge, craftsmanship, cooking and culinary arts, music, storytelling, and literacy. Congressman Donalds, like Vice President Kamala Harris, objects to such undeniable truths being pointed out as part of any curriculum on the slavery experience in the American South circa 1788–1865. But we expect as much from Kamala Harris, who never misses an opportunity to race-bait. But Byron Donalds, a “conservative” who has assumed a high-profile role as both defender and supporter of all things Donald Trump-related, should really know better. But politics makes strange bedfellows, as the old saying goes. 


Recognizing the political opportunity to punch Ron DeSantis in the nose—the man who, it so happens, is also Trump’s primary opponent for the Republican nomination—was apparently too tempting for the Florida Congressman to pass on. The real question is: was it Donalds’ idea to join the shameless Harris in her unfair attacks on DeSantis? Or did marching orders come from Mar-a-Lago? 

Regardless, I want to address this issue of slaves learning skills while enduring the indignity of slavery. The negative reaction from both Byron Donalds and Kamala Harris ignores an important and elegant truism about human beings. And that truism is that even under the most horrendous conditions, as told both powerfully and poignantly in the Oscar-winning film, the undeniable reality is that the human spirit is indelibly resilient, the human mind is unequaled in its magnificence, and the intestinal fortitude of some human beings is indestructible and won’t be held down in perpetuity. Who wants to debate that point? 

Yes, and for sure, people can suffer the hardships of their captivity and not always survive physically. But Christ, who came to Earth to set the captives free, also gives us as human beings the fiber of our being and the marrow in our bones to overcome everything and anything, especially if we focus on His infinite strength rather than on our own strength, which is very finite. And that’s perhaps the real enduring lesson in all of this, and one that we all should be willing to discuss and teach to our kids and future generations. And that goes for politicians like Byron Donalds and Kamala Harris. Needless to say, I have no hope for Kamala Harris when it comes to rising above the partisan politics of the moment, and I suppose we’ll see if Donalds is any better.



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