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The Perverse Affinity for Defending Slavery

Those of us who follow the 24/7 news cycle on a daily basis are aware of the remarks made by FOX News host Bill O’Reilly in regards to first lady Michelle Obamas’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Over the past several days, O’Reilly’s misguided and pathetic comments downplaying slavery have made him the target of ire from a multitude of individuals citizens from all walks of life.

For those unaware of what the first lady said, it was the following:

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters two beautiful intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

It was evident to anyone with any reasonable degree of comprehension skills that Obama was making the case that the fact that a person such as herself, the descendant of slaves, is living at the world’s most power-laden residence that also happens to have been built by slave labor, is a testament to the opportunities that this nation has and can potentially offer to its citizens. Those citizens include those from groups who have been historically marginalized and denied opportunities.

On his FOX News program Bill O’Reilly responded:

“Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well.” It goes on.

Well, OK! Understandably, condemnation was swift. Rather than acknowledge that he missed the point and went far afield, O’Reilly went on the warpath defending his indefensible lunacy, blaming the left wing media, democratic politicians, his enemies and all those of political persuasions distinct from his as engaging in intellectual dishonesty. You see, it was not his fault that he made such irresponsible comments, it was that his political foes were misrepresenting and distorting his comments. Really? Please! Whatever!

It was particularly interesting to see the number of Hollywood celebrities that weighed in. Actress, singer and Tony Award Winner Audra McDonald, mega TV series producer, Shonda Rhimes, singer Questlove, and late night hosts James Corden and Conan O’Brien took the FOX News host to task for his out of touch comments. On his July 27th  show, Conan O’Brien responded to O’Reilly with a wicked level of wit. “Leave it to FOX News to provide a fair and balanced view of slavery,” he said. Ouch!

To be sure, O’Reilly is not the only conservative who has ridiculously and obscenely defended slavery. All one has to do is peruse a number of right of center websites — some who identify as conservative as well as others who describe themselves as nationalists — and the ample, rambling level of commentary in support of slavery is astounding. The sad fact is that many of these posters are very likely, genuine in their viewpoints.

O’Reilly’s attitude reminded of the behavior of a Scott Terry, an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in 2013 who made the case that slavery was not all that bad, but was actually good for Black people in that it provided them with food, clothing, shelter and other essentials. Several of his fellow conference attendees were disgusted by his remarks. Like O’Reilly, Terry’s comments drew immediate ire and he eventually backtracked from his callous statements.

One can only wonder what would make any rational, decent human being assert that slavery was a good thing. The fact is that slavery was violent, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, destroyed families, economically decimated entire populations of people, robbed people of their religion and cultural heritage, etc.

The fact is that there was nothing “positive” about it. This is particularly true in regards to the millions who were lashed down by its cruel and rapacious spirit. For White men like O’Reilly, Terry and others who feel the need to make perverse justifications seeing it as a benign institution, perhaps they should consider placing themselves in chains, taken to an unknown territory, allow themselves to be sold to the highest bidder and let things play out from there.

Better yet, take a long, deep, hard, look in the mirror of their souls and ask themselves, “Am I defending what I would want for myself?” I can pretty much anticipate what the answer would be.

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