.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Ability to Blush

I've been reading about my erstwhile neighbor, give or take a couple of centuries and a distance right up the road of only about 40 miles, at Monticello, plus a couple of other factors that some might think important -- Thomas Jefferson, and his relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. It's part of going back to the basics of how things in this country got started. Though most Americans wouldn't mind denying it for all they're worth, events having to do with the people who were abducted in Africa and dragged over here to work unceasingly as little more than talking draft animals for many generations are among the most important of those considerations, and there's no better place to get some early insights into that than a tract called "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings," written with felicitous and barely concealed outrage by a New York City Rainbow law professor named Annette Gordon-Reed.

In other days I will probably talk about other things suggested by this book. For now I just want to speak of how she tells us that, in one of his many identities, the one of a racist, the 3rd President of the United States thought that one way in which African-derived people were inferior to European-derived ones was in their inability to blush.

I was startled. I had heard thousands of charges leveled against the African descendants to account for our supposedly inferior state of being, but till now those had never included being unable to blush (or maybe doing it but too invisibly to matter). Too bad that no one was around to ask Jefferson how this made him or anyone else superior. I'm guessing that he thought blushing was a mark of beauty in women, brought on by his unquestioned ways with words, whereas the darker-skinned slaves could more easily keep their true thoughts to themselves. But to my eye, besides suggesting states of mind that one might not want seen, blushing merely discolors faces, in the same way that drinking too much does, or staying out in the sun a few minutes too long.

And anyway, Mark Twain, a greater American than Jefferson in the respect that he didn't have the great misfortune to be born into a slave-master heritage whose irresistible comforts included unpunished seductions), queered the game for Jefferson when he pointed out that, "Humans are the only animal species that can blush -- or that need to."

Now, what were all those things that Thomas Jefferson is thought to have done with the young, helpless Ms Hemings, over a period of as long as 38 years?


Post a Comment

<< Home