“Yet to an obsessive his obsession always seems to be of the nature of things and so is not recognized by what it is.” Those words, written by art critic John Berger in his book Ways of Seeing, annotate one part of his understanding of the history of oil paintings: it’s obsessive tendencies toward showmanship of what one has, and the relationship between property and art.
A wealthy patron of the arts may have commissioned an oil painter to depict their life by painting their property – a room in their house full of their many collectors items. Of course, embellishment of the truth was allowed because the important idea was to create a sense of envy in the spectator. The subject of the painting wished simply to convey a sense of dominance; a sense of superiority.
Now we look at oil paintings in museums and galleries and sit in awe of the technical prowess provided by such works. It feels so realistic, the way the light sweeps in through open windows while the scene unfolds nearly unopposed to the charismatic beauty of the world around them. The subject sits aloof to their own dominance.
Honestly though white privilege is the the very real notion that Scarlett Johansson can be cast as a canonically Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell but the moment you talk about Idris Elba playing James Bond it’s “controversial”
So, I just wrote that big thing on ‘progressive’ white America’s modern view of the chattel slavery of African Americans, and I have deiced, on behalf of all white people, we need to stop lying to each other. Teachers, tour guides, even just random people, when they get asked “Was Master X nice to his slaves” or “But most slaves were treated well, right?” Need to uniformly answer “No.”
No owner ever treated a slave well. Not George Washington, Not Thomas Jefferson, not your potential ancestors, not the nice family you heard about on vacation last year. To own another human being is to not treat them well.
We have to stop lying to kids (and each other) and saying that there is a humane way to strip another human being of there right to self, to take a person and create a marketable commodity .
White Americans still benefit from the legacy of slavery, and Black American’s still suffer from it. We need to stop teaching it as an ancient quirk that left few scars because everyone was more or less happy.
It wasn’t symbiotic, it was parasitic, and we need to stop saying otherwise.