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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/10/21

Of Cotton and Empire: Engaging River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom Part II

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

Previously published February 4, 2021, at the

A Slave Is A Dead Soul.

Juan Francisco Manzano, Autobiography of A Slave

Jefferson's embrace of empire evolved around the liberties of white men rather than of human beings in general.

Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and the Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

A Black character might appear in a horror film, but you can bet he or she will be the first person to be taken out first, as soon as the danger or "monster" makes an appearance. It's as if the underlying message is that the danger or "monsters" and Black people shouldn't appear together. Should never appear together! Never have appeared together! That is, according to Hollywood.

For the fantasy-producing industry, unsettling messages make for discontented citizens!

Jordan Peele's film, Get Out suggest, however, just the oppositethat the danger and Black people appearing together in reality is reality! The film looks like a "horror" flick to others simply following the action, as if from a distance. In Get Out , the kidnapping of Black people by white, wealthy people, in present time, is real! So the film asks, what happens when these snatched, taken, kidnapped are drugged and dragged away from their lives?

Because the danger seems, at first, oblique, until the film forces its viewers to ask why would it appear usual, normal, for Black Americans to appear as "servants"? Even sexual play mates?

The "snatched" are taken miles from home, and once effectively killed , each lives a life they would have never dreamed of. On the other hand, the perpetrators experience nothing less than bliss: everyone is quite happy to have the privilege of having a dependable maid, gardener, or sex partner. The violence of the monster, however, is barely perceptible to anyone outside such a fantastical narrativeexcept maybe to another Black American.


This what makes it a "'sunup to sundown'" enterprise": productivity! Greet the sun rising and kiss it goodnight ! Work the enslaved Blacks "harder" and "faster!" Greed and indifference working hand-in-hand, ensured that when Americans, indeed the world, thought of productivity, they looked to the Kingdom of Cotton in the Mississippi Valley!

Between 1820 and 1860, historian Walter Johnson writes in River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom , "the productivity of the average slave on the average cotton plantation in Mississippi increased sixfold." In the parlance of the day, writes Johnson, cotton was "'made' at the juncture of these processesecology, labor, marketing, and credit. Indeed, we might say that, along with the cotton, planters themselves were made at the juncture of the process." Affleck's Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book served as another narrative guide to productivity and wealthy. A must-read "bestseller" for the man with a "design," a dream! Plenty of men want to reap the rewards of growing cotton!

However craftily writtenimaging notions of "liberties" for all men, white menthe overall narrative of the cotton industry, built on the ideology of capitalism, wasn't designed to support such "liberties" for all. Even not all white men!

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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