[ A pre-script to this letter, if you please: I am reading CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson, an extraordinarily thoughtful book. Some of the authors ideas connect to a topic currently under discussion in our community: The proposed renaming of Saint James Plantation. If you have read CASTE, you will recognize Wilkerson’s touch-points, for which I am grateful.]
When my Grandparents immigrated to the United States from Ireland, Norway, Ukraine and Poland, they were not White. They were Irish, Norwegian, Ukraine and Polish. They became WHITE when they landed in New York City at the beginning of the 19th Century.
(Well, truth be told, my paternal Grandfather from Ukraine didn’t land in NYC. He was an original Ice-Back, walking across the Canadian-U.S. border and drifting into Manhattan. (Or so goes our family myth.)
But “whiteness” did not play into their lives until after they, deliberately or unconsciously, accepted their position in the 500 year old caste system that was functioning in the early 1900’s as it is today. They “became White in America”.
This caste-system was built to a great extent and made financially secure by the gradual development, starting in the 1500’s of a “forced-labor-camp” system populated by black slaves and white slave owners and overseers.
This caste-system was perpetuated through to the Civil War by the mutual support of both the South and North. It was continued after the Civil War by a cultural-legal system now remembered as “Jim Crow”, which forced blacks to remain on the lowest rung of the American-caste-ladder by a combination of racist laws and unchecked violence. Some former slaves, but few, managed to climb further up the ladder.
The preceeding is a partial summary of a reality, about which I have tried to read and study.
The epicenter of this reality was the multi-State system of white-owner-black-slave agricultural factories called….Plantations.
Whites created that caste system and perpetuated it. Even my Grandparents – (who may never have recognized their role) – because their white skin, perpetuated that system and the causal suppression of generations of former Black-African-American…former slaves.
I live in Saint James Plantation.
I and the other property owners of this Plantation have been given an opportunity to perform an act, maybe of contrition, but at least of reconciliation, by simply removing that word from the name of our community.
In my mind, whether it does or does not matter to other members of our wider community, black, white, red, yellow, purple…it would be a soul-healing act, a decision, a statement of our recognition of our part in this sad history….
To drop a word from our letter-head.
Because the recognition of our own, white, role in this American caste system is an important step in the ultimate obliteration of that system. It is a fesing-up to a painful truth. And it will matter to each of us. For our own sake, if for no one else’s.
Saint James, North Carolina
August 14, 2020