Ethnicity Studies · graduate school

“Consider the Context” Part 2

A brief follow up to my last post. I finished rereading Uncle Tom’s Cabin while on a flight home from South Korea (I was traveling there for a few days, visiting a friend and just experiencing some of what South Korea has to offer; post to come about that experience).

I figured out what I find to be most problematic with the text, aside from the patronizing and paternalistic attitude adopted toward the slaves.  Under all of Harriet Beecher Stow’s criticisms of slavery, underneath all of her exhortations to bring an end to it, underneath the pathos-laden appeals to sensibility and decency and human feeling, lies the assumption that, the reason the African race deserved to be freed from slavery all came down to this:  they were able to be Christianized.

Had they been less susceptible to conversion, this suggests, the heathens would have deserved their lot. But because they were possessed of a “simple, childlike innocence” and had docile natures particularly suited to accept Christianity, then slavery must be done away with so the business of saving souls can be gotten to.

And that is the context that makes my skin crawl, that disturbs me when this novel is praised, that disturbs me when it is dismissed and the racism not discussed because of the context. In fact, the more I consider the context, the more disturbed I become, particularly because I see this line of thinking continued today. People are only people with rights that matter if they are Christian, or willing to convert. This seems to be a popular opinion among our Republican politicians lately, and among a portion of the population that I deal with on a regular basis.

So, I say again that it is crucial that we not dismiss the flaws and faults of the ideology of texts because of their “context.” We must discuss them, have conversations, and, yes, criticize and hold accountable despite the context. Otherwise, how will we ever get rid of that context?

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