HomeRacism in AmericaRight Wing ‘Journalist’ Angry that ’12 Years a Slave’ Doesn’t Depict Happy Slaves

Right Wing ‘Journalist’ Angry that ’12 Years a Slave’ Doesn’t Depict Happy Slaves

You’d think that the subject of slavery would be off limits for the partisan rhetoric of conservatives. Well, you have no idea.

Yes, there are a few conservative voices who are actually ‘disappointed’ with their perceived ‘negative portrayal’ of slavery in the movie “12 Years a Slave.”

Writing in the American Spectator, James Bowman wants to know where all happy slaves were in the movie. How about their story?

“If ever in slavery’s 250-year history in North America there were a kind master or a contented slave, as in the nature of things there must have been, here and there, we may be sure that Mr (sic) McQueen does not want us to hear about it. This, in turn, surely means that his view of the history of the American South is as partial and one-sided as that of the hated Gone With the Wind.”

Why anyone would want to launch a PR campaign for the most despicable period in our nation’s history is unknowable. But when reading Bowman’s piece, you can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be so out of place on Stormfront.org or some other white supremacist website.

“Yes, there was much cruelty and hardship in the slave-owning South, as there has been in most of the rest of the world most of the time, and Mr. McQueen’s camera is all over that. But it strains ordinary credulity to suppose that there was nothing else.”

Maybe Bowman could write his next column about all the missing happy Jews in Holocaust movies.

To give a little credit to the American Spectator’s readers, the comment thread that opened up beneath the article was mostly filled with people wondering what the hell Bowman was thinking. “Is this article a joke of some sort?” one commenter asked.

The piece, entitled “Propaganda is Not ‘Reality’ or ‘Truth’” is a new low in right wing punditry. Anyone who would suggest that a movie based on a historical account of slavery is simply a propaganda ploy, deserves to be relegated to the fringe and shamed out of mainstream online publications.

About Sky Palma

Sky Palma
Sky Palma lives in Los Angeles and has been writing about politics, current events and religion for over a decade. He's also the head editor and founder of deadstate.org.
  • Doug Hubka

    Clearly you did not see the movie. Although the guy was kidnapped and sold into slavery, he was accepted and ding well, until he stood up to some white cracker that was jealous of him. The movie started out showing a positive slave environment and then shows the worst . It was fair and balanced

  • Dwight Robertson

    Where the hell do you get you history?

  • Don Hodgdon

    You sir, are clueless.

  • Beaugrand_RTMC

    My, the Reichwing has certainly overdosed on the stupid.
    Slavery was, and is, only one thing- BAD.
    People who endorse slavery are BAD people.
    People who claim that slaves were (are) happy are BAD people.
    People who justify slavery are BAD people.
    This isn’t a “grey area.”
    Slavery was BAD.
    There was, and is, no “benevolent slavery,” there is only BAD slavery.
    Anyone in public office who suggests that slavery was anything but BAD needs to be removed from office immediately.

  • J. Fischer

    Perhaps you should read some of the slave narratives. Sure, many slaves learned trades, but that was for the benefit of their masters, and they had to have permission to earn their own money — which their masters claimed a chunk of. Families could be — and were — broken apart on their masters’ commands. After the Civil War, many freed people placed advertisements seeking information on their missing family members.

    Being well-treated may make slavery more bearable, but it’s still slavery. The people are still property, and can be (mis)treated as such.

  • janipurr

    Obvous troll is obvious.

    • J. Fischer

      Some people actually believe that crap.

      • janipurr

        True, but anyone that has two brain cells to rub together doesn’t believe it. Either Meade is seriously brain impaired, or a troll. I thought I would give her the benefit of the doubt.

  • Steven B

    I cannot believe no one called you out on that completely false comment. Are you a simpleton or something? I do know that it was a dumbass remark. Slavery wasn’t all that bad? You try it for awhile, starting when you were a child, and ripped from your momma’s arms and sold off. I take that back, it wasn’t a dumbass remark. You are the dumbass

  • blarga blah

    That all may be true, but the principle of having negligible agency and autonomy is horrendous.

    • blarga blah

      Plus, life was “not all that bad” for them only if they complied with their masters and wanted no independence. Yea, they learned trades, but they were still slaves! They were skilled at giving their masters free labor!

      • J. Fischer

        They could earn money, but needed the master’s permission to do so. Hell, they had to have permission for things that the lower-class whites could do freely.

  • Evanescence

    “When you was slaves, you sang like birds…”

  • Pingback: Right Wing ‘Journalist’ Angry that ’12 Years a Slave’ Doesn’t Depict Happy Slaves | Ozaak.com()

  • JimmyG

    Argh, I’m sorry! That reply was meant to be directed at mattychongz (god knows why it didn’t reply to him properly).

  • JimmyG

    You’re defending ‘anybody that identifies as conservative white supremacist’? Plus you have the audacity to call others a nutball? Seriously, what’s wrong with you? You do know it gives a warning not to have comments containing racism don’t you?

    • Dylan Jantz

      If you dont see how slavery is at the very basic a level a racial issue, then you are indeed a ‘nutball’.

    • grammatteus

      To be fair, I think he meant ‘anybody that identifies as conservative ([,] or [,a]) white supremacist’ but this just underlines why I always bang on about proper punctuation and spelling, since at some point, ambiguity becomes pure confusion. Education empowers but also opens your eyes to points of view other than your narrow one!

  • https://www.facebook.com/angeline.moreland Angeline Moreland

    I suppose he could always watch Song of the South. That’s a Disney movie.

  • http://gravatar.com/eye650 eye650

    Suppose there were kind slave owners (how can you be kind and own another person) and contented slaves (who would be content with being a slave) what does that have to do with the atrocities of slavery???!!! It is a conceivable that a woman may have an orgasm during rape, so now rape is excusable or somehow not as bad?! I will give bowman credit for stirring the pot and attracting attention to himself.

  • Julius

    Here’s the bottom line…

    Wherever there’s a man or woman whom are treated as less than human, there can be no true happiness.

    It gets no simpler than that.

  • https://www.facebook.com/mErocrush Melvin Moten

    People like James Bowman are the real face of racism in America…Because they truly think that if black/brown people just learned their place and accepted their second-class status, things would be fine. It’s the same thinking that people like Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman practice: It’s the role of black people to defer to them, not for them to learn to co-exist and stop assuming that every black kid they see is a a gang-banging thug.

  • mattychongz

    I read the article was this was taken wayyy out of context as I expected. Anther leftwing nutball twisting words around around to set up an attack on anyone who identifies as conservative white supremist? Like looking for happy jews in holocaust? Get real.

    • Peter Fotopoulos

      I shared this and an Fbook friend, Andy Lewis, replied, “Schindler’s List doesn’t depict happy Jews, either.” Hey “mattychongz,” your opinion is as pathetic as your grammar and spelling.

    • http://gravatar.com/eye650 eye650

      I read the article, and the quote was not taken out of context, in fact it was the least inflammatory statement in the article.

  • http://facebook dee

    Being suppressed, contained, owned, forced, etc does not make for an existance one would smile about. My suspicion is that ‘happy slaves’ were only found when they were freed. Oh, but they were no longer slaves then. So no, happy does not go with slavery. Good Grief Folks………

  • fred

    I suggest the journalist, if he really is one, travel to Bangladesh and find happy slaves in the garment sweat shops.

  • Elizabeth

    Bottom line. There were no happy slaves. People of color were force to leave their homelands to become slaves of white people. To do whatever the master told them to do. White people get it together. We can not sugar coat slavery. Deal with it.

    • Caleb F. Of Vermont

      How do you know there were no happy/ content slaves? Did you know every single one of them before the civil war? Is it not concievable that there may have been at the very least one? Or are you merely forming an oppinion based off societal moral majority beliefs and modern ethical practices that can not and do not apply to the early to mid 19th century.

      • Karen

        My ancestor owned a plantation in North Carolina and had slaves. According to what has been told to me, he was a good “Master” and treated his slaves well. So well, in fact, that after the war, many of them CHOSE to remain with him, at which time they were PAID for their continued services. So yes, there certainly were some happy slaves. It’s important to understand, however, that “happy” is a relative word. I’m happy that I live in a nice house and eat well. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about where money will come from to pay my next bill. But does that mean I don’t aspire to a different life? It is MY choice whether to accept what I have or change my life. Those slaves did not have a choice. Someone else decided what was best for them, and even if they were happy, they did NOT have any choice in the circumstances of their own lives. What upsets me is that too many humans STILL believe they have the right to make decisions about another human being. How arrogant is that?!

        • grammatteus

          Excellent point you make! I am sure there were varying levels of care shown to slaves dependent on the relative consciences of each slaveowner, but your point about their choice makes me wonder: what if a slave, whether treated well or not, decided to try to escape, or refused to work – surely it would be beholden to the owner to punish the slave in some way? Otherwise they would see all their slaves run off or just not work. Therefore even the best-treated slave knew they faced retribution if they did so. Your point about choice is far-reaching indeed!

  • PrettyOne

    Fools always expose their IGNORANCE!

    • Robie

      And fools come in all walks of life, color, nationality, political persuasion
      and race.

  • Ryan

    How about all those happy POWs in Vietnam? This guy and those with similar attitudes are complete douchebags.

    • Lisa

      Wasn’t John McCain a POW? Maybe he can interview him on that subject…

  • http://bavarianilluminati.wordpress.com jsanand

    What’s next? People griping about why Holocaust movies don’t show any happy Jews in the death camps? This is definitely a new level of insanity.

  • https://www.facebook.com/nicholas.smurthwaite Nicholas Smurthwaite

    I sadly have met people like Mr Bowmen. Conservatives completely out of touch with the human condition. Unable, due to their right wing bias, to see even the bloody obvious.

  • Darlene Bates

    I guess they want to believe that there were “happy slaves” so they don’t have to feel guilty. Really! Why wouldn’t they be happy? After all, they were stripped from their homes in Africa, had to endure slave ships, then beaten and then sold in auctions like cattle, made to work in the fields, beaten if they didn’t work hard, and then families were split up and sold off. Under those conditions why wouldn’t anyone not be “happy”. Hopefully, someone with a brain would understand that it’s not possible for “happy slaves” unless used as an oxymoron.

    • Katherine Grimes

      Ms. Bates, that’s exactly what I wanted to say when I read this ridiculous idea. Thank you.

  • http://gravatar.com/loiejg LoieJ

    There are lots of examples of literature, etc. that aren’t the “whole story” if you can call it that. For example, there is nothing in the Bible about Jesus going to the bathroom. Surely he did, so the bible must be biased.

  • kim cooper

    Two short comments: Mr. Bowman must have been taken in by the show of happiness made by people who feel it’s best to appear happy to those who have ultimate power over them. and, perhaps Mr. Bowman himself would like to be a “happy slave” for a while — perhaps he has an S&M complex or something?

  • https://www.facebook.com/pnemecek1 Paul Nemecek

    If ever in journalism’s 250-year history in North America there was an idiot posing as a journalist, as in the nature of things there must have been . . . . never mind, found him.

  • Betty in NOLA

    I guess he missed the part where this is based on in person experience from the time? Like, a real slave wrote about his life?

  • robin stazak

    Happiness is irrelevant to the distortion of enslaving another human being. Humans, no matter how encumbered by distortion, will always try to seek relative happiness. For instance, we are encumbered by substantial distortion today… some may not even recognize it as distorted… yet we still seek happiness.

  • https://www.facebook.com/gaby.leander1 Gaby Leander

    Guess there where also Happy Jews in Auschwitz

  • http://www.danaseilhan.com Dana

    I wouldn’t say there were happy slaves any more than there is any such thing as safe sex. There is only safER sex, and there were only happiER slaves, as in happier than most of their counterparts because they weren’t as abused. But they weren’t as happy as they could have been, had their lives had more dignified circumstances. And slavery and dignity cannot co-exist, for either the owner or the owned.

    Even an unhappy slave can be situationally happy from time to time but it’s in spite of his or her condition, not because of it, and the happiness is transitory.

    The Happy Slave is left out of slavery narratives because he or she is essentially a unicorn. We don’t spend much time writing stories about people who are “allergic” to water, because it just about never happens. We often write of thirsty people, though. It’s not “leaving it out” and “telling an incomplete narrative” when the issue you’re leaving out is one that almost no one in this world will ever encounter.

    • DBRN

      Dana, that’s about the best response I could ever hope to read on the topic. Thanks!

    • http://gravatar.com/imotoday Cherie

      I think you are spending way too much time trying to justify why one would leave out happy slaves. It should never even be considered.

    • Katherine Grimes

      Excellent points. Thank you.

  • Docbrc

    Yeah… what happened to those good old days when Shirley Temple tap danced her way through the confederate states with her happy, smiling, loyal and lovable old black guy at her side? Surely, those moments must have been based on reality, just like the documentary, Gone with the Wind. I just don’t get it, but… oh fiddle-ee-dee, I’ll think about that tomorrow.

    • http://birchinworld.wordpress.com Birch Wind

      I agree with “The Happy Slave is left out of slavery narratives because he or she is essentially a unicorn. ” and similar comments, but just had to reply to the one above and say that THIS is the best tongue & cheek reply I’ve read in awhile.

  • Lynners

    There are written historical accounts of slave owners and sadistic foremen who would mutilate and torture slaves for any for insubordination in their eyes. It went above and beyond corporeal punishment, some involved such lovely means of discipline like filling the victim’s mouth with feces. Even one and kind slave owner cannot make up for for even 1 minute of slavery. Incidentally, when did N*gger Hair Tobacco go out of business? 1959?

    • http://www.dosomeresearchyouimbicile.com/5buckssayssomeonetriesthisurl.php Kate

      If you had bothered to do a little bit of research. The American Tobacco company stopped using that name for the product in the 20’s, and the company continued doing business until the well… they still are!

      • Dennis

        If YOU had bothered to do any research (beyond reading the first line of a couple of the hits off of Google), you would have seen that the produce was, IN FACT marketed under that name until well into the 1959’s.

        What stopped being produced in the 10920’s was the TIN PACKAGE it came in, and these have become valuable collectibles. “Nigger Hair” itself was packaged differently and sold under that name for another couple of generations.

  • Pushkina

    The film was made from a text, the memoir of a man’s life.
    It is not an editorial piece with free time offered to include “the other opinions”.

    And that movie was made. It’s called Gone With The Wind.

    • http://www.danaseilhan.com Dana

      It’s been years since I saw it, but I don’t remember the movie focusing all that hard on slavery in general. Particular slaves known by the main characters, yes.

      The book talks more about general conditions of the period. I think it still glosses over a hell of a lot, but Mitchell didn’t hide the fact that slaves were whipped and I believe “bad masters” may have been discussed a time or two. (It’s also been a while since I read the book.)

      Not to defend her. I think what was going on there was the same phenomenon Phil Robertson noticed and misidentified: when your life depends on not hassling the people responsible for the poor conditions of your life, you’ll put on the happy face more often than not. Remove the threat of beating or death, put those people on more politically equitable footing and ask them again and you will get an entirely different story. Freedom breeds honesty.

  • kitcumbie

    Spoken like an old, rich white man and echoed be every redneck within earshot!

  • https://www.facebook.com/laurie.neufeld.79 Laurie Neufeld

    Bet he’s really good friends with Phil Robertson.

  • https://www.facebook.com/gibsonsha Sharon Gibson

    Bowman apparently is unaware that the movie is based on a memoir of memoir and slave narrative by Solomon Northrup who was born free in New York and later kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. Too bad Northrup didn’t have a happier time being brutalized and all. What’s next for Bowman? Attacking Anne Frank’s failure to write about Amsterdam teenagers who weren’t hiding from the Nazis?

    • steveloy

      The correct name is Solomon Northup.

  • http://[email protected] joeytranchina

    There were, in fact, a few plantations, run by guilt-ridden southern Christians, who did in fact attempt to “humanize slavery,” by eliminating physical brutality and some of the more obvious obscenities of slavery.

    Look up Charles Colcott Jones, who studied theology at Yale and who owned a huge rice and partly cotton plantation system in low-country Georgia, His family’s letters are published in a volume entitled: “The Children of Pride.” There is also a book about Colcott Jones and his extended family by Erskine Clarke called “Dwelling Place.”

    In a letter to his wife, Mary, he wrote: “I am moreover undecided whether I ought to continue to hold slaves. As to the principle of slavery it is wrong. It is unjust, contrary to nature and religion, to hold men enslaved. But the question is, in my present circumstances, with evil on my hands, entailed from my father, would the general interest of the slaves and community at large, with reference to the slaves, be promoted best by emancipation? Could I do more for the ultimate good of the slave population by holding or emancipating what I own? I know not very particularly how you feel on this point.”

    That being said, the obvious reason that anyone, who is not an utter ignoramus, would understand that there was no reason to include the minstrel show version of slavery, in any film of the period, is that the “Happy Darkie” experience is a myth based on lies concocted by guilty White people.

    • https://www.facebook.com/stephen.dalton1 Stephen Dalton

      I’m sure there were “happy” slaves, they wouldn’t have known any better. Take for instance the one that quite literally slaved all day in the hot Georgia sun in the cotton field, who got too old to cut cotton and was moved to the kitchen. That would quite literally be a “happy” slave, no longer having to work the fields. But, that is not what this story is about, this story was based on the facts of a happy non-slave, kidnapped and sold into slavery! Maybe later they will make a movie just for you Mr. Bowman, filled with stories about “happy” slaves, but it will be a FICTION!

    • http://gravatar.com/fungrandma nancy driy

      I know there are many unspeakable atrocities done to slaves but, as a mother, my mind keeps returning to the very basic fact that another person had the right to sell my children at any time. How can anyone even suggest there were ‘happy’ slaves?

      • http://[email protected] joeytranchina

        Want to imagine something even more disgusting?
        Think about the fact that many of the fathers of those children were the ones selling them. How’s that for ugly?

    • Julian Skidmore

      WRT Charles Colcott Jones, we should think about the context first. Charles Colcott Jones was born in 1804 and so probably did all his agonizing after the 1830s. The thing is that by the 1830s, Quaker states had already banned slavery for nearly 100 years and other nations such as the UK had banned slavery too (having banned the slave trade in UK territory in 1806). Jones grew up in a world that not only knew about the church’s opposition to slavery (“Am I not a Man and a Brother?”), but had also taken major steps to eradicate it. He knew what he was doing was wrong (he admits he had evil on his hands and that religion opposed slavery), but he still enslaved people. Therefore, he wasn’t an enlightened, progressive Christian for his day, but a man at the deeply regressive tail-end of abuse, a man dominated by fear.

      Steve McQueen’s film (and the book too, which I guess is the equivalent of Ouladah Equiano’s biography but for the US) is more than a book about a free man enslaved for 12 years, but that all the people he encountered in the plantations were, in truth, people not under the ownership of anyone, because nobody can be owned. All those people were simply kidnapped and imprisoned just like Northrup. Similarly Colcott Jones owned no-one, he simply had a number of people kidnapped and imprisoned for no justification at all. And he acts just like any other tyrant would – he’s afraid to free his prisoners because of what they might do to him. So he, Colcott Jones (for whom Jesus gave up everything for) protected his own interests at their expense.

      Treating ‘slavery’ in these terms makes it much easier to respond to questions about happy “kidnapped and imprisoned people”. It’s still outrageous, unconscionable abuse.

Scroll To Top
website security Website Security Test