Back in the Good Ol’ Days…

24 07 2008

When vice was the luxury of those who could afford it.

AG once posted one of the dirty little secrets of American slavery that made the affair even more gruesome and inhumane:

The slave trade was not only an exchange for manual labor but also for sexual goods. In fact, in places it was de rigueur for a young white man to have a black woman as mistress (consensual or not) before marriage to a white woman. An attractive, lighter-skinned, young female slave could auction off for as much if not more money than a young male laborer. There are even records of plantation owners selling their own daughters, conceived with a female slave, to other plantation owners as sex slaves.

One of AG’s cousins did her doctoral dissertation on the phenomenon in Louisiana slave society of quadroon balls. The authors of Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana, portray these rather bizarre get-togethers in very romanticist terms (the book having been written in the darkest days of Jim Crow):

Young Creole men, though also bound by the restrictions of caste, lived in a much broader world than their sisters. Theirs was the privilege of attending the famous quadroon balls, to dance and flirt with beautiful young women, so lightly touched with cafe au lait that a stranger would never have suspected their mixed blood, and eventually to select one as a mistress.

In Louisiana society, there was an entire caste of mixed-race women who were condemned to a life of concubinage to rich slave owners. If a young man took a fancy to one of these mixed-race women, he would go to the mother of that woman and prove that he could maintain her daughter for the duration of their relationship (his father would foot the bill). When it was time for the young man to get married to a white woman of good breeding, the man was expected to break off his relationship with his mistress and a settlement was often reached so that she and any children from the relationship would be taken care of. Many of the daughters of such unions were destined to the same fate of their mothers, and the cycle continued in this way indefinitely.

When I think of these things, I can hardly consider the past as the “good ol’ days”. For all of the rhetoric of people being celibate until married and the Church hierarchy encouraging this now, the realities of the past were far from this ideal. Where was the Church in Louisiana when these practices were the norm? Why did it turn a blind eye to mass concubiniage amongst the more prominent members of its congregations? It should hardly be surprising then that our own society is so immoral, and speaking as if we are on the verge of a new Sodom and Gomorrah may be grossly exaggerated. That, or perhaps it has always been here.

Or perhaps it was not so bad since we are speaking of people who are not white, and they are “naturally immoral” anyway (at least this is probably the subconcious thinking behind the defense of the “Leave It to Beaver” imaginings of white suburbia). People everywhere and at all times should be exhorted to virtue, but historical amnesia should not blow our current situation out of proportion. All we have done is exchanged one set of vices for another. That makes us neither more or less virtuous, nor more or less evil. It just means that we’re human, and no amount of human effort can change sinful nature.


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8 responses

4 06 2012
Anonymous

The church? Read your Bible, Revelation. The dragon was Roman paganism. The first beast was the Roman Catholic Church. The second beast was protestantism. Christianity is not a church.

3 02 2009
Logan

Me…being a creole descendant, this is kind of……messed up. They (the young white slave owners) would have a fling with a slave, then take that lighter skinned baby, and then SELL that baby. TO me it’s monstrosity, I’m appalled that any one would do that, but that was in the past.

1 08 2008
Visibilium

I agree, but, then again, I’m an Enlightenment fan, which tends to raise an eyebrow or two on this side of the Adriatic. Beside having metaphysical concerns with the Enlightenment, we have our share of Tsarists. It’s a real shame that Christianity became so identified with coercive ruling classes that it stopped reaching out to the lower castes. Even today, secularists are arguably as concerned with charity as Christians.

1 08 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Vis.,

Mmmm.

I don’t think that treating others as sub-humans is part and parcel of a genuinely Christian society, please, be my guest. And we shouldn’t expect those who are treated like this to take it lying down.

1 08 2008
Visibilium

Your surprise is a modern phenomenon. Most pre-modern societies were caste societies, and dumping on lower castes was an accepted practice. The human rights ideal is particular to a specific historical period. The civil rights movement embodied the very modern attempt to apply the Enlightenment rights ethic consistently within societies.

Come to think if it, your church has traditionally opposed Enlightenment ideals. Did Vat 2 change that?

26 07 2008
diane

Arturo and AG: Are y’all familiar with the Cane River Creoles–the Louisiana dynasty built by French adventurer Pierre Metoyer and his beautiful African mistress Marie-Therese (“Quin-Quin”)? Their eldest son, Augustin, became patriarch of a wealthy clan of mixed-race landed gentry, who took their wives from among the “placees” of New Orleans. It’s a fascinating story, a sort of black Gone with the Wind. When I first learned some of the history–back when we lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Pierre and Quin-Quin’s descendants still reside–I thought, “This has mini-series written all over it.” I wondered why no one had ever written one of those multi-generatioal-saga novels based on the Metoyer story. Eventually someone did–and even gave it the title I had thought perfect for it, Cane River–but it was a highly fictionalized account with changed names, apparently. I suppose the author avoided writing the Real Story because doing so would entail revealing one rather inconvenient fact: that Augustin and his clan were slave owners themselves, who looked down their noses at their darker brethren. Very strange!

We knew some of the descendants of Pierre and Quin-Quin when we lived in Natchitoches. They are very beautiful people. And, despite all the vicissitudes in their history (loss of their plantation, Melrose; post-Civil War backlash; Jim Crow), they still own the richest bottom-land in Natchitoches Parish. Which means, I hope, that they have the last laugh.

There’s much more I could say about the Metoyerrs–I have been known to bore people to tears at dinner parties with tales of the fascinating (IMHO!) history of the Cane River Creoles–but I will spare y’all. The state university library in Natchitoches has lots of archival info on Augustin and his siblings and their descendants, along with some rather stunning portraits of several young, aristocratic-looking Metoyers.

I would avoid the novel Cane River, though, even if it was recommended by the Oprah Book Club. LOL!

24 07 2008
Leah

I’ve often found myself wondering where the Church was during “the good old days” as well. It seems to me like in all to many cases, racism trumped the desire to save souls in the United States. I’ve read that many blacks who were Catholic during slavery converted to Protestantism when they were freed. The primary reason was probably that the black Protestant churches were the only institution that was free from white control. The first black priest wasn’t ordained till the 1890s or so, and he had to go to Rome for his studies because no American seminary would take him. So whites didn’t want to minister to blacks, but the American hierarchy couldn’t or wouldn’t ordain “native clergy” (for lack of a better term). I’d also like to know why the pre-Vatican II “ethnic whites” of Chicago didn’t take Catholic teachings to heart when they were throwing bricks at peaceful civil rights demonstrators.

One of the problems with Catholic discourse as it stands is that whenever someone speaks of “pre-Vatican II,” what they’re actually talking about is the United States in the 1950 and early 60s. They’re probably not talking about say, the Chinese Rites controversy, St. Charles Lwanga, the customs of Mexican peasants, Japan’s Hidden Christian and other such things all of which were “pre-Vatican II” but no one ever seems to talk about. Hence, whether one liked or disliked Vatican II, hinges on their opinion of that particular point in time. Another thing I’ve often wondered is if the nineteenth century popes that are so popular among traditionalists made the same kind of errors as their twentieth century counterparts (e.g., questionable episcopal appointments, liturgical gaffes, strange or vague statements). I’m sure they must have, but weren’t recorded in those days before the Internet and 24 hour news.

24 07 2008
Sam Urfer

Studying the Middle Ages in my undergraduate days convinced me that we do the exact same things our ancestors did, but with superior means of mass communication, for good and ill.

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