This is one this I found interesting. The State of Rhode Island is seeking to change its name this coming Tuesday. Don't worry, it is not the obvious; the Rhode Island part we have become accustomed to will remain. What many do not know is the full name of the state, "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." It is shocking how many people do not know that.
A November second ballot seeks to remove "and Providence Plantations" for the state's name officially making it what 99% of the American population believe it to be.
The problematic word is plantation for many. When you hear the word, slavery comes to mind. It is felt that removing the latter part of the state's name will erase the state links to slavery.
This of course makes me wonder. Why are we so uncomfortable with our past as a nation? First and foremost, history cannot be "erased." Removing a potion of the name of the state does not remove suffering caused by the state in its role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Here are some things you may not know.
- Rhode Island had more slaves per capita than other New England state.
- By the late 1600's Rhode Island was the only New England state to use slaves for both labor and trade.
- Moses Brown freed his slaves after becoming a Quaker.
- By the end of the 18th Century, Rhode Islanders had launched no less than one thousand voyages from Africa to the America(s).
- In 1652 Rhode Island passed a law abolishing African slavery stating that "black mankind" could not be indentured for more than ten years. The law was never enforced as the demand for slave labor and trade was too great.
To better put this into perspective, let's look at some enslavement numbers. By the mid 19th Century, approximately twelve million Africans were forcibly displaced from their homeland to be enslaved in the Americas. Of them, 5% were delivered to North American and 1% were transported on Rhode Island ships. Though Rhode Island was jealously protective of their slaves, they represent but a drop in the bucket with 1% of the transport and having the third highest total of blacks in New England with less than 4,000. It is the Caribbean Islands and South America that participated most heavily in the slave trade. A punishment for a Rhode Island slave was to be sent to the Caribbean to work in the sugar fields where slaves were treated far worse. But, while we are talking about numbers, America saw a very small percentage of the slave trade while Portuguese America (Brazil) obtained an estimated 35 to 39% of enslaved Africans while developing a plantation economy that consumed up to 600,000 slaves a year at its peak. Interestingly enough, in 2007 the Brazilian government freed some 1,000 slave-like laborers from Brazilian sugar fields.
Though the numbers differ from source to source and tend to cause argument, one thing is clear. The enslavement of Africans in America and Rhode Island's roll in both enslavement and the forced transport of slaves pales in comparison to other countries and regions of the world. Where am I going with this? We have racial problems today driven by a far less sorted past in the enslavement of Africans than those who participated in it to far greater extents.
What they have done differently is not run from and tried to hide a sorted and dark history of horror that was then embraced by much of the free world when it happened. We, for some reason cannot seem to get past it. It affronts all issues that we could otherwise move beyond. All of these generations later, we are still hung up.
What Rhode Island did was wrong. Every nation and every individual who participated in the enslavement of Africans was wrong. Running from it and trying to hide will not change the fact that it has happened. There is nothing any individual can do today to right such an egregious wrong of yesterday. A U.S. Senate apologizing to a people is moot at this point in time; a state changing its name is meaningless. If anything needs to be done with the formal name of Rhode Island, it is that all Americans need to understand it. Teach it in school, explain why it was wrong and how all are created equal and demonstrate formally how far we have come. This and only this will aid us getting to where we must go. Instead, we attempt to pass legislation like HB 2281 in an attempt to hide the less desirable aspects of our past. It is reminiscent of Germany's attempt to erase WWII from their history books.
Don't get me wrong, I am by no means trying to diminish Rhode Island's or America's role in slavery. I just think the time has come to finally accept a past for the past it is. If countries far worse than us can move forward, why can't we? Why do we have to have a black president who designed a campaign to attack white journalists with accusations of racism solely because they stood against his political position? Why is that if you stood against anything as a voter, you were a racist? Why, if you attend a tea party are you racist? Everything is about race and nothing is about the issues. I will tell you why.
The issues lack substance and to defend against attack race is used not because of our maniacal history, but because social manipulators have long since learned that keeping a social wound open, means it will never completely heal. It just scars along the outside edges. And that is exactly what we have done to ourselves here in America. We have caused a wound to fester and scar by not allowing it the opportunity to heal. What could have been a mere scar on the arm of a great nation has been turned into necrotized festering lesion oozing hate at the never ending picking finger tips of those desperate to gain advances in agendas that stand against their fellow man. The wound must be allowed to heal.
We have reached a point that those not allowing America to heal should be banned from the very society they are preventing from being great. Those of all races, creeds and colors the prey on the other by exploiting race, creed and color are a far greater problem in today's American society than is the reality of the history our collective forefathers have walked. Those of slaves and of slave owners now live very good lives together in pursuit of happiness and prosperity. It is who we are that comes to the forefront, not what are, and definitely not what some once were. It is not a matter of forgetting, it is a matter of moving past the past in order to forge the tomorrow our great America can have. From Obama, the president to be of a post racial America that uses race against race, to a Klan member whose life is shrouded in hate, and all bigots and racists there in between; America is simply better off without the lot of them.
So no, Rhode Island should not change its name. In doing so it only ensures that nothing actually changes.