This Tweet Slamming Bill O'Reilly Is The Only Part Of This Debacle You Should Pay Attention To
If you're the kind of person who watches a lot of cable news ― or if you're somebody who enjoys hearing differing viewpoints, or even someone who enjoys hate-watching political content ― then you're probably at least a little familiar with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. And if you're familiar with O'Reilly, there's a good chance you've heard him make a self-satisfied, historically obtuse remark here or there. And if you missed it, well, this one tweet about Bill O'Reilly's slavery remarks will tell you everything you need to know about his apparent, willful ignorance.
The controversy, in short, is that in a segment "fact-checking" Michelle Obama's DNC speech, in which she mentioned waking up every morning in the White House, a house built by slaves, the Fox News host pulled a bit of a "well, actually" on the First Lady, adding that the slaves who built the White House were given lodging and kept well-fed.
Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.
Which is, needless to say, an absurd thing to even bring up about human beings who were brutalized and dehumanized as other people's property.
Most people would never dream of rationalizing or downplaying slavery. But let's put it this way ― anyone who heard that line from Michelle Obama's speech and felt confused, defensive, or like they needed to correct the record is in for a nasty shock if they ever learn a fuller history of the building of America. Here's how journalist John Paul Brammer summed it up on Twitter on Tuesday morning, cutting through the inflammatory commentary with a plain, funny observation.
Slavery was also used to construct the U.S. Capitol building, major American railway systems, the financial hub of Wall Street and further swaths of New York City, Thomas Jefferson's palatial Monticello estate, and on and on and on. Many historians state that the economic engine of early America and the material wealth that the country ultimately built up, in fact, was entirely dependent on the institution of slavery.
It may not be comfortable to think about if you're white, or living in a position of considerably class privilege, but it's a simple truth: the remnants and reverberations of American slavery are all around us, whether in the form of the racial biases, stigmas, and institutional harms against black Americans that still exist to this day, or through the structures, infrastructures, and landmarks that were built on the backs of so many of their ancestors. These are facts that deserves remembrance, recognition, and yes, disgust.
Because something being uncomfortable doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it, and confront it soberly and with a clear head. Because if you don't, beyond just the downside of being less-informed than some of your fellow citizens, think of where you might end up in a few decades! Someday, you could be the person on the TV, conspicuously assuring people that hey, some slaves got to eat and sleep inside, making you both the target of massive righteous indignation, and a punchline among serious-minded people. And nobody wants that, right? I mean, besides the guy who already went there.