In the Land of Cotton

I suspect you will get the full drift of how wrong it’s been to hold that soft spot in your heart for slavery once your endorsements dwindle and your TV appearances are relegated to repeats, if that.

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Dear Paula:

I usually don’t get all off into addressing white people on behalf of anyone other than myself, but since black folks are talking about you only among ourselves it’s necessary to tell you what we’ve been whispering about behind the slave cabins and around the fire.

It’s mostly on Facebook, but it’s our version of a campfire and we are enslaved by it.


And please forgive the familiarity of me addressing you by first name. You have called us niggers a time or two, so calling you — a white Southern woman of a certain age — by your first name is my version of that mythical Emmett Till whistle, only you cannot call your brother and co-defendent, Bubba, to come string me up.

But I digress.

During the first years of my elementary school education in Hamilton, Ohio, I attended Jefferson Elementary School, one among a network of public schools all named after American presidents. 

The irony did not dawn on me until much later and, of course, my poor white and black Appalachian classmates and I weren’t taught then that Thomas Jefferson not only owned slaves but carried on a “love” affair with his ace No. 1 love slave Sally Hemmings.

I was born in 1965, just before the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., down in your beloved South. 

I am 48 years old, which makes you, at 66, just old enough to be my mother and, most importantly, old enough to know better because, as the only black person you’ve publicly befriended and not humiliated (more on that later) says all the time when she is quoting her mentor Maya Angelou: When you know better, you do better. 

Personally, I hate Oprah’s jingoistic tendencies, but I bet y’all had a lot to talk about as one isolated multi-millionaire to an isolated multi-billionaire.

Dang it!

I keep losing sight of my main point but you’ve gotta understand, this is all so delicious to me. 

Kinda like your deep-fried macaroni and cheese wrapped in bacon. I’ve never had it personally, but I know a lot of morbidly obese, hypertensive and diabetic blacks in this country have. 

They swear by your food. 

Your fattening, butter- and salt-soaked food is why a lot of black folks are so confused by these racist revelations. They’ve been seduced and blinded by how much you cook like their aunts and grandmothers. 

Your food reminds them of black family reunions, the best funerals and the most ghetto wedding receptions.

The Colored Section of heaven with an all-night buffet.

In your wistful memories of slavery and black servitude you neglected to rhapsodize about the relationship black slaves had with food, given the way y’all starved us and then left the scraps of the hog for us to feed ourselves and our families.

That right there is a direct reason why we are disproportionately prone to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension.

Slavery left a lot of things within us; namely and literally, bad blood.

So, you see, you wanting to give your brother the racist Southern wedding and reception of his dreams replete with a ballet of distinguished-looking Uncle Bens in white coats and gloves serving what was certainly an all-white platoon of guests (Oprah does not count) is on its surface dehumanizing enough, but it also belittles the devastating nuances folded within the terror of slavery.

Your desires are white supremacy redux all prettied up in your sugar cane drawl — another crop black slaves harvested for your ancestors.

I must say I really do appreciate, Paula, how much you run your mouth. 

I love a verbose racist.

You’re my favorite kind.

Not only did you cop to calling blacks niggers “a long time ago,” a video is now circulating of you during a one-on-one interview with a New York Times staffer during a “Times Talks” event.

Remember that?

I thought you were going to come to tears when you talked about your great, great grandfather who was so rattled when he “lost all his workers” (Code: His slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation) that he shot himself in the head.

It gets darker.

You told the interviewer you indeed “have black people in my life” and proceeded to cajole a black man named Horace from the audience, but not before describing him as being “blacker than this board” behind you.

The white woman interviewer, who I am assuming was a good, liberal New Yorker, did not register shock or horror or halt the interview. She instead joined you in calling him up. When Horace was slow to show himself — we are sometimes a slow people — you further encouraged him.

“C’mon, Horace! We can’t see you against that black background!”

Some in the audience chuckled audibly. 

I don’t know why nobody stood up and demanded you apologize or at the least stormed out, causing a ruckus. 

Audience apathy was as confusing as your own behavior.

Holding Horace’s hand, you talked about how you believed the South to be less racist (than the north?) because blacks were so “intregral” to your white lives. (It’s integral, by the way.)

“They were like our family.”

Yeah, like family you beat, cheat, rape, separate, relocate by force, sell like chattel, murder by brute force or work to death over time.

I suspect you will get the full drift of how wrong it’s been to hold that soft spot in your heart for slavery once your endorsements dwindle and your TV appearances are relegated to repeats, if that. The last thing you need to know about me and blacks of my generation coming up all across America: We were made to sing anthems of the slave-holding South as part of music class in schools named for slave-holding presidents.

Oh I wish I were in the land of cotton/Old times there are not forgotten/Look away, look away, look away/Dixie land.

We haven’t forgotten.

But you should.

With forgiveness,

Kathy Y. Wilson

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]

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