Blackface

Andres Estrella, Creative Writing

Before I think my final thought, before I breathe my last breath, I must write this, lest my story be forgotten. I was born in the summer of 1840, under the old chestnut tree in my mother’s dying arms at Thornhill plantation. Right after, I was baptized in the Free Hope Church, which was a church not too far from the plantation’s grounds which our masters were “kind enough” to supply us with. My given name is Johnny, but my real name, old as time itself, is Mbube Chaka, which is Zulu for something I don’t remember, because my mother died during childbirth.

My mother was a slave, she had been her whole life. Her father was one of the last kings of Africa, before his kingdom was destroyed and he was forced to come to the New World, being treated like cattle, rather than royalty. My mother was bought and auctioned for $500 and was sent to live at the Thornhill plantation away from her father at a plantation in Maryland. Her name was Daisy; that’s all I know of her. As a result, I do not know who my father was, not that it would make any difference. After her passing, I was forced to take on her role as Miss Dorothy’s personal caretaker. I was only 17 years old when Miss Dorothy, the wife of Master Thornton, appointed me head butler. That was only 4 years before the war started.

4 years later, the Yanks came to liberate us from ol’ Mr.Thornton’s  plantation, but soon after, they had seemingly forgotten about us. Once we were freed, we apparently “weren’t their problem”. Nobody wanted to hire us and nobody wanted to offer us lodging. A black face, especially one belonging to a freeman, was more than enough to scare anybody off these days. Our ancestral roots, being permanently displayed on our skins, betrayed us, as if our rich history and customs were something to be ashamed of.

In those 4 years after I was made head housekeeper, Miss Dorothy taught me to read and write, as she believed that every head house slave should be able to entertain guests with lively chatter about contemporary issues. By reading multiple books from the Thornton’s private library, I learned about different perspectives on philosophical topics and economic theories, but none enthralled me so much as slavery. The more I learned, the more angered I felt about my origins, about who I was, about who my ancestors were, and no matter how much I tried to forget everything I had learned, the same question kept creeping back up into my mind: How could these people, who claimed to be the “protectors of liberty”, allow the unjust institution of slavery to perdure? When did we, as a human race, establish boundaries as to who’s a slave and who’s a freeman? My grandfather was born king of a faraway kingdom and died a slave, all for the color of his skin. As if skin color were anything more than a superficial racial identifier. If humans suddenly developed the ability to live without skin, and our bone and muscles were exposed to the world, there’d be no racism, because we’d all be the same. Rather than skin tone, they should’ve established the boundaries based on intellect, for a number of the people who framed this government would surely be in our shoes today, and I could be a king of a country 5 worlds away, or a foreign diplomat, rather than a homeless man sitting in his own shit, ready to die any moment now.

I made it through the end of the war and I saw what happened. Slavery was emancipated and the war was won. But the sharecropping system replaced slavery and my people were, yet again, working the white man’s land. The same people who enslaved us before now had our perpetual labor for measly profits, no food, and no contracts. Yet again, they could do with us as they pleased. In a world dominated by those who repressed us, philosophical discourses or books could not save me, as having all the knowledge in the world doesn’t make a difference if you don’t have food in your stomach. My family soon became victim to the cold and hunger, and yet again, I was left alone in this cruel world.  It was as if nature had willingly killed my mother at birth and my family at my death, so I couldn’t even spend my dying moments in happiness. Nature took my mother from me, but slavery took everything else. Only imagine if I had been born a couple shades whiter.