COMMENTARY: People must stop appropriating blood stained plantations


Commentary

In the age of social media, it is more important than ever to have conversations about what is and is not appropriate behavior. 

As graduation approaches most of us are thinking about where to take pictures in our regalia. Most Rutgers students go to the infamous stairs between the academic buildings on the College Avenue campus or the kissing bridge on Douglass campus. These locations are harmless, showcasing the beauty Rutgers University—New Brunswick has to offer. 

Last year a Tulane University medical student, Sydney Labat, uploaded a photo of herself and fellow medical students in front of a slave quarter at the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. The caption read “Standing in front of the slave quarters of our ancestors, at the Whitney Plantation, with my medical school classmates. We are truly ancestors’ wildest dreams.” 

Although this post received a flood of positive feedback, there needs to be a conversation about how these kinds of photos glamorize the darkest part of United States history. 

With more than 65,000 likes and 23,300 comments on Twitter, it is ok to say that the majority agreed with this display. Graduating is a huge accomplishment for everyone, but for groups who have had to overcome a lot financially and systematically to achieve their success, it feels like an even bigger win.

The Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Rutgers University does a great job of acknowledging this through their annual Rites of Passage ceremony. The ceremony is a celebration to honor Black and Latinx-identifying students who have completed an undergraduate degree. The event is meant to recognize their accomplishments, hard work and dedication, while simultaneously acknowledging the contributions of their families and networks of support. 

If you believe in ancestral connection then you understand that the success of Blacks is all due to the prayers and work of their elders. The rate of success of Black people in medicine in the United States would not exist without the sacrifices of Black people who had to take on the role of nurse or doctor on the plantation. 

Labat’s picture attempts to outshine the suffering of slaves on the Whitney Plantation, as if their success turns the ground into a powerful photography studio. Plantations are one of the darkest moments in the United States’ past. Women and men were sexually abused, families were torn apart and countless amounts of murders were committed. 

U.S. plantations should be held as sacred historic landmarks and should not be glamoured through photographs. There was major clap back in December 2019 over the rise of U.S. plantations as wedding venues. Many felt that advertising plantations as wedding venues romanticized a place that was far from being romantic. 

After taking in the feedback, sites such as Pinterest and The Knot chose to no longer advertise plantations as wedding venues. In an interview with the HuffPost, a Pinterest spokesperson said, “We’re doing this because everyone deserves to feel welcome and inspired when planning their wedding on Pinterest. Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things.” 

The quote does a great job of summing up why we should not be glamorizing plantations through these kinds of photos. Plantations are a symbol of misery, sorrow and suffering. The same is thought when you think of Nazi concentration camps or the 9/11 memorial.

It seems like Americans do not honor U.S. plantations the same way someone would honor any other symbol of torment. Black history has always been taught in the United States in a way that dulls the experiences and contributions of Blacks, whether that be in movies or books. The Whitney Plantation is the only plantation in the United States that tells the story of life on the plantation through the eyes of the enslaved. 

The culture we have created around Black history and U.S. plantations allows us to not hold it to the same respect as we would the 9/11 memorial. 

We need to change the way we teach and talk about Black history within our community as well as with others. Collectively we can create change that appropriately honors the enslaved people of U.S. plantations. 

Ashley Robinson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. 

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