• Daniélle Awogbemi

#NoConfederate: Fact, Fiction, & the Ties That Bind

Ever since first hearing of the premise for the HBO series "Confederate," it's been difficult to feel comfortable with the amount of non-black praise it's received since it was announced. The majority of the show's support comes from a large amount of white people insisting that "It's just a show! It doesn't even have a script yet!" and "It's only fiction, it's not a big deal! Slavery was so long ago! There are way more important things you should be worrying about!" All those responses translate to is this: "Well, it doesn't affect me, so who cares? I find it entertaining."

Here's the real tea: Fiction has always been closely linked to real life. Whether the story's setting is a dystopia like the one in The Hunger Games or the magical world of Hogwarts, reality bleeds into a writer's work. And as time goes on, works of fiction become their own testaments to how history played out.


What's that got to do with TV shows and alternate history? Plenty. Historically, stereotypes and a variety of other harmful messages have been spread because of the vast reach of many forms of media, but in recent years, TV has been one of the biggest modes. So, contrary to what the "there are more important issues" crowd likes to think, activists do have a reason to focus on works of fiction in addition to issues in other areas. And whether complacent and/or racist white people want to see it, downplaying of chattel slavery in America and its lingering effects on the lives of slave descendants and other POC is a huge, real life problem. Painting a scenario in which white people, mainly white men, can live out what they have the privilege to perceive as simply fantasy, is contributing to the already dangerous detachment a staggering amount of white people have from black pain.


A clip from Designing Women's Season 2 episode "I'll Be Seeing You," which aired in 1987, is the closest a majority-white TV show has gotten to making this point. In the episode, one of the main characters, a white woman, is talking about how "romantic" the World War II era seems to her and how much she loves imagining herself in it (the latter, she does for the majority of the episode). She asks her friend and coworker, who is also the only black main character on the show, if he has similar thoughts about it. He replies that he does not and that he has no interest in imagining that time period because of how inhumanely black people had been treated at that time, even in spite of enlisting and fighting in the same war as their white counterparts.


The woman says, "I know," and even seems a bit saddened as she briefly thinks about what her friend says, but immediately dismisses her friend's words. Though she'd agreed with him about how awful black people had been treated, she ultimately chooses to ignore it because it 1) is gloomy to think about and 2) is not something that she can relate to personally. Unlike Anthony, she has the privilege of being able to brush that dark part of history aside.


Black people (and POC in general) suffer real traumas in the form of microaggressions, blatant racism, and systemic racism because of white people who see slavery as an "oopsy-daisy" from their great-great-grandpa's time that has nothing to do with them.

Society gives white folks with that mentality a security blanket: They easily absolve themselves of any discomfort by choosing not to believe or acknowledge their complicit roles in perpetuating systemic racism. If it's not real for them, it's not real at all. They can play with "alt-fiction" that relives time periods in which black people were consistently legally brutalized as the norm because they don't feel that the pain of black slaves--or the residual pain embedded in their descendants--is real.


"It's just fiction!"


White People: Hundreds of years of cruel and unusual treatment in chattel slavery is not something people "just get over." Just like the Holocaust isn't something Jewish people can "just get over." Just like 9/11 isn't something U.S. Americans will ever "just get over." How come you can see the humanity in the victims of other horrific events, but not in black victims?


The level of comfort and detachment white people are already afforded in society to even be able to green light a chattel slavery white fantasy in the first place highlights a frightening reality for POC in the U.S. It shows just how little humanity white people see in us as opposed to the humanity they see in themselves.


But hey, it's "just fiction," so excuse me if I don't think that the director's cut alternate ending of Gone with the Wind is the story black folks need and deserve.

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