Author James McBride, the man behind the bestselling memoir, “The Color of Water,” recently won the National Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird.” It’s a novel about a pre-teen slave who joins abolitionist John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Ferry.
“I think people who say that really don’t understand what slavery was,” said McBride. Slaves weren’t just victims, and to dismiss such films is to ignore the complexity of relationships between blacks and whites under slavery, he explained. “You couldn’t always tell a slave what to do — pick up that bag or go feed the chickens — the slave might do it, or he might drop a little poison down and poison 2 or 3 of [the chickens] because he was mad at you,” he continued.
“You’re not just talking about someone who was told to do by the white man. A lot of slaves just bided their time. They always had their eyes on freedom,” McBride insisted. “You’re not just taking about slavery. You’re talking about history.”
“The web of relationships was very complicated, and that’s what the new level of slavery discourse, in terms entertainment, needs to look into,” he concluded.
Listen to the entire discussion below, starting at the 32-minute mark.