Slave Life Interpretation: A Human Resources Nightmare?

Potentially. So I talk about what it’s like to be a slave interpreter, what it’s like to deal with the public, but I never really touch on what it means to be the only slave interpreter, or the taxing job it is to listen to some of the words that come out of people’s mouths. You know they don’t realize that they have put their foot so far down their throat it’s in their intestines but they do it anyway. I’m a pretty tolerant person. Really, I am. However, there are things that while they may not offend me, they may offend others around. I deal delicately with the topic of slave brutality because it is something that you have to handle with kid gloves. Others around me don’t understand that concept and that is where we can potentially come into trouble. It is our responsibility to govern what we say and how we say it. To jokingly speak on slave brutality or to make jest that someone will get “beat” for something in this field can be career ending. What I understand, but others may not is that above all, the topic of how slaves were punished for things their masters felt were infractions, is more delicate than the subject of slavery itself.

Why is that you ask?
Easy. You can talk about the work that slaves did, you can see evidence of their labor. What you can’t see, feel or understand in this day and age is how the brutality of their masters demoralized them and made them feel like the “property” that they were considered. A man having to endure his wife being raped and abused by her master, with no way to stop it or save her, makes him feel like less than a man. The inability to protect and provide comfort was a reality that was all to common. Being beat repeatedly because you couldn’t endure the heat of the day and your body said “no more”, the various reasons why slaves were abused, if there even was a reason makes you wonder how anyone could do that to another human being. Just trying to think of the various reasons why slaves were treated the way they are should cause one to not jest about their plight, and instead admire those who survived the cruelty.

There are people today who apparently can’t, or won’t fathom having that be their reality. That’s probably why they don’t understand how utterly inappropriate it is to make light of it. As an interpreter, to bring the reality of slavery home to some folks, I want to tell them about these things, but often I must walk a fine line. Just because the information is so hard to deal with. I find it easier to bring that reality to the visitor and have them understand than I do to the people I interpret with. To me, that is a problem…not on my end, but on the end of those who just don’t get  it. And the level of discomfort it causes for others, I can’t even go into that.

So what does one do?
The only thing you can do in cases like that is continue to provide training in the subject so that people, if not understand why, at least know that the jokes, the lighthearted nature, the off hand remarks are wrong, insensitive and a human resources nightmare. And if it doesn’t hit home by then, it’s very possible that it never will.

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