Interpreting Slave Life

Slavery: Let's talk about it

There’s a way to do it, then there’s Youtube.

Posted By on September 3, 2013

It’s shown up on my Facebook feed, my email and I’m sure it’s floating around Twitter. Everybody seems to be asking me about the new web series “Ask A Slave”. I had some thoughts about it, and found that Kevin Levin had the exact same thoughts. I would add that by mocking the questions asked by visitors, no matter how “interesting” we as interpreters think they are, you’ve now hindered someone from asking a question about slavery because they may think it will sound stupid or they will be mocked over the internet for it. We want visitors to ask questions…even if they are a bit strange because that let’s me know they are THINKING about what slavery was like. That should be encouraged, not mocked. So for those of us who still interact with the public, present slavery, talk about it and teach on it, thanks for making our job necessary and just a little bit harder.

Anyway, read on below and make your own opinions.

Cross post from our friend Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory

It’s a new web comedy series, but it’s not very funny.

Azie Dungey played a slave at Mount Vernon and is now sharing the colorful and not very thoughtful questions asked by visitors. I certainly appreciate the explanation and intent behind the project.

So, I wanted a way to present all of the most interesting, and somewhat infuriating encounters that I had, the feelings that they brought up, and the questions that they left unanswered. I do not think that Ask A Slave is a perfect way to do so, but I think that it is a fun, and a hopefully somewhat enriching start.

The problem is that Dungey’s own apparent frustrations are expressed through her slave character. There is no exploration as to why some of these questions are problematic. She merely pokes fun at the visitors’ questions. I suspect that there are any number of factors beyond mere intelligence that shapes the kinds of questions posed to reenactors at historic sites. I wonder what the staff at Mount Vernon thinks of this.

It’s still early in the production of the series, but as it stands Ask A Slave isn’t very entertaining and it doesn’t help us to understand the experiences of living history actors, especially those dealing with the tough questions of race.


Comments

One Response to “There’s a way to do it, then there’s Youtube.”

  1. EHJ says:

    I thought it was quite funny. You are assuming only one response on the part of potential visitors. Another possible result is that people will think before they ask questions, which is always a good policy. There is such a thing as too much coddling. The impulse to ask questions, or make comments, is strong in lots of people and won’t be killed off by something like this.

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