Handling the Truth (for Euro-Americans)

Handling the Truth
(for Euro-Americans)

Bought and sold at auction
Everyday transactions
Fractionally human, they said, if that

In those “golden olden days,”
African lives were cheap
From deep in jungles, sold
by bribed tribal chiefs or
simply rounded up like
fleet and feisty animals

This nation brutalized
an entire civilization
If Anglos never feel
the slash of the lash…
If whites will not dare
to share the shame of slavery

After all these years
the pain of the past endures
and we won’t even watch the film

How can we dare say we care
about rancid, ruthless racism
still rampant in America?

Buy the ticket, damn it
(You already saw “Hunger Games”)
Or was Jack Nicholson right?
“You can’t HANDLE the truth”

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

I have seen “12 Years a Slave” TWICE. Second time, to hold a friend’s hand and discuss the movie. Lex and I were breathless, angry, ashamed… especially that this film, the most important film ever made about the enslavement and unimaginable treatment of African peoples at the hands of “white” slavers, is tanking at the box office. People have said, “It’s too heavy,” or even, “I go to movies to be entertained, not educated.” Really?! What the hell do they mean? If people went through this shit, we owe it to them to at least watch a dramatization of the true story.

I know it’s tough. Especially when everyone is engorging themselves like tics on Thanksgiving turkey and bloating their credit card debt on Black Friday. But I implore you, GO SEE THIS FILM. We all need to face the facts.

This is for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads (protest poem) and Poets United’s Poetry Pantry. Peace, Amy

53 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 14:41:00

    It needs saying. Well done.

    But don’t forget that slavery of Europeans goes back even longer.and was equally shameful.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 16:33:44

      I don’t forget any kind of slavery, Viv; it’s my frustration with Anglo-Americans revising the history of slavery. It’s only one aspect of a long… of FOREVER of one saying “I’m better and so you belong to me.” You might even include early married women in that category, chattel seen only as what their dowry was worth. Thanks, Amy


  2. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 14:47:44

    Slavery is shameful.. it goes back a long time.. and its still ongoing.
    The ways are more subtle and it’s renamed traficking, but stil slavery… I’m amazed that it’s so hard to admit. When I lived in Arizona many years ago, I was amazed to be treated like an American all the time, while Hispanics having ancestors longer back than most Anglo’s where treated like second rate citizens….. and here we assume that any muslim man is a potential criminal.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 16:37:11

      Amen to all you say, Bjorn. Funny how “trafficking” has become the new word for slavery. Sounds better, like “ethnic cleansing, ” as though someone is being made cleaner… I hate this type of edited language. Then come those who would deny the worst aspect of African slavery, of the Holocausts (both German against Jews, gays and lesbians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anyone who wouldn’t join the Party… but mostly Jews) and Armenian (virtually lost in history books, but many, many Armenian family trees literally stop in 1915). Well said. Amy


  3. brian miller
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 14:53:24

    saw 12 years a slave last weekend…wow…def does not try to pretty it up like many movies do…sad the reality of ignorance…and you are right its still rampant today…personally i think people should be made to see it…to confront our history…


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 16:56:53

      Should be bought and viewed at houses of worship. Also, high school seniors should be taught about it, before viewing to give context to the shameful word, ‘N*****.’ So glad you saw it. I was crying… Amy


      • brian miller
        Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:58:28

        yes, it got me as well…i dont know that we could get away with showing it in the schools but i would…when i taught history last year we taught it to them pretty straight up and did not try to pretty it up….

  4. coalblack
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 14:57:01

    I don’t go to the movies at the theater anymore because everybody acts like they’re at home in their living rooms, talking, using phones, etc. But I will add this to my Netflix queue. Leonard Pitts wrote a recent column about this movie, and how people don’t really understand how horrific slavery really was.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:27:34

      However you see it, it’s worth it. Have to tell you, even in a “rude” theater, I’ll bet everyone shuts up because it’s so powerful, but def. Netflix it. I understand the hassle. You know me, I stand up and tell everyone (sweetly) that this is not their living room!! (yeah, people throw popcorn at me, but they do quiet down!) Amy


  5. Gabriella
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 15:10:08

    A Facebook friend strongly recommended this movie and I hope to be able to watch it soon. It has not been released here yet, unlike Hunger Games!


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:39:50

      Figures, right? All about the profit. Perhaps you can call and lobby a local theater before it “goes away.” If Chiwetel Ejiofor is nominated (as he should be) for Best Actor, it may make the rounds again. Netflix! Thanks for commenting, Gabriella, much appreciated. Amy


  6. anmol(alias HA)
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 15:25:00

    Powerful verse. Slavery has been an abominable aspect of history. And racism in some way or the other still persists everywhere. It is so sad..
    Very well penned.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:44:37

      Thanks, o my Anxious friend. I agree with you. Especially since we are ALL descended from what is basically Africa anyway, the Tigris/Euphrates… where females were often slaves. Ugh. Amy


  7. Sara Lee Hinnant
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 15:31:59

    anyway to share this on facebook so my children can see it?


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:48:46

      Hey, Sally! You can post the link (from sharplittlepencil… to americans/) without the “comment” part on your FB page. It will show a window. I’ll email you this info, too… Love, Amer


  8. The Transcanada Poet
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 15:46:46

    you always pen something that makes me think…. and you did with this powerful write…


  9. leesis
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 15:55:44

    Amy…just wanted to say…love your heart woman :)


  10. Susie Clevenger (@wingsobutterfly)
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 16:12:12

    I agree this needs to be said. We need to come to grips with such a tragic truth and raise our children to not hate. Thank you for writing such a strong piece and taking part in the challenge!! Glad to see you in the garden.


  11. Susan
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 16:14:45

    Sounds angry as a true protest poem, not just rallying believers like I did. It’s hard when film competes with PBS and history sites, because the latter are free. I thought the film was easier on its audiences than what it could have been, allowing us to see good actors and artists in film, and whole characters in the plot. I saw it as a fine work of art and wondered how the filmmakers negotiated that line. I am not saying I was not horrified, but I’ve read a lot of slave narrative, so I expected more gore and broken families. I appreciated some visual images of the defiance that is rarely spoken of. But Jack Nicholson is still right: I am horrified and nauseated by what humans are willing to do–and do–to other humans, and often hide from it in an environment I had the privilege of creating for myself. Powerful poem–it made me think.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:58:55

      Susan, I understand what you mean about slave narratives and the fact that the actors were so good. The one cracker singing to the incoming slaves was especially hard to take, and yet it was so much worse… the “cottages” and all were sort of sanitized. But even that far is too far for a lot of Euro-Americans, so I figure at least it will get everyone talking about it, facing the truth. Thanks for an excellent reply, Susan. Amy


  12. Mary
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 16:52:45

    I definitely plan to see this movie, Amy. I am waiting for someone who wants to see it with me to be here; and we will see it together. A strong poem indeed.


  13. po3tic
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 17:41:44

    Slavery has existed for thousands of years if not longer and there have been plenty of other races enslaved and also other races besides whites have been the slave masters. Ask any Irish person about how the Irish were enslaved by the English for centuries or look at China where the Chinese enslave and murder their own people without a second thought. The reason this movie is tanking is because most whites are sick and tired of being made to feel guilty for something they had nothing to do with and very likely their ancestors had nothing to do with. You should read what Howard Zinn has to say about racism in America in his book “A Peoples History of the United States”, it will make you rethink everything you’ve ever believed about racism!


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 25, 2013 @ 22:37:50

      I admire your directness, Poetic. I am a descendent of Mayflower people (although I self-identify with my mother’s Irish side), who enslaved indigenous peoples first chance they got. The reason I feel this movie should be seen is because so many kids are taught that “at least the slaves had food and shelter,” or even worse, that they were taught the Bible. Our ancestors destroyed their cultures, which were numerous, and treated slaves like dogs. I see no reason why Anglos should not see this, which actually goes a lot easier on the subject than it actually was.

      I have read Zinn. Have you read “Lies My Teacher Told Me”? A look at the sorry state of history textbooks in America. Thanks so much for your candor, and I hope you see the movie, if you haven’t already. Peace, Amy


      • po3tic
        Nov 26, 2013 @ 03:41:38

        I might watch it but honestly I probably won’t and not because I want to ignore the issue but because I already know how brutal slavery is and that slavery still exists today on a mass scale, its just much more sophisticated. I have read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” excellent book!! The thing is though, the anglos who practiced slavery in Europe and in the new world were not just any anglos, they were always from the same families who had held power down through the ages and subjugated the rest of the worlds people including other anglos. These people inbreed among a handful of very old families in order to keep their blood lines pure and untainted by “common” genes so when we see whites committing atrocities on people we shouldn’t assume all whites are like these people because they certainly are not! Death is always an option over letting yourself become enslaved anyway, I would die before I would allow myself to be anyones slave.

      • Sharp Little Pencil
        Nov 28, 2013 @ 23:53:21

        On your comment below… I ran out of “reply” boxes! My father’s family was a large part of that power structure, the moneyed elite. Richard Warren was his name, and he came to America not for religious freedom; he was simply a merchant wanting more and more. This is why I identify more with my mom’s poor Irish background.

        As for killing oneself before becoming enslaved, that’s a puzzler. Seems to me that the human will to survive and escape the horrible circumstance, as many slaves in America did, usually overcomes the suicidal urge. And yet, each person has her/his idea of the depth of suffering they will allow themselves to take, so I understand what you say about killing yourself before… let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, right? Thanks, Amy

  14. kaykuala
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 17:48:16

    Brave write Amelita! I always expect that from you and we are always given regular doses of brave thoughts! Slavery has always to do with economics. A whole country is conquered and ‘enslaved’ for its spoils.Happened before and happening now. Later colonialism was enacted also for the same reasons. Then enslavement of African tribes for the cotton fields in the South. Now trafficking of young girls across borders.’Enslaved’ forefathers left their lineage a stigma to live with and racism is enshrined. Hope to see the movie sometime later. Great write and most of all happiness in seeing you back!



    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 28, 2013 @ 23:55:57

      Hank, you are the best. Thanks for an articulate comment, as always. My father’s family was part of that elite power structure from the Mayflower on. See comments above to po3tic.

      Racism? The most illogical part about it is that even people of color rank each other according to lightness of skin. And we are ALL from Africa anyway, so I think Euros who are racist should get over themselves, right? Love, Amelita


  15. Sherry Blue Sky
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 18:38:06

    I will see it for sure, Amer. I live in such a backwater I had not heard of it yet. But I';m with you, if people can endure such things, we owe it to them to bear witness, to watch, to feel the pain and horror and to actively involve ourselves to make sure it never happens again under our watch. This will be another time when I feel ashamed of my white skin. But I will go, you had better believe it. It is an important film.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 00:05:10

      Sherry, if you are feeling shame over your white skin, just remember: We are melanin-deprived! We all came from Africa in the first place. Our tribes wandered so far to the north that our bodies stopped producing melanin because we were covered so much of the time… Love, Amy


  16. margaretbednar
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 18:49:48

    It is tanking?!! Noooo. I was shocked – we went to see it the week it came out – there was a small handful of people but I figured it was during the school week. Wow – I am reading the book and I LOVED this movie. It should win every award. I am truly ashamed.

    I read the recommendation for Howard Zinn above – his CRAPPY and poorly researched book and plain crappy account of history – it has RUINED our public education history classes. Yes, he took away the “fairy tale” account of history many of us grew up with – in my opinion that is the only good thing about his book – but extremes on either side are NO GOOD.

    Man – this movie and BOOK should be seen by ALL Toads – it is poetic, beautiful, and even though heavy – a testiment to the human spirit and how it can endure on the slightest shred of hope.

    We must remember, though, that many whites lost their lives for the union, which became a call to abolish slavery. Many blacks from Africa, hunted and sold blacks to America – and many more to other countries. It isn’t just the whites that are guilty here and I don’t think this movie points fingers at the whites.

    The beauty of this movie is that it sticks VERY close to the book written by the man who lived this experience. He became a key figure in the Underground Railroad. I did go see “The Butler” – but was highly disappointed it was so VERY loosely based on the real man – it really is more of a “Forest Gump” movie –

    Thanks, Amy, for this poem – I’m indignant right along with you.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 00:11:59

      Yes, Margaret, while “Django Unchained,” that piece of Tarantino trash, made more than $160M and Quentin got an Oscar for his “n”-laden script, “12” has only made $30M. I suppose that’s a lot, but you know what I mean?

      I hope I made clear that many tribal chiefs were indeed responsible for selling their own people into slavery.

      We can agree to disagree about Zinn – he is a controversial figure, I know. I simply wish everyone would remember that ALL of us originated in Africa…

      Peace to you and yours and thank you for a detailed reply. I appreciate the give and take relationship we share. Amy


  17. Helen
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 18:52:39

    I have a date with my daughter to this film tomorrow evening … no doubt I will feel the rage, frustration, anger ~~ of which you so eloquently write.


  18. Audrey Howitt
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 19:30:34

    Oh Amy, you make me ashamed for not having seen it. I have heard it is a wonderful movie–heavy or not


  19. Sam Edge, Writer
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 20:09:40

    How can we dare say we care
    about rancid, ruthless racism
    still rampant in America?

    Powerful. As a canadian I find it hard to comment on this. We have our own issues here with the residential schools and the natives but I don’t think it compares to slavery.

    I will look for this movie.


  20. siggiofmaine
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 21:26:09

    Awesome. Thought provoking. Powerful words.


  21. Sherry Blue Sky
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 23:00:22

    I might add that First Nations and native Americans have also been horribly treated. Sigh. Who made white skin supreme anyway? I have discomfort walking around in mine, at times!!!!


  22. Ellen
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 23:12:16

    I am not from the south, but live here and see fragments that ruffle my feathers.
    Thank you Amy for sharing such a powerful poem and I will rent it when I can. I too do not go to the movies often-I know what Coalblack means. Thank you for going there and tis true most just want to sweep the past under a rug.


  23. 1sojournal
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 00:06:23

    Haven’t seen it yet, but do intend to do so. Thanks for raising your voice with heart and spirit.



  24. J Cosmo Newbery
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 04:03:37

    Powerfully written!


  25. a spirit of simplicity
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 05:00:28

    I am in the minority here. I will not see the movie. And yes, it is partly to hide from the incredible hopeless despair of the world we live in today…some of which is portrayed in the movie and some of which is portrayed in by hollywood and also in some of the movie goers who will walk out claiming they’ve “got the t-shirt” I haven’t been to a movie in a movie theatre in years and years. Your words do make me think however how important it is that I continue to create a life filled with love and compassion for all people. I just don’t feel that a popcorn scented overpriced movie theatre is the place to do that. I thank you though because your words made me check my thoughts and that is always a good thing.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 00:42:53

      I understand your comment about the whole movie experience, which is shared by several folks above. And it seems you are so THERE about racism and about how we need to love and respect all. You are obviously not one of the folks who need to see this movie, but I highly recommend it anyway, even once it comes out on Netflix. The smaller screen, in your home, might make it easier to handle… Thank you for a completely honest and brave comment! Amy


  26. Roger Green
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 05:21:14

    It’s curious that, until shortly before its release, it didn’t get that much play in the Capital District, given the fact that Solomon was from Saratoga.


  27. Roger Green
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 05:25:53

    Less than $30M after three weeks in wide release isn’t great, but it’ll be now buried by the holiday movies. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=twelveyearsaslave.htm


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 00:48:55

      I was at the same site, Roger. I sickens me that Django Unchained earned $162 million for total Tarantino trash… and he got an Oscar for the screenplay, while this completely historic, beautifully made, and harshly real movie gets nada. A sad commentary on the American viewing public, especially after rave reviews. Like I said, Anglos can’t handle the truth… and the other truth: We are all originally from Africa. I’m just melanin-deprived. Peace, Amy


  28. Kerry O'Connor
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 06:57:22

    Slavery is an integral part of human history, going back farther than the last 400 years, and it has been practiced in Africa for millenia, as the pyramids will testify. We all bear the legacy, no matter where we live on the globe and awareness is key to understanding the social horror and insuring it never becomes acceptable practice. Your poem has a necessary shock value and should do much to encourage people to watch the movie. I shall look out for it.


    • Sharp Little Pencil
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 00:54:23

      Kerry,m you’re right… I had to narrow the focus to ensure that Anglo Americans get off their butts to see this, so I didn’t “go there” as far as the rest of history.

      The other thing the palest person needs to remember is that we all came from Africa originally, so what’s the point of parsing what shade of brown one is? There is no such thing as “white,” anyway. I’m beige! Peace, Amy


  29. Kay, Alberta, Canada
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 12:00:37

    An excellent write, Amy. So glad to see you in the garden with something strong to say, a la Woody Guthrie. The film might be tanking at the box office, but it will reach TV all the sooner for that very reason, and reach more people.


  30. Sara v
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 13:34:19

    Amy, it is incredible that racism still exists, it shocks me (I know, it’s naive, but still…) that we have not been able to eradicate it. Excellent write!


  31. patrickbieneman
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 11:50:09

    Very nice site. You have great insight.


  32. billgncs
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 21:55:29

    the origins of the word slave are interesting – that and the fact it is still practiced in multiple cultures today is appalling.


  33. claudia
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 23:20:52

    yes… we need to watch those movies and not blend out the things that happened… it’s good to raise awareness…and there’s enough slavery in different forms still going on..


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