There’s a persistent myth in America that slavery was “an idyllic world of stable families headed by married parents," writes Tera Hunter—a myth that Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum’s endorsement of the “Marriage Vow” served to highlight. It’s time for us to understand the truth, writes Hunter in the New York Times. The vow (since amended) asserted that child slaves had more stable family situations than African-American kids born after Barack Obama’s election. The truth is that slave families were at the mercy of their masters, constantly at risk of being torn apart.
In reality, “slaves could not marry legally,” “male slaves had no paternal rights,” and “female slaves were recognized as mothers only to the extent that their status doomed their children’s fate to servitude in perpetuity.” At any moment, a slave’s master could choose to sell her far away from her family. The “Marriage Vow” “was not a harmless gaffe.” Instead, it’s “part of a broad and deliberate amnesia,” Hunter writes. “Refusing to be honest about how racial inequality has burdened our shared history and continues to shape our society will not get us to that post-racial vision.” Read the full column. (Read more slavery stories.)