Jill Scott is sharing her experience of touring a former slave plantation — and her disbelief that some of them are now whitewashed and marketed as cozy vacation spots.
In an Instagram video post captioned “Pissed,” the singer and actress spoke about being brought to a plantation, unsure of how she’d feel due to the history, and agreeing to go on the house tour, hearing about the wonderful lives of the plantation owners — and nary a mention of the brutal conditions inflicted upon the enslaved people forced to work there.
“I was on location, and they brought us to a plantation,” the spoken word artist said in the powerful video. “I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I saw it because I actually never saw one before. But we pulled up, I noticed the beautiful trees, and I noticed, as we got closer, this beautiful white building. There were people walking all around and taking pictures and sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, sipping lemonade. So pretty.”
Scott said she decided, “All right, I’m here — let me take the tour.” As they walked through the parlor, the guide was “talking about how they would host guests” in the room and “serve brandy and tea and have conversation and music would be played. Everyone going: Hmm, hmm.”
The tour moved to the dining room “and all the mahogany chairs and the chandeliers and things essential that had to have candles... The draperies... The carpets.” And then they headed upstairs to “see the bedrooms and how tidy things were expected to be” by the enslaved, including “the slop jars,” or chamber pots that had to be cleaned after they were urinated and defecated in.
She said the tour guide pointed to photos on the wall, “And she says: ‘Notice how no one really smiled back then.’ And I looked at those faces. And I decided that I was going to get away from this tour and take my own little trip. So I did.”
What transpired next? “I don’t know what happened,” she continued, “but somebody took a long, hot piss on that dining room carpet.”
With zero regrets, she added, “I bet whoever it was wishes they had more piss.”
She ended by expressing disbelief that slave plantations continue to be marketed as cozy tourist venues filled with Southern charm when their history is anything but.
“They make these places into bed-and-breakfasts — that people come from around the world to stay in,” Scott said with bewilderment. “They offered me the slave quarters. Oh, it’s remodeled. It’s beautiful. I bet you won’t be going to no bed-and-breakfast at Auschwitz,” referring to the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers where more than 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives.
She ended by saying, “Chew on that.”
Her experience resonated with commenters. One wrote, “They treat us like we are ghosts in the room.” Another wrote that “the faces in the photos are the same ones.” Another wrote, “This why I wanna buy one so they don’t have the power to erase what has happened in these places.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the protests for racial equality, changes are being called for and made — Confederate statues being taken down, the Confederate flag being banned at NASCAR events, and there have been name changes from the country group Lady Antebellum to, today, the state of Rhode Island.
While plantations have long sold themselves as looks at fancy gardens and pretty china collections (and have become popular wedding spots), USA Today reports that some have already “recast themselves to starkly portray the evils of slavery.” The article noted that the McLeod Plantation in Charleston, S.C., and the Whitney Plantation near Wallace, La., are two that have changed the focus to the lives of the enslaved inhabitants, showing the slave quarters as a counterpoint to the fancy owners’ homes. “They have, in effect, become museums to Black suffering.”
Though it hasn’t been without resistance. The Washington Post reported in December that plantations had started talking “more honestly about slavery,” but they were getting some pushback. An example noted when a tour guide at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation in Charlottesville, Va., pointed out to visitors a garden built by slaves, one demanded to know, “Why are you talking about that? ... You should be talking about the plants.”
To borrow Jill Scott’s line, “Chew on that.”
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