Last year while writing about my slaveholding Scarlett ancestors, I tried my hand at rendering three of them visually. The process surprised me—not because I saw that I had mixed feelings about these people (duh)—but because, as I hacked and slashed with my paintbrush, I saw that I wanted to eradicate them.
I later shared the images during a session of Coming to the Table’s Linked Descendants group, where we were asked to make collages addressing our ancestral pasts vis a vis American slavery (you can read more about that session here.)
I continue to wrestle with this stuff. To cast blame on my enslaving ancestors is to suggest I would have been any different. But that’s a lie. I’m pretty sure I’d have done exactly what they did—especially as a woman, dependent on fathers and husbands and brothers for financial security, raised to defer to power. I’d have been as complicit as Fanny McDonald Scarlett (pictured here), who raged when one of her most trusted “servants,” an enslaved woman named Matilda, seized trunkloads of Scarlett belongings and fled for freedom in 1862. (“I wonder if it is possible that she can be so depraved as to be happy,” Fanny said.) Little wonder I’m eager to silence her.