‘A house built by slaves’

White House

I think a difficulty Ta-Nehisi Coates faces in making his case for reparations[1] may be that, at the remove of the 21st century, we—whites at least—tend to think of slavery as something that happened on southern plantations a long time ago. It’s difficult now to imagine just how intrinsic slavery was to the early U.S. economy and even its way of life.[2] This Washington Post story[3] begins to peel back that delusion with what Michelle Obama called “a house built by slaves.”[4]

As I review this draft, I see the words “white house” and think of two nearby towns that passengers flagged for me as particularly white supremacist, at least in their police forces.[5] I don’t name them because as an Uber and Lyft driver, I frankly depend on those and other police to overlook my own inevitable transgressions of traffic law.

It is very apparent to me that the grace—in my case, a daily average of 137 miles of grace in a very difficult driving situation[6]—police here extend to me and other whites is not something they extend to Blacks. I understand all too well also that my income depends in part on people who are, accordingly, afraid to drive while Black,[7] while I struggle to make a living in the only career option that is available to me, even with a Ph.D.[8]

I can comfort myself with the recognition that ethics can only apply where there is choice. It is still a very uncomfortable position.

Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html


Judiciary

The Washington Post has more[9] on the Federal Judges Association calling an emergency meeting about Donald Trump’s and William Barr’s interference in line prosecutorial decisions.[10] This is the unfortunate the money line: “[Cynthia M.] Rufe’s comments gave no hint of what the association could or would do in response.”[11]

Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/


Pittsburgh

The wind must have been very favorable (judging from the water, perhaps nonexistent) the day this photograph was taken.

As I understand it, those are not the current Fort Pitt (to right) and Fort Duquesne (to left) Bridges. I’m not sure if there was really a park there then, but there is now and it’s at least somewhat larger, with a fountain. The current bridges come into downtown a little farther back.


  1. [1]Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
  2. [2]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/
  3. [3]Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html
  4. [4]Michelle Obama, quoted in Joe Heim, “The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more,” Washington Post, February 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-enslaved-people-who-built-and-staffed-the-white-house-an-afterthought-no-more/2020/02/17/5e5393ea-483c-11ea-8124-0ca81effcdfb_story.html
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The place where I live,” Not Housebroken, December 26, 2020,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/pittsburgh-driving-for-the-uninitiated/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/; David Benfell, “The binary between ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ Lives,” Not Housebroken, January 3, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/03/the-binary-between-black-and-blue-lives/; David Benfell “To a Pennsylvania House Minority Leader: When cops profile you, they don’t actually need an offense,” Not Housebroken, January 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/16/to-a-pennsylvania-house-minority-leader-when-cops-profile-you-they-dont-actually-need-an-offense/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  9. [9]Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/
  10. [10]Kevin Johnson, “Federal judges’ association calls emergency meeting after DOJ intervenes in case of Trump ally Roger Stone,” USA Today, February 17, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/17/roger-stone-sentence-judges-worried-political-interference/4788155002/
  11. [11]Fred Barbash, “Federal judges reportedly call emergency meeting in wake of Stone case intervention,” Washington Post, February 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/18/judges-meeting-trump/

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