Every week, just outside of Charleston, S.C., hundreds of (mostly white) people pay for tours of the beautiful antebellum home that housed generations of white enslavers at the Magnolia Gardens Plantation. The home is located on the Ashley River, surrounded by a romantic-style botanical garden that was built and cared for by the enslaved. The owner is even buried in the garden that he lovingly built for his wife.
Away from the touristy areas of the 370-acre forced labor camp that we call a “plantation,” are rows of cabins that housed the Africans who turned this family into multigenerational millionaires. During my visit, Joseph McGill, the founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, told me he wanted to show me something.
He took me to a spot where dozens of enslaved people had been buried. There were a few rudimentary grave markers but most were unmarked. Some of the stolen Africans were surely buried on top of others. It seemed grotesque until I realized that, to the white people, the slaves were not human beings; they were “things.” You do not bury things. You put them in the ground and cover them with dirt.
But, in the middle of this dumping ground for Black bodies, were three beautifully ornate headstones. I learned that the Drayton Family used Black “supervisors” to keep the enslaved people in line and tend to their gardens. Even after emancipation, one “supervisor” stayed with the Drayton family, as did his son and his son’s son, serving their benevolent owners to their death.
“30 years Supt. of Magnolia Gardens,” reads the gravestone. “In life, the family he served loved and trusted him. In death, they honor him.”
But that gravestone is not among the Drayton family’s.
You can find it among the “things.”
ESPN reports that quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a 23-year-old, first-round pick, was released on Monday after two years with the Washington Football Team. Not only had Haskins performed underwhelmingly on the field, but he had been criticized for his actions off the field, including being photographed at a strip club without a face mask, his second violation of NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.
On Monday, ESPN analyst Anthony “Booger” McFarland commented on the situation:
Oftentimes young players—and I’m gonna go here—especially young African American players, because they make up 70 percent of this league. They come into this league and ask themselves the wrong thing. They come into the league saying not: “How can I be a better player?” They don’t say: “How can I be a better teammate?” They don’t say “How can I be a better person?”
Here’s what they come in saying. They come in saying “How can I make my brand better? How can I build my social media following better? How can I work out on Instagram and show everybody that I’m ready to go?” But when I get to the game, I don’t perform.
Dwayne Haskins, unfortunately, is not the first case I’ve seen like this and it won’t be the last. It bothers me because a lot of it is the young African American player. They come in and they don’t take it as a business. It is a game to them.
McFarland went on to talk about how he watched JaMarcus Russell throw his career away and the dangers of players not taking football seriously.
McFarland has taken more heat for this than his snotty nickname, specifically for centering the conversation on condemning Black players while white players do the same thing. So let’s get this part out of the way first:
Booger was factually incorrect.
When NBC listed the biggest draft busts of all time in a league that is 70 percent Black, five of the top 10 were white. Twenty-eight of Bleacher Report’s top 50 biggest busts were white. Whether an athlete fails because of their ability, lack of discipline or because of their own self-destruction, every available metric shows that white boys with great expectations are more likely to fail in the NFL.
But I am not here to analyze “the sportsball.” I hear this kind of Black-on-Black criticism all the time—like the Black person who quietly understands why McDonald’s milkshake machine is on the fritz for the 1,203rd day in a row but shakes their head in disgust when the Black-owned soul food restaurant runs out of oxtails. It might be true that “Black people are always late” because people are always late. (For the longest, I assumed “CP time” meant “cable provider,” or “calling the police,” because those motherfuckers are also never on time.)
The hospital CEO who referred to a COVID-stricken Black doctor who was simply trying not to die as “intimidating” would have probably said a white woman doing the same thing was “leaning in,” being assertive or simply “trying not to die.”
But I am not interested in what white people think of us. I am interested in knowing why we sometimes make these assumptions of other Black people. I don’t believe it can simply be dismissed as animus or self-hate. I think it is something else.
Everyone has heard someone explain why “Black people must be twice as good to get half as far as a white man,” which has been borne out in every sector of American society. Perhaps we are harder on each other because we have to be. Maybe Booger knows that Dwayne Haskins won’t get endless opportunities like Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez or any of the other steaming white piles of quarterbacking excrement who get recycled through America’s most popular sports league time and time again.
Maybe Booger McFarland was expressing an uncomfortable reality. Perhaps McFarland knows that the billionaires who own this league do not care about talent or potential. Ask Michael Vick (whose backup, Matt Shaub, is still playing football in the NFL). Ask Colin Kaepernick, who played for a team that is still searching for someone as good as he was.) But here’s the thing that Booger McFarland undoubtedly knows:
White people don’t give a fuck about Dwayne Haskins or “the young African American player” in general.
They care about his body. They care what he can do for them. If Dwayne Haskins went out and slit someone’s throat on the 50-yard-line during the pregame warmups, and then passed for 300 yards and four touchdowns, he’d be in next week’s starting lineup. If he prayed for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men and threw four interceptions, they’d cut him.
McFarland uttered these dimwitted ruminations sitting next to a Randy Moss who, in my opinion, is one of the most talented wide receivers to ever step foot on a gridiron. When Moss repeatedly fucked up, why wasn’t he tossed on the garbage pile of disobedient negro athletes? Why is Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape twice, still playing?
If Booger McFarland, who is paid to analyze football, was giving a thoughtful, circumspect analysis instead of shitting out of his mouth hole for Caucasian applause, he would have at least mentioned that part of the reason why Black players are more expendable than mediocre white ones is because, to white people, Haskins, McFarland—all of us—are things.
Maybe Booger McFarland really believes that Black players are concerned with thuggin’ on the ‘gram while angelic white players do their work and go home. Hopefully, he will one day realize how wrong he is.
I hope it’s before he’s buried among the “things.”
It is always astonishing to me how easily we dismiss how much white wealth is built on the talent, labor and excellence of Black bodies, which is what I was at Magnolia Gardens to write about. The historical interpreter had barely mentioned the enslaved Africans (except to point out how well the Draytons treated their slaves) when a white woman raised her hand and asked a question about rice farming.
“Whose idea was it to do rice when rice is from the Far East?” She asked.
“The Drayton family, when they first arrived here in the 1670s, they tried everything,” the tour guide replied. “They tried silkworms, citrus, fruit—you name it. They tried it. And nothing would really take here because our soil is dirt or small. And it’s the perfect environment to grow Carolina Gold Rose. So there’s a lot of trial and error, but rice became the big moneymaker in this area, right before the Civil War. This was one of the wealthiest parts of the country.
“So did they bring Asians to show them?” asked the tourist.
“No ma’am,” replied the guide. “The people on the west coast of Africa had been growing rice for centuries. So they had the knowledge and they’re actually the ones who taught the planters how to do it.”
Imagine being called a “planter” when you have planted nothing.
Imagine being a “thing” whose labor provided generational wealth.
Another tourist would later ask if the plantation had suffered damage during the disastrous flood that wrecked the area in 2016. The guide explained that the enslaved West Africans built a system of levees and dams used in West Africa that allowed them to flood the rice fields and drain them during the harvest.
I bet, while they were building that feat of African engineering, the “supervisor” had to discipline some of those young captives for their behavior. They didn’t ask how they could build a better dam. They probably didn’t ask how they could contribute to the Drayton family. If not for the trusted and loved supervisor, that system probably couldn’t have saved the Magnolia plantation 350 years later.
And all they got was a lousy headstone.