Maybe It’s Time to Just Burn Down Every Plantation

Illustration for article titled Maybe It’s Time to Just Burn Down Every Plantation
Screenshot: WWLTV (YouTube)

The most telling revelation from the now-concluded spectacular first season of Watchmen came directly after its first episode and was inspired by its first scene—a reenactment of the Greenwood Massacre. Like many, I was surprised that HBO would launch a big-budget prestige series about angsty superheroes with a depiction of the government-sanctioned slaughter of hundreds of black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I wasn’t surprised, however, by what I saw the following week when numerous (white) people expressed that they had no idea that this atrocity even happened.

This sort of selective remembering of American history—where uncomfortable, narrative-clouding facts are either obscured or intentionally misremembered—is one of the more predictable and effective functions of white supremacy. Even the Wikipedia entry on the burning of Black Wall Street refers to it as the “Tulsa race riot,” a term that suggests an uprising or a brawl instead of a mass lynching. And if we spent any time being surprised by the things that white people don’t know about themselves and our country, our faces would be permanently affixed in a state of shock like the Scream mask.

This ecosystem of misremembering is an atmospheric force that refreshes violence by gaslighting those victimized by it. And while its tentacles are ubiquitous here, there’s no better example of it than the macabre American habit of the plantation wedding.


Admittedly, there’s been considerable recent pushback to this practice. Multiple platforms have pledged to stop promoting them, and some have even banned photos from them. Still, when thinking about plantation weddings, I’m reminded of people like Chandler Willis Helms, who stated the following in a Buzzfeed story about the criticism of them:

“Because of the world we live in now, it’s all about race and everyone wants to put everyone in a different category,” she said. “I think it’s a shame because everyone’s so accepting, and social media is dividing people because people get so offended by everything.”

Let’s forget, for a moment, the Jello-brained rationale that compelled Helms to say “everyone’s so accepting” and “people get so offended by everything” in the exact same sentence, and instead remember that she is not an exception. This sort of thought process—that neglects to consider the history of those grounds because, well, “It’s so bucolic!” and “It reminds me of The Notebook!”—is, again, necessary. The idea that (white) Americans have divine providence doesn’t exist without an asphyxiation of history to make some uncomfortable shit fit. And while a part of me wishes for them to continue to get married at plantations, so just their marriages will be haunted by the souls killed on that soil, that would just give those ghosts more work to do. Instead, I have a simple and inelegant solution to this memory problem: Just burn them all down.

Okay, maybe burning isn’t environmentally-friendly enough. Forest fires are bad. Bulldozing would do just fine. As would targeted lightning strikes, man-made sinkholes, a Termite Jesus, and anti-gravity laser-beams from the pupils of genetically-engineered walruses. I’m down for whatever as long it zaps these wretched terrordomes from existence.


Of course, there are some plantations that currently exist as just museums/memorials honoring the enslaved people who lived and were killed there, and they can continue to operate. The rest, though? I just don’t see the value in keeping them standing. Well, I don’t see the value for us. The spiritual and literal value for the sort of white people who wish to transmute them into $10,000-a-day Camelots is obvious. But the meticulous upkeep of these epicenters of terror, torture, rape, and mass murder—some, in an effort to induce motherfucking nostalgia, preserved to look exactly as they did 200 years agoisn’t just awkward and anachronistic. It’s cruel. It’s violent. It’s American.

So, what should be done with the millions of acres these plantations exist on? How about free housing for the descendants of the enslaved who lived there? If that’s too ambitious (or too wrongheaded for whatever reason), let’s just build 10,000 monuments and museums for Regina King and place them there. And when young kids ask why there are a hundred Regina King museums in every southern state, just say “because, baby, she made Dr. Manhattan so wide open that he chose to be a Tulsa nigga named Calvin instead of a God just to be with her. And also because some white people have that memory gout.”


I’m spitballing here, but anything is better than a place that allows people like Chandler Willis Helms to have their dream weddings on the site of centuries of nightmares—which actually gives me another idea: Tens of thousands of 24-hour holograms of Meek Mill performing “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro).” Ha, try taking a bridesmaids’ selfie with holo Meek screaming “Flexin’ on these niggas, I’m like Popeye on his spinach” in your ear now, Chandler!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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kidelo "drinking shots at Noon, 1/20/2021"

I think if you want a plantation wedding, you should really commit, you know? You should have the house darkies and field darkies working away; the sounds of screaming people being whipped; children being torn from the arms of their mothers that are being sold to another home miles away; the smells of open toilets and unwashed bodies and clothes, the whole she-bang. It should a be long, merciless, motherfucker of a day, your plantation wedding. It should be as unforgettable as it is unforgivable.