Number are always relative. It just depends on the frame around them.  Consider the following:

  • One a scale of 1-10, a 9.2 is pretty darn good.
  • If you ran the 100 meter dash in 9.2 seconds, you’d be considered an elite sprinter.

On the other hand, you’d never want to experience an earthquake that measured 9.2 on the Richter scale, as there’s a high probability that you’d be one of upwards of 50,000 people dead amid massive destruction.

I raise all of this because New York Times columnist Charles Blow shared a few statistics to refute rancher Cliven Bundy’s revisionist history that black people were better off during slavery.  Blow writes:

How could they have been “happier” to meet the lash, to feel the flaying of flesh, to have it heal in dreadful scars only to be ripped open again until one had, as Sethe, the main character in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, put it, a tree on one’s back?

It was not only the lash but also the noose and being chased down and ripped apart by dogs, and all manner of terrors. When the human imagination sets itself on cruelty there are no limits to its designs.

His op-ed also shared some statistics.  The one that I can’t shake is 9.2.  This, as Blow notes, is the average number of children borne by slave women.  That’s an average. Slave women such as Sojourner Truth, whom Blow quotes, had 13.  These women were treated like animals and forced to breed with men they hardly knew, may not have loved.  And those children were often taken from them and sold off on the whim of their owners.

Think about that.

An average of 9.2 times a woman carried a child to term, grew attached to it, and was unable to nurture or protect it in any way.

For comparison, just prior to the American Civil War, the average number of childbirths per woman in 1860 was 5.28.

Think about your wife, mother, sister, daughter or close female friend being put through that.  Think about it on top of the psychic, emotional, sexual and physical violence that was regularly visited on slaves.

It’s chilling, unsettling, and staggeringly heartbreaking.

Read Charles Blow’s full op-ed here.

Posted by Rob Fields