Whitley, Girl…My Family Owned Slaves, Too

How do You do?


I’m sitting here in the company of some of my very dearest friends, set a blaze over a light dinner and red wine.  We’d congregated for the purpose of sharing our projects, calendars, plans, and upcoming events with each other- to kind of plug each other in. ( A practice I would highly recommend; build a master calendar of “to do” with each group of confidants, and commit to them and then “be impeccable with your word.” Follow through).


We’d laughed and parlayed over dinner, and someway, in my own scattered-minded way, I was reminded of an incident in my year’s past that left an impression on me.

About 7 years ago,  I joined my family in our hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Clarksdale, perched high above the Delta just below the city of Memphis, was home to me.  It was the place that had reared both of my parents and both myself and sister in our early years.  Returning home was always a joyous occasion mainly in part to seeing all of my family; having been blessed to still, as of September 2014, have all four of my Parents in The Grand, being in the presence is the essence of what living is all about.

I have to be honest though, as blessed as I have been have all four of my Parents in the Grand, it has been extremely humbling in observing them age.  I have been up close and personal with the subtle truth that transitioning, is indeed inevitable and, we all must one day make that transition.  So you can imagine, each time I am in their presence,  I am filled with humility.

Anyway, I remember arriving to Clarksdale, we were having dinner at an aunts’ house.  Two of my aunts worked at the state Prison, Parchmen, and both had homes located on the premises.  Yes, when you drove up to the prison, there was a security gate in which someone would check your trunk, let you in, and you’d be on your merry way.  I didn’t realize it then, but I realize it now:

Parchmen was a plantation.

And my family lived on this plantation.

The Parchmen plantation.

My family lived on this plantation.

One of my aunts had a MASSIVE home on the property.  My uncle was s top official for the Mississippi Department of Corrections so their home was pretty massive.  That year, my family had Thanksgiving on the Parchmen plantation and lived in a home and ate food that was in part prepared by Parchmen inmates.

In 2008, unbeknownst to me, and even my family,  we were indirect contributors to the massive Prison Industrial Complex that gripped this nation.

Whitley, Girl…my family owned slaves, too.

Reaching that conclusion among my friends, we laughed about it.  But, when I retired to my sleeping quarters that night, I was disturbed beyond belief.  A friend joked that he should post it on twitter.  I laughed then; but then I thought about it long and hard before I went to bed.

I could just hear the Press Release floating its way around Black Twitter:

In Ain’t-That-About-A-Bitch?” News, @FallingBlackInLove founder and Overall Ain’t Shit Nigga AT CountryBoy_troy’s family owned slaves in the hills of Mississippi. The “self-proclaimed” lover of All things Black is actually the biggest pick-a-ninny moonrat on this side of the Grape watermelon fountain.”



I am being a tad bit dramatic.

But, I must admit that I am, and have always been,  super sensitive to the plight of people of African descent in this country.  At 5 years old, I dedicated the rest of my life to uplifting, defending, protecting, proclaiming, celebrating, and loving BLACKNESS (Yes…I know…I was on some other shit as a child)  But, every accomplishment I have ever received, every degree, award, credential, accolade, etc. has been given to those who walked this earth before me; Every fiber of my being has programmed to keep BLACKNESS relevant.  I grew up always feeling like I stood on the outside of BLACKNESS; as if there was something in me that kept me from belonging.  I know it sounds silly; but I am sure you would be so surprised at how many people, particularly BLACK people, have been ingrained to believe that we don’t belong or that we aren’t “Black” enough; we’re either ‘too’ dark or ‘too’ light.  We either speak “too” well, or not well enough.  We either “too” privileged or not.  Somewhere down the line, some sociopath decided that the best way to control BLACK was to unite them in desolation, but make them  feel like none of them belonged to each other.  And thus, anti-BLACKNESS among  BLACK people was born.  (My random imagination and critically analysis that means nothing to nobody but me, 2014).

Let me say this: I love my family.  And I hope that when they read this, they don’t take this as anything other than a personal reflection and critical analysis of the prison industrial complex that we’ve been completely engulfed in prison culture and a culture of prison.  We’ve all fallen victim to it.


Among all of the golden episodes of A Different World, none struck a more personal cord than the episode where Whitley found out her family owned slaves which, in turn, was also the same episode that Kim was having some serious issues with the Mammy caricature.  Kim’s insecurities about her own skin complexion and her own BLACKNESS, coupled with Whitley’s insecurities about her place in BLACKNESS, was captured brilliantly.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to really appreciate the cultural significance of A Different World; to explore BLACKNESS so effortlessly, to bring these conversations to light as part of a larger conversation that we had only reserved for behind close doors; we saw these conversations happening every Thursday night.  20 years later, there still hasn’t been a show that has been more relevant to Black millennials than A Different World.

Listen…I’ve bored you all beyond reproach so leave it here.  All of this is just my humble interpretation.

So yes, Whitley, Girl…I feel your pain.


Until we meet again.  And when we do, I must tell you about the time Khadijah James inspired me to own my own shit.



A Different World: Mammy Dearest
Khadijah James, CEO Flava Magazine (Living Single)
Photo credits provided below photos.
“Be Impeccable With Your Word.” One of the Four Agreements. Check it out. Great Book!

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