Thursday, January 22, 2009

White House Built by Slaves!

Originally, I thought I had a great new idea for this blog, because both the New Yorker and the Jim Lehrer Newshour have recently done thoughtful pieces on the fact that the White House was built in part by slaves. I thought I could say something about the way this little factoid comes to the surface now, and perhaps it's still worthy of mention. But it turns out it's the kind of factoid that is already on everyone's lips. Reporters looking at the White House can barely refrain from commenting, "built by African-American slaves, the White House..." and so on.

I did not know this fact before Obama was elected. I am glad, or maybe glad is not the right word, to know it now. But I am a little suspicious of the way we all do know it now, and how few of us knew it before the media decided that it would do as a nice frame for the moment. I can't help thinking that we should always have known this about the all too White House, first, because it is part of our history, and second because it makes a difference as to how we look at all kinds of things--Washington,D.C., government, democracy, even architecture.

Perhaps this is too cynical. There is something good too about the way facts, forgotten, resurface, and how sometimes they have all that much more weight for that. But I still feel I have been in the dark too long about this one.