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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

How The Righteous Bob Mewling Fell To Earth–His Own Past Could Not Be Cancelled

Potter Harris had been brought up right – or at least as far as a since-forgotten New England of the Fifties was concerned.  He was born of a proper Boston family with roots both in Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Plantation, and later Elizabeth town; and in Tidewater Virginia.  His parents and grandparents were proud of their heritage, and despite Potter’s accusations of slavery and human trafficking, both sides of the family felt they could hold their heads up high.  

Potter was having none of it.  His New England forbears had been active in the three-corner slave trade.  Ezekiel Harris had owned a fleet of ships which sailed from New Bedford across the Atlantic, sold rum on the Gold Coast of Africa, then carried slaves purchased with the proceeds to the Caribbean. His ancestors on the other side of the family – the Virginia side – were just as complicit and had made the family fortune through the sale of slaves to the Deep South.  Virginia’s overworked tobacco lands could no longer support slaves, but the new cotton lands of Mississippi needed labor, so the Fenwicks facilitated the exchange.

Image result for images new bedford sailing ships

No matter how much the young Potter hectored and chided, the Harrises refused to concede.  They had simply been a part of American history, one not encumbered by today’s suspect moral imperatives.  Judging the past by the present, they said, was simply historical ignorance, moral myopia, and intellectual arrogance.

Living with the past was far easier for Potter than it was for  his classmate Bob Mewling who for decades had assumed that his ancestors had escaped the nexus of slavery.  Hiram Mewling had been a well-known abolitionist during the Antebellum period, his siblings were Radical Republicans during Reconstruction, and his great-granduncles had been Quaker moralists.  Both sides of the family had been cleared of any national moral taint years ago.  

However, just to be on the safe side, Bob Mewling had his DNA tested.  Confident of the expiating results, he would become one of the progressive movement’s elite – a man above suspicion, one with impeccable credentials, patrimony, and history.

Image result for images new england abolitionists

Much to his chagrin, he found a direct and unmistakable genetic link to one of the largest slaveowners in Virginia.  The DNA evidence was unmistakable since Bob’s maternal 19th century patriarch had many offspring, and tracing the blood line from him to the present day was simple.  Most of the Harkins' (Bob’s mother’s family) distant cousins and great-cousins had no interest in genealogy, but lived quite well on the extensive, former plantation lands of the Northern Neck. 

The Harkins name was everywhere on the peninsula – lawyers, doctors, mechanics, salesmen, and real estate agents – and thanks to the inaccessibility of the Northern Neck and their very close family network, they were still recognized and prominent. 

When the worried and anxious Bob Mewling flew south to interview his cousin Henry Firth Mewling, he was met with graciousness but ignorance. Hank Mewling had no interest whatsoever in his ancestral past, only that his was a big family descended ‘from English nobility’, a fact which was true enough since first American ancestor Mewling had received a generous grant from the English King in 1726 and became immediate owner of tens of thousands of rich Tidewater bottom land. 

Image result for images slave planations tidewater va

Not surprisingly, Bob found the Mewling name in the black sections of town as well – a black Mewling, Rufus, owned the garage and tire repair shop on Route 17; another, Dorothy, managed Dot’s Diner in Kilmarnock.  

Bob was confused over this complicated racial history.  How was he going to be able to sort out black from white?  Would his slave-owning past be neutered by a possible black heritage?  He had his DNA tested by another firm, hoping to find the few drops of black blood which would at least confer some measure of legitimacy to his progressive activism.  Even a scintilla of black heritage would give him rights to victimhood, and immediate solidarity with Black Lives Matter. 

When the disappointing results came in – he was lily white as far back as genetic legacy could attest, and he was the direct descendant of slave owners - he knew he was done for.

The news would not have been so damaging if it hadn’t been for the progressive commitment to America’s racist past; that is, seen through the lens of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, white Americans were all racists because of their complicity in white privilege, Jim Crow, and Southern hegemony.  Anyone with a direct link to the slave-owning South would, if discovered, be expelled immediately as the most corrupted of the corrupt.

Image result for images 1619 project

Bob, however, above all else an honest man, knew that he had to make a clean breast of his ancestry.  In fact such a personal revelation might well be a badge of honor.  If a white, privileged man, descendant of one of the biggest slaveowners in the Upper South, could totally and unequivocally reject not only that past but his own whiteness, he might be honored by black people. 

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  Lashonda Washington, head of his chapter of Black Lives Matter, ruled against Bob and dismissed him from the organization.  She tossed his impassioned letter of abject apology and explanation into the trash without reading it.  Word had already filtered up to her about the scandal, and she was not about to waste her time on meaningless, self-serving apologies.

Bob was a defeated, discouraged, and completely disheartened man.  Although he tried dabbling in the peace movement, the women’s rights movement, and the environmental protection movement, his heart was not in it; and although one of the chief principles of progressivism was conflation – membership in one activist movement gave immediate membership in any other – his infection could not be overlooked.  The Progressive Movement did not tolerate apostasy or tainted blood lines. 

A few years later he disappeared – no trace, no forwarding address, no Facebook profile, no Google Search information. 

Potter Harris, on the other hand, prospered.  He took what was given, understood that history was history, warts and all; a few religious wars here, civil conflicts there; marauding, pillaging armies here, oppressive regents there.  Human nature was not a pretty thing if looked at through an objective lens; but simply a given and nothing to get exercised about.

Potter happily flew the family banner, displayed its heralds and escutcheons.  Not only were the Harrises storied Americans but descendants of noble Englishmen, courtiers, minor princes, and knights.  They might have been responsible for exploitive feudalism, religious intolerance, punitive and uncompromisingly self-serving laws, but they had also contributed to rise and dominance of English culture and Western civilization. 

 No society has ever been without territorialism, family and palace jealousies, skirmishes, wars, and enslavement.  Potter, like all his relatives, chose to look at the best – the entrepreneurial, patriotic, courageous, and mythical side.

Image result for Images Herald English family Northumberland. Size: 220 x 204. Source: www.pinterest.com

Unlike Bob Mewling who was the victim of his own suppositions – being good is all that matters; loyalty is paramount; identity with the righteous is as forgiving as Christ on the Cross – Potter Harris, despite his youthful skepticism, labored under no such misperceptions.  The past is simply  a long, repetitive replaying of human interests without value or particular moral standing.   

There can be no such thing as apologies, reparations, expiation, or forgiveness.  While the impressive Harris past might be considered more illustrious than most – and therefore worthy of note and honor – it is only one strand in the complex of unplanned and random events.  Be proud, but not too much. 

Potter Harris led a good life thanks to his family name, privilege, and wealth; and his intelligence, moral firmness, and generosity.  He did not ask for such historical relevance, but was not about to ignore it.  He was a good man who did not rest on his laurels, but never denied them.

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