Ask a Slave, a new comedy series on YouTube, is highly recommended. In each episode, Lizzie Mae, a composite figure, plays the personal house slave to the Washingtons. Read more about the series here.
Everyone needs to watch Ask a Slave because it:
- uses humor to make the subject of enslavement approachable;
- touches on the inhumane struggles enslaved families faced;
- acknowledges the role of rape and violence in the institution of slavery;
- acknowledges that at least some abolitionists while against slavery were far from free of racism;
- acknowledges that education was dangerous/illegal for enslaved peoples;
- shows enslaved people with agency by recognizing that they ran away and took opportunities to poison their enslavers;
- shows how religion and other aspects of life were used to justify or condone enslavement;
- shows how racism and sexism overlapped;
- reminds us that enslavement still exists today;
- subtly forces us to see how different the world is today in some ways and how it is very much the same in other ways;
- it shows how people have very little understanding of enslavement;
- it shows how people also have very little understanding of time and place; and
- subtly shows some manifestations of racism today.
In summary, these short videos—there are currently six and they total less than thirty minutes—provide an accurate overview of enslavement. Of course, some things are somewhat simplified and little detail about anything is provided; however, what is covered is accurate and represents larger realities. (Except, of course, the set up of the “show.”) These videos also counter numerous falsehoods people have about the nature of slave societies and the nature of enslavement. I would feel very comfortable using them in a freshmen class to introduce students to major themes.
Some have taken issue with the presentation style used in these videos such as this article and this article. I can see this as being a turnoff for some because Lizzie does put people down for their ignorance. But the exchange between Lizzie and the people asking questions still makes me laugh each time. As viewers, I think we know that they are all actors and actresses, so it’s not like she is directly making fun of their ignorance. Additionally, we do know that far too many hold these kinds of views and responding to such can get exhausting. I also would hypothesize that some of the questions and answers have been slightly exaggerated to make a point. With movies and historical sites, people want to be entertained, generally speaking. Indeed, I think one of the reasons so many historical sites ignore enslavement (see “You know, I really don’t know my history”: Historical Memory, Slavery, and Plantation Day [Preview] and Brazoria County’s Assault of Historical Truth and Enslavement [Preview]) is because a discussion of the institution of slavery tends to require a serious setup. I think some will find these videos more approachable than the recent movie 12 Years a Slave (see my review here) because they convey information without being as in-your-face about it. People like to be entertained, people learn by entertaining, and to me, this web series achieves legitimate educational ends by way of entertaining.
Please check out the series here and leave some comments! What do you think about the series? Season 2 will be out soon.