Pardon my French, but there really are no other words to describe this letter, written by Jourdan Anderson, an ex-slave, to his former master in 1865.
I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
Read the whole letter to get the full effect: the cool yet cutting irony, the quiet yet lethal charges it levels, and the righteous indignation and defiance that lie just beneath the surface. It gives a good sense of what emancipation was all about, as a lived experienced on the ground. At its best, emancipation really was this kind of fuck you—delightful for the slave, less delightful for the master.
In my work on the right and its reaction to the left, I always try to keep these personal confrontations—which are nevertheless fraught with political meaning and drenched in political context—in mind. It’s always been my sense that what is missing in our scholarship and discussions of the right is precisely this lived experience of subjugation and emancipation, what it means for the oppressor and the oppressed. As I write in The Reactionary Mind:
Every great political blast—the storming of the Bastille, the taking of the Winter Palace, the March on Washington—is set off by a very private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power.