In 1832, John P. Kennedy published a widely read novel, Swallow Barn, whose narrator was supposed to be from the liberal North. The narrator visits a plantation in Virginia expecting to see all manner of horrors perpetrated upon those whom he presupposes are the miserable victims of slavery. But (and what an enlightening experience!) he finds only, in the words of Sterling Brown, “a kindly patriarchy and grateful, happy slaves.” Kennedy’s narrator croons,
I am sure they could never become a happier people than I find here…No tribe of people has ever passed from barbarism to civilization whose progress has been more secure from harm, more genial to their character, or better supplied with mild and beneficent guardianship, adapted to the actual state of their intellectual feebleness, than the Negroes of Swallow Barn. And from what I can gather, it is pretty much the same on the other estates in the region.
Similarly, a worker in an egg “factory” revealed parallel attitudes to me in the course of an interview I conducted with her. The conditions in the area where the chickens were housed were so abhorrent that I had to go outside every few minutes to breathe. Dust and ammonia filled the air, as the excrement pit beneath the rows and rows of cages holding the “laying-hens” was emptied only once every two years. The chickens were living four-to-a-cage in little larger than the size of a record album cover, and had been de-beaked, a process in which part of their upper mandibles are cut off. They lived in these conditions for two years until they were moved into trucks – their first and only experience of the outdoors – and drive to a slaughterhouse. Read the rest of this entry »