A day after Michelle Obama proved progress is possible by speaking about her historical legacy as the first black first lady "living in a house built by slaves," Bill O’Reilly decided to give a positive spin on slavery itself.
"Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802," O’Reilly said on the latest edition of the The O’Reilly Factor Tuesday night. "However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well."
O’Reilly is right that slaves weren’t the only ones who built the White House. Technically, enslaved black people were joined by free black people and local white laborers. But black people, many of them slaves, did the bulk of the heavy lifting and digging.
This reluctance to view slavery, or the tokens we carry through history that were created as a benefit of slavery, as horrific or difficult has been a long journey for most Americans. Only recently are popular representations of slavery appropriately brutal and representative of the reality of the practice.
It’s not surprising that O’Reilly finds comfort in portraying the nation he loves in a way that depicts slaves as having "decent lodgings." The fact that slave owners were paid for their slaves’ labor while the slaves' names were lost to history says everything about how the institution of slavery — and the price African Americans have had to pay — is remembered by far too many Americans today.