I’m glad we have an extension of Godwin’s law that states we’ve reached the end of a discussion online (or perhaps even in person) when an issue or thing is compared to the Nazis or Hitler. But is there a law for when a conversation starts with comparing people to “House” slaves or “Field” slaves? “Quest for Fire” star Rae Dawn Chong found out about this hard way when she called Oprah Winfrey a “field slave” last summer, and her already languishing reputation and career took another toke. But apparently astrology bookseller and practitioner David R. Roell hasn’t learned that talking about “house” slaves & “field” slaves starts at a dead end and stays there.
Yesterday a Black woman and subscriber to Mr. Roell’s weekly newsletter wrote me an email expressing her outrage and upset over this recent edition of his newsletter. It was also in my inbox, but I hadn’t gotten to downloading it or reading it. I scanned it and was horrified that a reasonable person would write such…baleful misinformation and, ultimately, racist delineations of charts.
I suspected Mr. Roell was about to land in hotter water than the hero in “Mandingo” when he started off with “I wanted to compare the chart of a reincarnated house slave with that of a reincarnated field slave, as the differences should be stark. (emphasis mine).” In fact, he clarifies when he says, “ALL (original) Afro-Americans are descended of slaves and it should be fairly easy to distinguish between reincarnate house versus field as one will be generally well-adjusted and the other will not.” *Steps away from the computer, breathes, has sip of coffee*
Okay, let me start with a confession. I’m not a big fan of reincarnation. I know a lot of astrologers and fellow “New Age” light workers are into it, but I’ve always been more on the skeptical side. Mr. Roell’s column hasn’t helped. I mostly shy away from the belief in reincarnation because there’s no way to independently know, other than one’s own memories, who or what you’ve been. I also would say that the rules for reincarnation, in terms of how long it takes to reincarnate, where the souls come from or where “new” or “young” souls come from (or why) sounds fuzzy and whimsically mysterious to me. I’ve been to India and read a lot on it there and in the States. But let’s just say I’m glad the Abrahamic traditions don’t put much exoteric emphasis on reincarnation at all. (Now I generally have my own misgivings about the afterlife period, but that’s a different post.) So, generally, I’ll take someone’s personal testimony about their “past life” at its own anecdotal face value. But when other people start conjecturing on what other people are, I don’t know where the guideposts are, with or without astrological charts. Back to Roell’s article.
First, let’s forget that no one generally has used the term Afro-American in print since the late 80s, and that fortunately Mr. Roell never graces us with that term for African Americans in his article again. (He just uses the lower case b for Black almost the whole time. Just as annoying, but venial.) Let’s also sidestep that he proposes that an astrological chart can do something that I’ve never read a chart purported to be able to do, like tell whether someone is a slave or not, especially whether one is a REINCARNATED slave, with a specialization in the field or domestically. Last I checked, if I gave an astrologer just a chart and said nothing else, I’m pretty certain he or she wouldn’t be able to tell me clearly, certainly or consistently what race, gender, sexual preference or class the owner of the chart was. However, Mr. Roell claims that the markers for a house or field slave would be…stark. Of course, Mr. Roell never clarifies what all those expected markers should be or are. He just tells us who is a “reincarnated” field, house or minstrel slave. I’m sure Toni Morrison, who wrote a compelling book on enslavement that I suspect Mr. Roell has never read, Beloved, would be elated to know that she might be either a reincarnated house or minstrel slave.
But let’s forget the reincarnation jazz. Let’s address why bringing up house or field slaves is a bad idea for most pursuits. I don’t intend for this to become a staggeringly long post, so I’ll truncate the lesson.
First, US Slavery was a horrible, horrific, life threatening and mostly life-shortening congenital condition for every enslaved African, whether they were in a house, on a boat, with a goat, in a field, or in the street. It is a myth that enslaved people who worked in the house had better lives than those in the field. They may not have had to work in the hot sun, but they worked equally long, absurd hours without compensation and in fear of their lives and loved ones every day and perhaps all day for the entirety of their lives. Also, contrary to beliefs even among some Black people, field or house “Negroes” were no more ill-disposed or favorable to “The Man” or each other based on their station. There’s no evidence, as Mr. Roell suggests, that “field slaves” neglected or detested their children. Or house slave children were more loved consistently. Many a child was taken forcibly from his or her parents, but that doesn’t mean that child was loved less. And it didn’t matter whether you worked in the Big House or in the field. Your life and those you loved were always in jeopardy. Like anybody in the world, enslaved Africans wanted freedom whether they worked in the house or in the field. Even George Washington’s prized slave who served as his main chef ran away. The big to-do about house and field “Negroes” is an a posteriori reading of enslavement that was not the documented experience of the horrors of those enslaved.
I asked, in private correspondence, if Mr. Roell had read any slave narratives or emancipation narratives, like Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, for that matter. He pasted back an excerpt from an article in Wikipedia on the life of Frederick Douglass. I took that as a NO. If he had, he would have known about the desperate letters former enslaved Africans wrote, or had written for them by kind literate folk, looking for their wives, husbands and children. I tried to tell him that I had 2 degrees in African American Studies and the coursework for a doctorate in the same field, never mind growing up Black. But he still wanted to play expert. White privilege is a hell of a drug, reincarnated or not.
But the most disturbing feature I found about Mr. Roell’s piece was that he seems to think enslavement is the only reincarnation starting point for Black people. I mean, damn, it’s one thing to have the historical legacy of one’s skin, but my soul can only be Black as well? In an email reply to me about this, he said, “People in fact reincarnate as groups, which are large and tend to be self-replicating over the centuries.” Apparently, he seems to think that whatever societal grouping of one era becomes the template for your soul’s future as well. Or more insidiously, it doesn’t matter what’s the soul’s subjective experience, only the “objective” nature of the society in which it had been last born matters. So, according to Mr. Roell, it doesn’t matter if I saw myself more as a preacher than a slave if I were in the antebellum South, I’d reincarnate with my race, not according to my religion or other practicing folk. This posits that one’s race or gender is as important for the afterlife than how one thinks or personally reflects on one’s own life. And that, ladies and gentlemen, sounds batshit insane and completely counterintuitive. If anything, most narratives about reincarnation mostly fall along the lines of whether the transmigration of souls happens with families, but not races. What’s more, other notions of reincarnation are broad enough to include other spectrums of life besides human. Why Roell chooses to fixate along ethnic or racial lines is beyond me.
And, I guess one’s gender remains fixed too. Apparently, since he looks at reproductive signatures in their charts, these five Black women athletes were women in past lives too. So, these women’s lives and achievements are shackled by their racialized and engendered identities in this life and the previous one. You can’t even be free dead.
As for the astrology of what he says about these five high achieving Black women, he seems to dwell on the fact that they often have detrimented Venuses or other planets. He seems to imply that these placements “prove” they disliked themselves; are angry; disliked having children; and prompted them to be great athletes to escape the shackles of their past lives. Never mind that Mr. Roell found the names for his “study” from a website that seemed to just put something together to celebrate Black History Month–fitsugar.com. But he seems to ignore other athletes, men and women—white, Black or otherwise, who have a Venus, Mars or other significant planet in fall or detriment, like Muhammad Ali, Phil Mickelson, Rocky Marciano, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Diana Nyad, Michael Phelps, and Roger Federer, to name several. If these Black women, “all reincarnated field slaves,” are such as their charts indicate, what about all those other athletes with challenging Venuses and other planets? The truth, most likely, has nothing to do with the suspected past lives of these athletes that we can discern and certainly not just by their current race, gender, sex or sexual preference. In fact, like most times, the truth is probably far more complicated than that…and that’s what could set us all free.
What Mr. Roell seems to forget, and I did mention this in our private correspondence, is that so many men and women struggled for their freedom or longed for it in their lives. Why would they desire to return to slavery when they died? To be with loved ones, they also longed to set and see free? Likewise, what about the tens of thousands of historically freed women and men in the South and North? What were their reincarnation narratives? And was this migration of souls only reserved for the US? Didn’t many enslaved Africans have lives in other places before landing in the US, especially before the 19th century? You’ll notice I use the phrase enslaved African more than I use slave. Simple reason: slave seems to suggest that all that person knew was being a slave rather than a forced condition on a human being who had an origin. And the legacy of enslavement wasn’t just restricted to the US. Enslavement was rife throughout the New World and key parts of the Old World. So it’s fitting that Mr. Roell didn’t want to address the “immigration” issue of Shirley Chisolm because reality doesn’t fit his surreality. Human trafficking doesn’t sit still for anyone or in anyone’s neat schemas of the world.
For Mr. Roell, it seems that slavery has become more of a reified thing for Black people than our own autonomous experience as fully-fledged human beings. Explains how it seems so compelling and stark to see how we transport our pain from life to life, only along racial lines. This all becomes clear toward the end of his article when he writes, “Intense desire is the first step out of slavery. Time will heal these people. Hopefully the larger white/Hispanic society will help and not hinder.” The desire, if Mr. Roell had bothered to actually read a slave narrative than read only about slavery, was always there. And has been there through every moment of African American history. And Blacks were as much the agent and inspiration for emancipation of themselves as we have been for Native Americans, Latinos (not “Hispanics. Again, I wonder why Mr. Roell’s ethnic lexicon is so dated), LGBQT folks, the physically challenged and White women in this country. So Black people are not some piteous group of people awaiting liberation in this life, the last life…or the next.