Anonymous: thank you for sharing your experience. what points did you debate with him?


Thank you for your question, Anon!

My main point of debate is that I feel that given William Ford’s social status and his lineage, it wasn’t so much his cowardice as his mindset and the people reliant on him that required him to retain slaves.

Specifically, in the case of Solomon Northup, when Solomon pleads with William, telling him he is a free man and William responds with “I cannot hear this”. There are many reasons why - alongside Benedict’s reasoning that William is a coward and will not do what is right - that could be attributed to this.

William is a business man, has accrued wealth through his family and holds a position of power in his society. Should he believe Solomon and set him free, he is basically accusing the slave trader of selling him damaged goods, impugning his honour. Now, this would likely bring down the man’s business, but if by some means William is “proven” wrong about Solomon (and remember, at this stage of the tale, he did not have freeman papers), William’s name goes into disrepute, bringing down EVERYTHING he has ever worked for. This is not even MENTIONING the fact that William still owed a debt on his recently-purchased slaves, as he did indeed mention in the film. Freeing a slave does not release you of his debt.

My point to Benedict, on top of this, was that as per the book, Solomon himself mentioned that had William been born under different circumstances, he would never have kept slaves and led a good, Christian lifestyle (in fact, in later years, he became a Baptist minister).

Benedict made some excellent points - calling my attention to the fact that Solomon’s tale was in fact edited by a white man with a thinly-veiled racist remark in the preface (I did admit that I had temporarily forgotten about that). He also mentioned that William was uniquely positioned to free Solomon and that his own cowardice was the thing that stopped him. He knew that Solomon was a free man and could have freed him at any time, given his financial comfort and means.

We then discussed current slavery and how there are more slaves in the world today than there were in the pre civil war era. He mentioned how when he was in New Orleans that he had caucasian people coming up to him on the street saying ‘Now y’all be kind to us, it was a long time ago’. He said that while we should not blame the descendants for their ancestors’ oppression of another people, we need to learn from it and apply to the hideous conditions a lot of people are suffering under today (I agreed with him on this as this really applies to the horrific way Australian Aboriginal people were and are treated).

He mentioned that while he tries to buy ethically, there’s no way to be 100% sure that everything in a product is totally sourced from fair trade and that he’s certain that he owns a phone that has a chip in it that was made from ore mined by children in Africa. we then discussed the crisis in Bangladesh last year (at least I’m pretty sure it was last year).

So… there you go. I had an amazing conversation with a brilliant man who looked me in the eye the whole time.