Georgetown University students recently voted 2-1 to create a $27 student fee to pay reparations to descendants of slaves sold by the university in 1838 in order to save it. Descendants of those 272 slaves are treated as legacy students by the university, giving them preferential treatment in admissions. The liberal world rejoiced, but it was simply another injustice to try to make good on the first.
Legacy admissions are, and always have been, unjust. Why should it matter that your mother or father or sibling attended a particular university? Does that make you any better qualified than the next student? Of course not. Neither does the fact that one of your ancestors was a slave.
Elizabeth Thomas is one such Georgetown student. She grew up believing she was descended from slaves in Louisiana. In fact her great-great-great grandfather was a Louisiana state senator during Reconstruction. Elizabeth says her mother learned of the Georgetown connection while reading an article in the New York Times. She read the slave manifest of sold slaves and was “shocked” to find the names her maternal ancestors. Shocked? Interested I could understand, but why shocked? It’s not like she never knew she came from slaves.
When she told Elizabeth the news Elizabeth said the first emotion to surface was pain. Let me just pause the story right there and interject a personal aside. I’ve done quite a bit of research into my ancestors. It’s really quite interesting. Among the lawyers and politicians and dirt farmers I came across one ancestor who did time for murder. Was I shocked? Did I feel pain? No. I was mildly curious, but not enough to dig into the details. I moved on to another ancestor.
The thing is it’s useless at this point to have deep emotional ties to ancestors. Is it interesting? Absolutely, but you never knew them. Would Elizabeth feel guilt if she found one of her ancestors was an ax murderer? Probably not. Would she feel a responsibility to the victims’ descendants? No. It’s entirely different, however, when you can turn yourself into a victim.
Elizabeth Thomas is not a victim. She’s a desk assistant in the Washington bureau of ABC News who’s about to earn her master’s degree from Georgetown. She’s not a victim. Yet she chooses to portray herself as one. She said, “It wasn’t easy to become part of a community that enslaved my ancestors, thus changing the complete trajectory of my family’s history.” She says this while simultaneously looking back nostalgically on being raised in Louisiana. Had her ancestors not been sold she most likely would never have lived there.
I’ve traced my Valentine ancestors to settling in North Carolina in the 1800s. Before that little is known where they came from. My DNA test says I’m 82 percent from Great Britain, 13 percent Ireland/Scotland/Wales, 5 percent Sweden. When I first did the DNA test it said I was 6 percent Russian. Once new data came in the Russia connection was replaced with Sweden. Did that make any difference in my life? Maybe it exonerated me from the Mueller probe, but it was simply an interesting factoid. I wasn’t “shocked.” It wasn’t “painful.” If I find out I descended from a Swedish king I won’t suddenly develop an attitude.
It’s history. It’s interesting, but beyond that it doesn’t change anything about me. I have three grown sons. I’m no longer responsible for what they do—good or bad. Then why do some feel I’m responsible for someone who lived 200 years ago whom I never even knew?