I’m often asked if I ever encounter people–black or white–at the presentations I give that express anger at me in reaction to the message I share. Do black people demand “reparations” due to the slave-traders in my family’s distant past? Do white people lash out at me in disagreement over my belief that we of European descent should both acknowledge and work toward healing the lingering impacts from the legacy of slavery?

The answer is that such reactions–in person–are quite rare. Most people who attend my presentations come either because they support the work we’re doing or want to learn more about that work.

The place where people most often express their anger and opinions in opposition to the message I share is online. When someone can create an anonymous persona they apparently feel free to say whatever is on their mind —  and those opinions are often quite offensive and occasionally vile. I also encounter supportive comments sprinkled among the vitriolic as well as the head-scratchers that make me go, “huh?”

For the most part I ignore anonymous remarks because they come from people who probably haven’t read my book, Inheriting the Trade, haven’t seen Traces of the Trade, the film of our family journey, and haven’t attended the presentation that is being written about. Occasionally I’ll read through them just to have a sense of what such folks are thinking. They too, like all of us, are in need of healing from the persistent damage caused by the historic trauma of the system of enslavement.

As an example, an article in the February 17, 2011 edition of the daily newspaper Tulsa World, “U.S. family’s slave trading built prominent empire” attracted some interesting comments. I share them below in the order they appeared. At least this time no one called me a jackass, although one person refers to me as a “rich dork” [my occasional comments appear in brackets]:

gadfly wrote: “The Bible (god’s word) gave legitimacy to slavery; so slavery is in reality, part of god’s plan. As Tom Sawyer, in some silly cases, is being purged of the ‘n’ word; so should the Bible be purged of its multiple endorsements of slavery. But, how does one go about purging ‘the word of god?’ Its hard to condemn slavery, as long as a god gives ‘his’ endorsements of it. The only way to condemn slavery, is to also condemn the Bible; but are Christians prepared to do so? Stay tuned.

Bobby Donnell: The Koch family is the only remaining family in America that wishes to enslave Americans.

Duwayne: There is a story for everything and every part of history. Why is this newsworthy?

droopy: A.S. Shore, Kuzak, B.D [I assume this writer refers to the previous writer, “Bobby Donnell”], You get nuttier with each change of name.

joggingman: Affirmative Action is slavery of whites. [sure wish I could find this person and recommend the book When Affirmative Action Was White]

Whirled Peas: Slavery and racism are not synonymous. Remember that slavery existed among African tribes long before the arrival of the first white man, and that there is plentiful documentation of free blacks in the U.S. who themselves owned slaves.

nucleardad: Gadfly, The Bible doesn’t endorse slavery.

WeThePeople: gadfly, Me thinks you got issues!

WeThePeople: Hmmmm….let’s see. We got us a president who is from Kenya; so why are we still talking about slavery. Let’s just move-on now folks, nothin’ more to see here.

DarwinMarx: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT) “Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT) In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. “The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

DarwinMarx: “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

gadfly: Nucleardad: Besides the other posts about the Biblical endorsements (god’s endorsements) of slavery, check out Exodus 21:2-6. It begins by god telling mankind that “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve fore only six years…” and ends with After that, the slave will belong to his master forever.” The “gadfly” is happy to have had his opportunity to provide you with a “Bible lesson” — Nucleardad.

Mindi: I was in the audience during Mr. DeWolf’s presentation. His was NOT a presentation “in guilt”, but in American History and advocacy of respect for humanity….I heard a sense of pride in his story,but disappointment that his family’s fortune was built off the backs of slaves. I heard facts about early U.S. history and the experiences of people of African descent who were brought to this country in the name of profit and sometimes even “god” endorsed. He encouraged the kids in the audience to RESPECT others and question him or anyone who brings a story without facts. I’m glad I went to hear him and purchase his book which reflects him as a compassionate human being.

rocket: It never fails. Here on the World message boards, anytime there’s an article about anything to do with the black history — the 1921 riot, slavery, you name it — the usual suspects can be counted on to chime in that this isn’t newsworthy, it’s ancient and irrelevant, move on, etc. You can understand it. After all, any of us white people ought to be a little uncomfortable at the mention of these things. While we are not responsible for our ancestors’ misdeeds, we certainly have reaped the economic benefits of what they did. Millions of black laborers built an economy at no financial cost to those who gave the order, then they were placed into institutionalized second-class status while being expected to “know their place.” Blacks have been catching up economically for decades, but it’s a long gap to fill so far back from the starting gate that the white folks use. Whites cruise around Tulsa anywhere they please without giving it a thought. Blacks show up where they’re, er, not expected and get at best some nervous stares while whites have the luxury to wonder why they don’t just get over it. History does matter. If it didn’t, the World message board wouldn’t have so many people making not-thinly-veiled snide comments about anything or anybody from North Tulsa. Keep the history lessons coming. Plenty of people can use them.

OK Freedom Fighter: Gadfly – I have to ask, what happened to make you so mad at God? the pain of being so close to the word and yet be so very lost and alone must be unbearable for you.

OK Freedom Fighter: so I’m guessing that MR. DeWolf is donating all the proceeds to the NAACP… why of course he is!

justiceawaits: Some rich dork getting even richer off the misfortune of others long dead.I think I will pass on buying the book tyvm.