I have been asked, repeatedly, to post about Bill O’Reilly’s racist statements regarding the slaves who built the White House, as referenced in Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention on Monday night. Apparently, my job is to be a woke dung-beetle, who collects up the racist waste of the internet and rolls it into a presentable ball of s**t, suitable for public display.
Fine. Here is a response to every stupid line in Bill O’Reilly’s slave worker fantasy.
First, here’s O’Reilly’s full statement, in context, as transcribed by Media Matters:
Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House. Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801. In addition, free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.
In 1800, President John Adams took up residence in what was then called the Executive Mansion. It was only later on they named it the White House. But Adams was in there with Abigail, and they were still hammering nails, the construction was still going on.
Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. 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. Got it all? There will be a quiz.
Everything about that statement is basically true and totally misleading at the same time. It’s racism, through and through, lacquered with some truth nuggets so that other racists feel comfortable repeating it. Every line is a version of truth designed to give a false impression. O’Reilly has built his career doing this work, so by now his sinister intent is pretty easy to spot.
Let’s do a close read:
* “Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House.” — “Participation” sure makes it sound voluntary, doesn’t it? Many people “participate” in hard labor. Others, like the slaves in question, are “forced.” Slaves were forced to construct the White House, against their free will. They did not “participate.”
* “Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801.” — He throws in some “payments” here to make it seem like a free market exchange was made. Slaves, Slave Masters, potato, potato. Money changed hands, that’s what the idiot O’Reilly listeners are supposed to feel.
* “In addition, free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building.” — Again, he wants to make it sound like a giant Habitat for Humanity project. Everybody “worked” on it. This links up to the “payments” that somebody received in the previous line.
* “There were no illegal immigrants at that time.” — Make America Great, Again, like back when it was when there were no “illegal” immigrants... and you could get slave labor for public works.
* “If you could make it here, you could stay here.” — He’s trying to smooth over the differences between “slaves” and “immigrants,” and then suggest that these made up immigrant/slaves were allowed to “stay” here because they could “make it” here. OBVIOUSLY... the slaves were not at all like immigrants and not allowed to LEAVE. Bill O’Reilly is an unmitigated piece of trash.
* “In 1800, President John Adams took up residence in what was then called the Executive Mansion. It was only later on they named it the White House.” — The capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. because Southern slaveholders feared Northern anti-slavery domination of the federal government. The decision of where to place the capital was not benign, it was a direct appeasement to the pro-slavery forces. This is a common thing from racists like O’Reilly: they like to pretend that pro-slavery decisions were made without reference to slavery.
* “But Adams was in there with Abigail, and they were still hammering nails, the construction was still going on.” — You ever watch the Property Brothers? There’s always the scene where Jonathon and the couple show up to hammer in some nails or rip out a sink. It’s there to show that the couple is “participating” in the construction of their dream home. They cut out the part where all the network provided labor comes in and actually does all of the backbreaking work. That’s what O’Reilly is doing here. He is literally putting the hammering of a few nails by a white couple on par with the hard labor of a chain gang of slaves.
* “Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government,” — This is the most controversial statement. Critics have said that this gives the false impression that slaves were well-cared for, and comfortable. My issue with the statement is that this one, more than all the others, HAS NO BASIS IN FACT. Bill O’Reilly has NO IDEA if the slaves had enough food to eat. He has NO IDEA what their actual living conditions were like. If these particular slaves were well-fed, it was only so they would be strong enough to do the backbreaking work they were forced to do, but again, O’Reilly has no clue if that was in fact that case.
* “[The Government] stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.” — Jesus effing Christ. The laborers were not HIRED by the government. THEY WERE ENSLAVED BY THE GOVERNMENT. You don’t HIRE a person you hold in BONDAGE, you racist asshole. The government asserted eminent domain over the slaveholder’s property, paid the slavesholders a fee, and used the property for its own purposes. THE PROPERTY WAS PEOPLE.
* “However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor.”—In case you missed it, that’s Bill O’Reilly admitting that everything he told you in the previous sentence meant nothing because the government still hired companies that enslaved their workers after 1802. The 1802 line was just to throw you off the scent, but O’Reilly is so bold he’s sure he can tell his people exactly how he’s misleading them and have them still not catch.
* “So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well.” — Michelle Obama was ENTIRELY correct. Actually, the fact that the government also saw fit to hire non-slave workers, who were paid, only serves to highlight the INJUSTICE Michelle Obama was referencing. It’s not like it didn’t occur to the government that they should PAY people to build the White House, it’s just that they thought it would be a lot easier to get the work done for free with the use of forced labor.
* “Got it all? There will be a quiz.” — DO NOT PRETEND THAT YOU GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THE “FACTS” OF THE BONDAGE ENDURED BY AFRICAN-AMERICANS AT THE HANDS OF THIS GOVERNMENT. There will be no “quiz” for your listeners about slavery. There will only be your nightly recitation of white grievances.
There, every line, deconstructed. I have to go take a shower.