It's OK to Leave the Plantation: A Book Review


by Kimberley Wilson

A New Visions Commentary paper published August 1998 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.


Author and commentator Clarence Mason Weaver has a message for Black America: It's OK to Leave the Plantation. That's the title of his new book, and the sum of his message.

Some people might wonder just what Weaver means. After all, the classic plantation system was destroyed at the end of the Civil War. But if you are of the mind that all Blacks must automatically vote for one particular political party or if you accept the notion that all Blacks must hold certain views with no room for dissension, then you are in a state of mental bondage. If your mind is not free, Weaver says, then you might as well be back on the old plantation picking cotton or harvesting rice.

Continuing on his plantation analogy, Weaver reminds us that a slaveowner in antebellum times had to have two things in order for his plantation to thrive: he had to have his overseers and his slavedrivers. The job of the overseer was to patrol the fields and prevent the slaves from running away. They were the ones who relentlessly hunted down escapees. The slavedriver, the most hated man on the plantation, was the slave who managed all the others and reported directly to the master. His lifestyle depended on how well he kept the other slaves in check. The plantation also had the original sellouts - slaves who acted as informants, telling the master about any rumors of a slave revolt or escape plans. In return, the sellout was rewarded with meat or extra privileges.

Weaver asserts that overseers and drivers still exist on the mental plantation. These are the people who quickly jump to criticize any Black different from them. These are the folks who scream "Uncle Tom" and "handkerchief head" at an individual until that person is cowed into silence and returns to the fold. Weaver frankly compares many current Black community leaders with the old slavedrivers. He points out that these people (and he does name names) derive their comfortable livings by keeping Black people angry and bitter. While an encouraged man won't allow himself to be seen as a victim, a bitter, angry man will never be encouraged. Present day slavedrivers also need Blacks to be victims who will look to them - and only them - for help.

It's OK to Leave the Plantation is an unabashedly provocative book. In just 184 pages, Weaver manages to challenge just about every bit of plantation mentality in Black America - past, present and future. It's OK to Leave the Plantation is also a remarkably hopeful book written by a man who has not only faced naked racism and discrimination, but also suffered greatly because of it.

In 1971, Weaver was a handsome young man of twenty-one. He was a shipfitter, welder and pipefitter in the U.S. Navy. It was challenging work, but he enjoyed it. He had 2,800 pounds of steel and other metals drop on him one day while he was working. The man responsible was white, and Weaver believes to this day that the injuries he received were inflicted on him because of racial hatred. This terrible incident left Weaver with severe back injuries, a ruptured spleen and crushed and broken bones. Even then he wasn't about to give up on life. While he could have spent the rest of his life hating all whites for the actions of this one man, it didn't turn out that way - thanks to a rediscovered faith and love of God. Instead, Weaver went to college. By 1975, Weaver graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with three college degrees.

Weaver writes, "I am not a victim. I am victorious." He believes that anyone willing to leave "mental plantation" can be victorious as well. "It's OK to believe in yourself, to challenge yourself, to fail or succeed on your own," he says.

Although It's OK to Leave the Plantation could have used more judicious editing, the overall tone is so uplifting that most readers will not notice the random printing errors. Clarence Mason Weaver has a message for Black America. Those who pick up this book - whether they agree with it or not - will hear a message they won't soon forget.

 

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(Kimberley Wilson is a writer and member of the African American leadership network Project 21.)


Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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