Long distance philanthropists are legion and we might call them each a saint; St. Elsewhere, that is. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one such famous St. Elsewhere. Yes, Harriet, Uncle Tom had it rough in the Old South, but was your precious New England a beacon of human rights? Of course not. As Harriet toiled away on a work of fiction, the young from her own town, some as ripe as seven years, toiled away in factories just a few blocks from Harriet’s finely crafted desk and they often worked longer hours than Southern slaves. Factory workers, of course, paid no heed to nature outside of the dark, smoky bowels of industry and they were not blessed with times of rest due to cycles, seasons, or storms. No, the factory worker, be he seven or seventy, worked no matter what.
But Harriet did not care; she was on the nice side of town and she only noticed the factory if the winds shifted. It’s never been socially acceptable to help white people, so we can not blame Harriet for her stance. We can make note, however, of the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 while factory kids worked under the lash of industry until the early 1900’s; yes, actual lashes. Some children were beaten to death. Harriet never heard their cries; she was traveling.
In 1853, our dear Harriet went to Scotland where she met the Duchess of St. Elsewhere, Madame Sutherland, who made a profession of hosting tea parties for downtrodden though conspicuously absent Africans. Meanwhile, she busied herself with the local Scottish peasantry. The Sutherlands did not feel they made enough money from the traditional farming methods of the peasantry and they wanted them gone. They claimed for themselves and only themselves lands that had been farmed by local peasants for centuries, forcibly drove them from the land, burned their homes (sometimes while still occupied), and created thousands of brand new homeless highlanders which they promptly replaced with sheep. Perhaps the Duchess knitted a sweater or two for a slave in the American South, the chosen land of her long distance philanthropy.
Imagine that; a Duchess with the largest private estate in the country, hosting a prim and proper tea party at one of her castles with the lofty goal of raising awareness on behalf of the poor downtrodden African slave in the American South, while outside her estate’s trim gardens and lofty walls, thousands of peasants are driven from their modest huts as torches thrown on the Duchess’ command light their ancestral homes ablaze. How magnanimous! How wonderful for a Duchess to care about a black slave all the way across the sea. As her fine China tea cups clinked, the Scottish peasants cried.
Harriet, the creator of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, called the Duchess enlightened. Dear Harriet, what is enlightened about burning old women alive in their modest huts? Margaret MacKay was her name; we should remember her. This stubborn, elderly woman was pulled from her burning hut but she died shortly thereafter – just another victim of the Highland Clearances. We should also remember the Duchess; never forget, and never forgive. Her victims were local peasants and they were white, so no one cared. St. Elsewhere looks elsewhere to cry about human rights.
I wonder how many European St. Elsewheres regret their Middle Eastern altruism now that the masses have migrated and are knocking at their doors. Perhaps they have not yet made it to the nice side of town. Perhaps the immigrants are encamped atop the lower classes and the saints do not care as long as they remain elsewhere. Isn’t it funny how those with high walls and vast estates continue to boast of their charity as they laugh all the way to the bank?
*Adapted from Rachel Summers’ novel The Forgetting, available here: https://www.amazon.com/Forgetting-Mission-Maligned-4/dp/1976412994/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8