Mon 9 Mar, 2009
Tags: Bill Peebles, Holly Fulton, Traces of the Trade, United Church of Christ
Holly is my sixth cousin, once removed, and is descended from John D’Wolf, one of the slave-trading brothers of James D’Wolf, the family’s patriarch and leading slave-trader (from whom I’m descended).
Holly is one of the ten family members who travels across the “triangle trade” in Traces of the Trade. She confronts me directly during the scene in which I suggest that the project is becoming “self-indulgent” by focusing on the burdens of being white. We met at the start of filming for the documentary, and have spent a great deal of time together in the years since.
Holly and Bill frequently appear at screenings of the film, to answer questions and to lead discussion about slavery and race. They have been particularly active in screening the film within the United Church of Christ (UCC), as part of that denomination’s “Sacred Conversation on Race.”
Holly is an experienced school teacher and diversity trainer, while Bill is retired as a Presbyterian pastor and mental health therapist, and currently volunteers with Community Change, Inc. in Boston.
From time to time, the three of us will appear together at screenings or other events, and I find these occasions to be quite valuable. Holly and I bring very different strengths to our work: while I tend to be analytical, focusing on the history of slavery and the impact of race on our society, Holly has always been a member of the group who can speak strongly from the heart. She is gifted at sharing with audiences how she has reacted to the history of the family and the nation, how she has responded to privilege in her own life, and about her lifelong sense of isolation from people of other races.
Holly’s background and experiences have led her to embrace an approach to race in which white people explore issues of race only with other white people, leading to the exchange in the film I mentioned above. This is a perspective which was alien to me when we filmed Traces of the Trade, and it was the most controversial issue regarding race that the ten of us discussed during our journey, resulting in several heated conversations in front of the cameras. Holly, however, has for years been committed to the use of whites-only, “anti-racist” groups to allow people like her to explore difficult issues of race. Under Holly’s patient tutelage, I have gradually come to appreciate and endorse this approach to race for those who find it appropriate for their needs.
Bill, meanwhile, is a skilled and experienced facilitator, who is unparalleled in my experience when it comes to the thoughtful, sensitive, and non-intrusive way in which he moderates discussion on the difficult topics raised by the film.