Azie Dungey (Ask a Slave) Responds

Public History, Slavery

Ask a SlaveThanks to Azie Dungey for taking the time to share her thoughts on this site about her new Web series, Ask a Slave. Given that my post was somewhat critical of the show I decided that the comment deserved to be featured as a separate post.

I just wanted to tell my story. I did not expect 1 million people to watch this. Or 36,000 to subscribe every week. I’m an artist and I felt I had a story that was worth telling. In the back of my mind, I was hoping (if anyone even saw it) it would spark a conversation, and it certainly has. People are using this show as a resource in classrooms, universities, dissertations, and even in a symposium on African American character interpretation at historic sites. I am beyond ecstatic about this. I don’t have answers, but I think the questions are just as valuable, and I am happy to see people are taking it to the next level. Like I said, I just wanted it to be a start.

For whatever reason, people love Lizzie Mae. I think that in and of itself means I succeeded as an actor and creator. When I worked at Mount Vernon, and interacted with visitors, I often felt dehumanized because it was clear that the African American experience is not embraced as a true American experience. I was at best a side note, at worst an undesired distraction. The interaction that comes to mind is the one between myself and the woman who was so worried about Mrs Washington needing something in the middle of the night. To you that may just be a “silly” tourist, but to me it spoke volumes. I was not a human of any importance to her. My life just existed to facilitate that of the white people whose story she aligned herself with. My life as a black woman in 1797, and in 2012. To me, this is the problem.

I am happy that Lizzie Mae not only evokes laughter, but also empathy. When we approach early American history, if the subject of the black experience emerges, there is often immediate defensiveness and dismissal. With laughter we connect, our defenses drop, and then there is the potential for vulnerability. From there, empathy emerges. I want people to cherish the Lizzie Maes of history as much as they do the George Washingtons of history. That is the American story, and they both belong to us all. I’m not a historian or educator. I can only do my part.

11 comments… add one

  • Patrick Young Sep 27, 2013

    So far, I’ve enjoyed the series. Episode 5 was my favorite, but that was just based on my own prejudices.

    • Brad Sep 28, 2013

      I have to admit that the end of the fifth episode was pretty funny.

  • Christine M. Smith Sep 27, 2013

    How clever, and so true. People do ask the dumbest questions at these things. I’m enjoying it and may use it next semester. You go, Lizzie Mae.

  • gjvhe Sep 28, 2013

    I just love this slave…. Seriously, I think this is educational and entertaining. I mirrors so much. It does show what we have in common with that period and how moronic our society is. I hope this production succeeds. Good luck.

  • Brendan Bossard Sep 28, 2013

    I’ve just watched the first episode, and enjoyed it. I can see why you (Azie) get annoyed with the questions people ask.

    Have you considered publishing a book with the questions in it? Jay Leno and David Letterman have made lots of money from this type of thing. You could make some extra money in return for your frustration!

  • eclecticdog Oct 1, 2013

    You are spot on Miss Dungey. White Americans do not acknowledge the contributions of Black Americans at all, or even realize that they have been psrt and parcel of the American experience from the beginning. Keep up the good work!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2013

      Really? Do you even realize that a white American operates this blog?

      • Patrick Young Oct 1, 2013

        You really need to watch Episode 5 Kevin. If I’m not white than neither are you, I’ll bet.

  • eclecticdog Oct 3, 2013

    I was refering generally, not specifically.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 3, 2013

      Thanks for the clarification.

  • eclecticdog Oct 4, 2013

    You’re welcome! You have a fine blog here and I enjoy stopping by. Jerry

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