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Should we stop using the “P” word?

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

We know the “N” word is out-of-bounds in most conversations, what about the “P” word?

As you may have read, the voters of Rhode Island will decide on Tuesday whether to delete the word “plantation” from their state name: ‘The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation.”

What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “plantation”? Concentration camps?

Forced labor camps? Slave farms? A few years ago, we took a bus along the Mississippi river from New Orleans to the “Whitney Plantation.” The tour centered on the stories collected by the Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression of enslaved people, some of whom had lived in this place—this habitat. When I share this experience with others, I usually call the place the “Whitney Museum on Slavery,” which isn’t correct, but the term “plantation” doesn’t seem to fit with the place’s meaning.

Don’t you think we could find a better name for those “farms” whose produce was planted, raised, harvested, and packaged by enslaved labor as well as those farms that were engaged in the breeding of enslaved people. The term “concentration camps” might be an option. The term was used at first to signify a “concentration” of people in a restricted area, but its meaning today refers to the Holocaust. Does “plantation” have a similar meaning for you?

What about “enslavement farms”? They were agricultural enterprises or farms. And enslaved people created their wealth. Not bad, but the term seems to slight the horrors committed by the enslavers.

Perhaps we should focus more on the enslavers. Should we see Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as an “enslaver’s farm”? Could you imagine a tour of “Enslaver’s Farms” from Rhode Island through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana?

The people of Rhode Island are not thinking about replacing “providence plantation” with “enslaver’s farms.” That may seem like a bit much, at least for many. Still, maybe we should stop using the “P” word.

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