Ah, summer. The time when families head to the nearest body of water to splash around and evade all the stinging insects that breed in landlocked bodies of water. What could be sinister about a good old American lake filled with people jet-skiing over the literal corpses of Black communities destroyed and submerged so that largely white communities can enjoy a Bud Light Lime in the (sort-of) post-pandemic fresh air and—wait, we just heard it. And so did Amber Ruffin.
With Fox News-incensed conservative white people storming beleaguered school board meetings to demand that progressive demon du jour Critical Race Theory be banned for daring suggest that racial discrimination (plus enslavement, oppression, and straight-up genocide) played any part in the founding of this great, slave-built, Native peoples-murdering nation, Ruffin kicked off a segment of Friday’s Amber Ruffin Show by introducing viewers to Georgia’s Lake Lanier. Created by flooding a primarily Black town called Oscarville in 1912, the lake’s happy boaters and floaters now paddle directly on top of the still in place remains of a town which was hounded out of literal existence by white mobs whipped into a racist frenzy after the deeply sketchy conviction of two Black teenagers for crimes against a white woman. As Ruffin noted, when Americans think of water-related catastrophes from 1912, there’s only one that James Cameron made an Oscar-reaping movie about, and it’s not Oscarville.
Nor is it Alabama’s Lake Martin (built on the now-sodden bones of the majority-Black town of Kowaliga, along with its Black college and the first Black-owned railroad). And, before northern Peacock viewers get all self-righteous, Ruffin explained how little she’d known until this week about the Black communities of York Hill and Seneca Village, even though she walks by Central Park every day, and that New York landmark is built over those two Black communities, destroyed to make way for the park and reservoir. Ruffin went on to pull up a list of such deliberately sunken Black towns all across America, including the optimistically named town of Neversink, New York, which is now mainly comprised of water, including the more appropriately named Bittersweet Reservoir.
As Ruffin ran down some more of that inconvenient American history current-day white Americans are attempting to bury under a lake of screeching ignorance and patently un-American censorship, the all-American policy of Development Induced Displacement (a.k.a. “Get out, we wanna put a major water body on your grandmother’s grave”) is all over the place. And—shocker—Black people and other people of color have been woefully under-compensated when it was time for Uncle Sam to seize and sink their homes in the service of progress. Mainly progress for white people.
Now, as Ruffin explained dutifully, the process for redressing this raft of racially biased displacement and the occasional race massacre by white people delighted to have an excuse is complicated. Oh, wait, it isn’t. “Cut some dang checks!,” Ruffin repeated (there was a graphic and everything.) Of course, one more effective way exists, and it’s even free—teach the actual history of our country’s undeniable and documented history of expedience powered by white supremacy to ensure that our deeds as a nation inform our thinking going forward. “It’s ugly, and it’s gross, and we don’t even know all of it,” said Ruffin, who yet held out the never-sinking hope that, by actually confronting the past rather than literally whitewashing it so white people don’t have to feel bad, we can work toward “loving what this country could become instead.”