Who’s Working the Plantation, Now?
Being neither a native nor a linguistic pro forma traditionalist, I’m in the “who cares” camp when it comes to the excision of the word “plantations” in the official full name of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The change would affirm a detrimental and immature impulse that’s pervasive in modern society and should, itself, be excised, but ailments are so prevalent in the culture that one must sometimes let the disease eat a bit of loose flesh so as to better address the causes.
As if my metaphor had peculiar accuracy, however, the agreement-fest in the RI House over putting the question of the offending word on the ballot exposed a pair of ugly lesions that ought to concern Rhode Islanders a great deal:
State Rep. Doug Gablinske, D-Bristol, said that when he spoke out in March in favor of the bill, and said he was not proud of his community’s involvement in the slave trade hundreds of years ago, he got more flack from his constituents than he has on any other issue.
But he said he believes it’s much easier for white men and women to “enjoy this country’s bounty” and people should try walking “in the shoes of a black man.” He said he was backing Almeida. …
The word plantation is hurtful to his 83-year-old father, [Rep. Joseph] Almeida[, D- Providence] said. He’s watching now, he said. And why, he asked, are Gablinske’s constituents so upset over his support of the bill? “That should tell you something.”
Here we have one “representative” — Gablinske — making the casually paternalistic declaration that he will not represent his constituents on a matter that drew more passion from them than any other (or so he professes). That spurt of moral superiority served to lob a softball to another “representative” — Almeida — to slur the people of Bristol as racists because, for whatever reason, they like the name of the state just the way it is.
Not fully indentured, as yet, the people of RI&PP will have the final say on the matter, and I’d wager that they’ll vote the change down. As I said, it won’t bother me in the least to be proven wrong, on that, but if the vote goes the way I expect, I’ll smile at the implicit rebuke of our State House masters.