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Thread: ETS Book Club Book: Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad"

  1. #121
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    Sounds like we are in fact discussing it.

    Did you finish the book?

    I have to go check my Crockpot.
    Quite naturally.

  2. #122
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    Quite naturally.
    I was thinking that I was gonna hate the ending because it was headed that way, but then it suddenly shifted and then I didn't hate it. Everything wrapped up nicely, for me anyway.

    Did you LIKE the book, overall?

  3. #123
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    I was thinking that I was gonna hate the ending because it was headed that way, but then it suddenly shifted and then I didn't hate it. Everything wrapped up nicely, for me anyway.

    Did you LIKE the book, overall?
    Oh hell yes.
    I liked it a LOT, although it was pretty fucking jarring.
    (i am searching for this Mio drink enhancer, sorry for late response.)

    So you liked it too?

    I can go in my room where the laptop and kindle are if you would like to commence with a bit of preliminary discussion.

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    @allegro , i too feel that everything in this book was VERY deliberate.
    All killer, no filler.

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    Now THIS PART OF THE BOOK keeps coming out over and over again: Children of slaves, marriage between slaves, sexual relations (rape or with consent) between the slaves, sex between master and slave, etc. AND the link between the "original purchase" and the "property" or "ownership" aspects of any offsprings from the slaves.

    From the first chapter, Ajarry:

    Cora’s grandmother took a husband three times. She had a predilection for broad shoulders and big hands, as did Old Randall, although the master and his slave had different sorts of labor in mind. The two plantations were well-stocked, ninety head of nigger on the northern half and eighty-five head on the southern half. Ajarry generally had her pick. When she didn’t, she was patient.
    See THIS LINK which I think is REQUIRED READING for this book.

    NOW: Big spoiler here if you haven't finished yet so STOP HERE if you haven't finished:

    The author, near the VERY END, FINALLY post Cora's Reward poster, and it says:

    RAN AWAY from her legal but not rightful master fifteen months past, a slave girl called CORA;

    of ordinary height and dark brown complexion; has a star-shape mark on her temple from an injury;

    possessed of a spirited nature and devious method. Possibly answering to the name BESSIE.

    Last seen in Indiana among the outlaws of John Valentine Farm. She has stopped running. Reward remains unclaimed.

    SHE WAS NEVER PROPERTY.

    DECEMBER 23
    She was never property.

    Ajarry was purchased.

    Mabel was born of Ajarry.

    Cora was born of Mabel.

    (At this point, my head exploded because I hadn't figured it out until that point)
    Last edited by allegro; 01-01-2017 at 11:13 PM.

  6. #126
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    @allegro i cannot keep my damned eyes open. i did not sleep last night, hence my lack of contributions.
    i just realized that i have been dozing off.
    I will read the links and listen to the lecture ASAP, but i fear i am going to need at least a nap before i am able to get rolling on this in earnest.

    When it comes to african american literature, all i can really remember is Ellison's The Invisible Man. I've read more AFRICAN literature like Things Fall Apart and Cry the Beloved Country.
    Re feminist work, i've read a bit of contemporary stuff like Eve Ensler as well as older proto feminist work like Kate Chopin's short stories and her novel The Awakening, and Du Maurier's Rebecca and The Scarlet Letter of course.

    I guess i'm pretty under-read on both fronts, but perhaps the links will do me some good.

    Oh, there is a great anne rice book that gets pretty deep into octaroons and quadroons and has nothing supernatural about it called The Feast of all Saints. It is a rich historical novel.

    How long is the Frederick Douglas book? Should i read it when i wake up?
    What would you have me read to prepare for this discussion?

  7. #127
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    okay everbody, what time are we doing this? @allegro @allegate @Louie_Cypher @Sarah K
    Last edited by elevenism; 01-02-2017 at 05:39 PM.

  8. #128
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    i thought some parts were a little hanfistted, parts i could here his editor, oOhprah bookclub, socail sceinces, i did like it enough to give to my nephew's all n all enjoyable. also firefly was awesome b.t.w.
    -louie

  9. #129
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    One implication of the slave ship being called the Nanny is the two wildly different versions of the life of Nanny of the Maroons (says the wikipedia article.)
    One version says she was a slave who toiled in harsh conditions, while another says she came to Jamaica a free woman, descended from African royalty.
    This mirrors Cora's status. It also ties into one of the repeated messages of the book, the pervasiveness of a like "slave mentality," which is illustrated, for instance, by homer not being able to sleep without shackling himself to the wagon.

    I think that the author is also saying that a version of this mentality continues to this day.

  10. #130
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    Quote Originally Posted by Louie_Cypher View Post
    i thought some parts were a little hanfistted, parts i could here his editor, oOhprah bookclub, socail sceinces, i did like it enough to give to my nephew's all n all enjoyable. also firefly was awesome b.t.w.
    -louie
    ooooh...kay, yes, firefly is awesome. Does this mean you are out of the discussion?

  11. #131
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    @allegro i am surprised you aren't here and hope everything is okay.
    I will check back in a bit.

  12. #132
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    ooooh...kay, yes, firefly is awesome. Does this mean you are out of the discussion?
    noI hopeto still be involved
    -louie

  13. #133
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    @allegro where you at?

  14. #134
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    Sorry been really busy with family. You guys go ahead and discuss, though. I'm not going to be the only primary talking in here, I just said I would "guide" it and I already did that by starting the thread and providing a shit ton of questions on the first page, plus a bunch of quotes. But I am swamped at work plus stuff at home so I'll jump in here when I can. My New Year's Resolution is to stay offline as much as possible and to live in my Real Life. I have confidence that you guys can discuss this just fine, though.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 12:41 PM.

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    Do you think there was anywhere truly safe to escape to in these times?
    I don't think there was anywhere safe, and I think it holds to this day: There's nowhere safe for slaves. I think that it endured way too long in these United States and that a poisoning of the well took place. It's hinted at when they mention how hard it would be to free the slaves, "what would we do with that many uneducated people at one time?" Instead of helping with the transition, I think the ball - as it were - was dropped and no one's come back to pick it up. Maybe someday we'll be OK with all men (and women) being created equal. Even the blacks who have "made it" are the first against the wall when it comes time. e.g. Wesley Snipes, Lauryn Hill, Chuck Berry, Darryl Strawberry, Richard Pryor...hmm.

    Also was listening to Kanye West while out jogging and New Slaves came on.



    My momma was raised in the era when
    Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
    Doing clothes you would have thought I had help
    But they wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself
    You see it's broke nigga racism
    That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"
    And this rich nigga racism
    That's that "Come in, please buy more
    What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
    All you blacks want all the same things"
    Used to only be niggas now everybody playing
    Spending everything on Alexander Wang
    New Slaves
    Granted I'm wildly speculating and talking out my ass but hey, that's what I do.
    Last edited by allegate; 01-03-2017 at 12:42 PM.

  16. #136
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    Sorry been really busy with family. You guys go ahead and discuss, though. I'm not going to be the only primary talking in here, I just said I would "guide" it and I already did that by starting the thread and providing a shit ton of questions on the first page, plus a bunch of quotes. But I am swamped at work plus stuff at home so I'll jump in here when I can. My New Year's Resolution is to stay offline as much as possible and to live in my Real Life. I have confidence that you guys can discuss this just fine, though.
    no need to apologize and i commend you on your resolution.
    But i was kind of hoping you would lead the discussion!
    Happy new year.

  17. #137
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    Okay. What do you guys think about this?

    What if we answer one or two of these questions at a time? Once everyone contributes on each one, then we move on to the next.

    BOOK CLUB GUIDE

    1. How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?
    2. The scenes on Randall’s plantation are horrific—how did the writing affect you as a reader?
    3. In North Carolina, institutions like doctor’s offices and museums that were supposed to help ‘black uplift’ were corrupt and unethical. How do Cora’s challenges in North Carolina mirror what America is still struggling with today?
    4. Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?
    5. “The treasure, of course, was the underground railroad... Some might call freedom the dearest currency of all.” How does this quote shape the story for you?
    6. How does Ethel’s backstory, her relationship with slavery and Cora’s use of her home affect you?
    7. What are your impressions of John Valentine’s vision for the farm?
    8. When speaking of Valentine’s Farm, Cora explains “Even if the adults were free of the shackles that held them fast, bondage had stolen too much time. Only the children could take full advantage of their dreaming. If the white men let them.” What makes this so impactful both in the novel and today?
    9. What do you think about Terrance Randall’s fate?
    10. How do you feel about Cora’s mother’s decision to run away? How does your opinion of Cora’s mother change once you’ve learned about her fate?
    11. Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you’re reading?
    12. Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?
    13. How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?
    14. The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?
    15. Why do you think the author chose to portray a literal railroad? How did this aspect of magical realism impact your concept of how the real underground railroad worked?
    16. Does The Underground Railroad change the way you look at the history of America, especially in the time of slavery and abolitionism?
    @allegate ? @Louie_Cypher ?

  18. #138
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    no need to apologize and i commend you on your resolution.
    But i was kind of hoping you would lead the discussion!
    I can't really "lead" an online discussion, that's what the questions were for.

    Think of this like an interpretation of NIN lyrics.

    In NIN lyrics discussions, nobody necessarily "leads" that discussion; people just throw a few ideas out there and others either agree and elaborate or they refute it and present their own ideas, etc.


    At a book club, they talk about their feelings about the book and their interpretations of the book's message (beyond "I hate Oprah's Book Club" which, really, I think is a really stupid point to bring up since the author didn't write this book for Oprah's Book Club and I have actually read some really good books in Oprah's Book Club, including Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" and Franzen's "The Corrections" etc., and that comment isn't a criticism of the contents of the book nor is it a real contribution to the conversation).

    See what I mean?

    I mean, I'm not teaching a class and you are a bunch of students, that's not how a real-life book club works. In a real-life book club, everybody meets in person with drinks and snacks and they say "okay, wow, okay, what did we think about this book? Let's discuss" and there isn't a lecturer standing in front of the room and people taking notes. The person HOSTING the book club meeting at his/her house is maybe handing out snacks and scheduled the meeting, but I already did that by creating this thread, doing research as to the questions and then posting them, etc.

    But I really don't have the time or energy or even the knowledge or inclination to do a "lecture" here about interpretations of this book, I was hoping to have an actual discussion among a group of people, not me typing or copy-and-pasting a whole bunch of shit and others going "oh, yeah, that too." And when it started looking like that was the hat people expected me to wear, my heart sunk and I lost all interest in this thing.

    Look, LISTING THE QUESTIONS isn't going to help, either. @allegate has already opened the door to the start of a conversation and it sat there like a big wet turd.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 03:30 PM.

  19. #139
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegate View Post
    I don't think there was anywhere safe, and I think it holds to this day: There's nowhere safe for slaves. I think that it endured way too long in these United States and that a poisoning of the well took place. It's hinted at when they mention how hard it would be to free the slaves, "what would we do with that many uneducated people at one time?" Instead of helping with the transition, I think the ball - as it were - was dropped and no one's come back to pick it up. Maybe someday we'll be OK with all men (and women) being created equal. Even the blacks who have "made it" are the first against the wall when it comes time. e.g. Wesley Snipes, Lauryn Hill, Chuck Berry, Darryl Strawberry, Richard Pryor...hmm.

    Also was listening to Kanye West while out jogging and New Slaves came on.





    Granted I'm wildly speculating and talking out my ass but hey, that's what I do.
    I think this is brilliant, thank you, this is a good start to a conversation. Brilliant, and a great tie-in to Kanye West, awesome.

    It's like when @elevenism mentioned that Homer would sleep with his shackled on because he couldn't sleep without them.

    It's the quote I posted above from Valentine the I posted on the prior page:

    “Talk is good,” Valentine said. “Talk clears the air and makes it so you can see what’s what. We’ll see what the mood of the farm is. It’s mine, but it’s everybody’s, too. Yours. I’ll abide by the decision of the people.” Cora saw the discussion had depleted him. “Why do all this,” she asked. “For all of us?”

    “I thought you were one of the smart ones,” Valentine said. “Don’t you know? White man ain’t going to do it. We have to do it ourselves.
    Or this quote from Cora (page 179):

    Cora thought of her garden back on Randall, the plot she cherished. Now she saw it for the joke it was— a tiny square of dirt that had convinced her she owned something. It was hers like the cotton she seeded, weeded, and picked was hers. Her plot was a shadow of something that lived elsewhere, out of sight. The way poor Michael reciting the Declaration of Independence was an echo of something that existed elsewhere. Now that she had run away and seen a bit of the country, Cora wasn’t sure the document described anything real at all. America was a ghost in the darkness, like her.
    Or this one:

    Lander’s talk verged on a sermon, concerning the dilemma of finding your purpose once you’ve slipped the yoke of slavery. The manifold frustrations of liberty.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 03:53 PM.

  20. #140
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    So i will start with the first one.
    How does the depiction of slavery compare to other depictions?

    Well, right from the beginning, it shocked the shit out of me. We start with Ajarry. She had "never seen the ocean before that bright afternoon..." sounded nice. But then the sentence continued "the water dazzled after her time in the dungeon."
    Ajarry thought she was about to see her father soon, but finds out that he was killed, violently. The rest of the family burned when the infected ship was set on fire. She is raped multiple times and tries to kill herself twice. All of this happens in the first couple of pages, ffs!
    Then it casually talks about how she was traded for beads, and then part of a "bulk purchase."
    It talks about the difficulty in accounting. It refers to the slaves as merchandise. Ajarry comes to think of herself as a "thing."
    They talk about bucks and speak of "head" of nigger just like head of cattle.

    This is all in the first chapter, and it really surprised me. All of this was presented matter-of-fact. I guess it never really occured to me that THAT IS HOW IT REALLY WAS. I've never thought of slavery in these terrible terms and i don't know why.
    I think this was the goal of the first chapter.
    It didn't pull any punches, and was thr roughest, probably most realistic depiction i've ever read.

    The man with the rings pinching Ajarry's nipple stands out.
    @allegate ?

  21. #141
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    Ridgeway refers to every slave except Cora as "it" when he is talking to her.

    This text is from "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" by Harriet Jacobs (which the author credits as an influence):

    Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2d, the
    slaves are expected to go to their new masters. On a farm, they work until
    the corn and cotton are laid. They then have two holidays. Some masters
    give them a good dinner under the trees. This over, they work until
    Christmas eve. If no heavy charges are meantime brought against them, they
    are given four or five holidays, whichever the master or overseer may think
    proper. Then comes New Year's eve; and they gather together their little
    alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait anxiously
    for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with
    men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear their doom
    pronounced. The slave is sure to know who is the most humane, or cruel
    master, within forty miles of him.

    It is easy to find out, on that day, who clothes and feeds his slaves well;
    for he is surrounded by a crowd, begging, "Please, massa, hire me this
    year. I will work _very_ hard, massa."

    If a slave is unwilling to go with his new master, he is whipped, or locked
    up in jail, until he consents to go, and promises not to run away during
    the year. Should he chance to change his mind, thinking it justifiable to
    violate an extorted promise, woe unto him if he is caught! The whip is used
    till the blood flows at his feet; and his stiffened limbs are put in
    chains, to be dragged in the field for days and days!

    If he lives until the next year, perhaps the same man will hire him again,
    without even giving him an opportunity of going to the hiring-ground. After
    those for hire are disposed of, those for sale are called up.

    O, you happy free women, contrast _your_ New Year's day with that of the
    poor bond-woman! With you it is a pleasant season, and the light of the day
    is blessed. Friendly wishes meet you every where, and gifts are showered
    upon you. Even hearts that have been estranged from you soften at this
    season, and lips that have been silent echo back, "I wish you a happy New
    Year." Children bring their little offerings, and raise their rosy lips for
    a caress. They are your own, and no hand but that of death can take them
    from you.

    But to the slave mother New Year's day comes laden with peculiar sorrows.
    She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn
    from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might
    die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the
    system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother's
    instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother's agonies.

    On one of these sale days, I saw a mother lead seven children to the
    auction-block. She knew that _some_ of them would be taken from her; but
    they took _all_. The children were sold to a slave-trader, and their mother
    was brought by a man in her own town. Before night her children were all
    far away. She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take them;
    this he refused to do. How _could_ he, when he knew he would sell them, one
    by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother in
    the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung
    her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, "Gone! All gone! Why _don't_ God kill
    me?" I had no words wherewith to comfort her. Instances of this kind are of
    daily, yea, of hourly occurrence.

    Slaveholders have a method, peculiar to their institution, of getting rid
    of _old_ slaves, whose lives have been worn out in their service. I knew an
    old woman, who for seventy years faithfully served her master. She had
    become almost helpless, from hard labor and disease. Her owners moved to
    Alabama, and the old black woman was left to be sold to any body who would
    give twenty dollars for her.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 03:48 PM.

  22. #142
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    Look, LISTING THE QUESTIONS isn't going to help, either. @allegate has already opened the door to the start of a conversation and it sat there like a big wet turd.
    i just opened the computer @allegro , and am also trying to watch tv with the wife.
    i think what allegate wrote is thought provoking as well, i just thought that going through those questions would be a good idea too.
    Last edited by elevenism; 01-03-2017 at 03:59 PM.

  23. #143
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    w/r/t what you said @allegate , i totally agree.
    The prison system is also new slavery.
    And this book has destroyed my hope that things will EVER be okay, racially, in this country. Like allegate said, the well was poisoned.

    So do you guys think this thing is ultimately hopeful or fatalistic?
    Last edited by elevenism; 01-03-2017 at 03:56 PM.

  24. #144
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    i just opened the computer @allegro , and am also trying to watch tv with the wife.
    And I am taking a short break from my job, while I'm eating something for a late lunch. Then i have to go back to work.

    Anyway, pinching Ajarry's nipples comes back down to female slaves as being the true protagonists in the book: Ajarry, Mabel, and Cora. They give birth to MORE WORKERS. and those children do not belong to them; the children belong to their masters.

    The freakiest thing, to me, is the irony in that whole search for Mabel. Cora's anger at Mabel for abandoning her, being sad that Mabel could leave her so easily; Randall being pissed and humiliated that Mabel had not been found; Ridgeway being pissed that he hadn't found Mabel and his career was affected.

    And, here, SHE DROWNED IN THE FUCKING SWAMP after being bit by a poisonous cottonmouth snake UPON TRYING TO RETURN TO RANDALL'S FARM TO GO BACK TO HER BABY, CORA.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 04:00 PM.

  25. #145
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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    And I am taking a short break from my job, while I'm eating something for a late lunch. Then i have to go back to work.
    and i have to get in the shower and go to the pharmacy. my point was that i hadn't just left allegate's post there for long. i just saw it.

    i wasn't hoping for you to give a lecture. it's just that you planned to guide the discussion and i've never done this before.
    also i think that you are 1/3 of the people who actually finished the book ;P

    So that was my idea, to go through the questions. I took a fuckload of notes on this thing and wanted to discuss them, hence my plan.
    Last edited by elevenism; 01-03-2017 at 04:07 PM.

  26. #146
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    The prison system is also new slavery.
    Certainly, the "bad blood" experiments performed in South Carolina is a reference to THE TUSKEGEE STUDY and the enforced birth control is a reference to what many people (especially black people) believe were the origins of PLANNED PARENTHOOD.

    And that whole "Plan" in South Carolina was to eliminate negroes via disease and birth control, while North Carolina's plan was to just kill them all in a Hitler-esque Final Solution.

    You can't have Capitalism without Racism. (Malcolm X)

    The cotton used in the North and the South was produced by free labor (slaves). Now, Capitalism still relies on a top-down system wherein the people at the very bottom are still, to this day, most often minorities.
    Last edited by allegro; 01-03-2017 at 04:17 PM.

  27. #147
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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    i've never done this before
    Online, me neither. So none of us are experts. We are all winging it. Online communication is a bitch, already, so 3 - 4 people should make it easier.

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    hells bells, i will do 90 percent of the talking as long as someone talks back a little bit :P

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    If you drift any more, nothing will ever get done. Just saying, Drift Master.

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    Quote Originally Posted by allegro View Post
    Certainly, the "bad blood" experiments performed in South Carolina is a reference to THE TUSKEGEE STUDY and the enforced birth control is a reference to what many people (especially black people) believe were the origins of PLANNED PARENTHOOD.

    And that whole "Plan" in South Carolina was to eliminate negroes via disease and birth control, while North Carolina's plan was to just kill them all in a Hitleresque Final Solution.
    And the ending is bittersweet, because, like @allegate said, there is NOWHERE safe to go, not even into the future.

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