Not Throwing Away My Yacht, by Ishmael Reed

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October 2020 Issue [Readings]

Not Throwing Away My Yacht


From The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, published this month by Archway Editions. The two-act play was written in response to the Broadway musical Hamilton, which Miranda composed based on a biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. In the play, Miranda is visited by the spirits of Native Americans and enslaved black people whose stories were omitted from his musical and Chernow’s book.

The greenroom of the Academy, located in one of those uptown neoclassical buildings. Chernow is wearing a tuxedo. He is about to receive an award. Miranda enters.

miranda: You lied to me. Someone sent me a report about the signs of maltreatment of slaves by the Schuyler family including Peggy, Angelica, and Elizabeth. There was evidence of musculoskeletal stress, causing the onset of arthritis from a lifetime of hard work, poor dental health—

chernow: You sure that it’s not a fake?

Miranda hands Chernow the report. He studies it.

miranda: The Schuylers held slaves for one hundred and fifty years. No wonder there were runaways.

chernow: Blame the publisher. I was confined to eight hundred pages. I couldn’t include everything. I was selective.

miranda: That means you left out information that would have blemished the reputations of your heroes.

chernow: You’re calling me a liar? How dare you. I won the Pulitzer Prize. My book is eight hundred pages long.

miranda: Your reputation is that of tarnish-removing. Scrubbing out the crud from mass murderers and enslavers.

chernow: Now look here, you: You knew the deal. I said in my book that Hamilton and his wife Eliza might have owned slaves. And now you have, all of a sudden, gotten regrets? Didn’t you take the hint when the Rockefeller Foundation endorsed your play? Hamilton? Do you think that the Rockefellers are for revolution? You think that they would have bought twenty thousand tickets for school children if you’d shown Hamilton as he really was? Do you think American Express hired you because they want a revolution? That they want to turn their company over to their workers? And what about your work for Disney? Do you believe that their board members are a bunch of socialists? Are you that naïve?

miranda: I was misled. Your book misled me. And what about the Schuylers’ slave Ben, and the woman and child? If you knew all about Hamilton’s cooperation with slavers, why didn’t you mention it?

chernow: He bought Ben and the Negro mother and child for other people. Angelica, she had hired out Ben to Major Jackson. She wanted him returned to her. She yearned for Big Ben to come back. She was tossing in her sleep. She stopped eating. Craving for Ben. She realized that she had made a mistake when she leased him in order to buy that expensive French bracelet she had her eye on. Hamilton negotiated her paying Major Jackson for his remaining time. That was his only action. A go-between. As for those others you mentioned, never heard of them.

miranda: You call him a go-between? That is as offensive as his buying slaves for himself, and there’s evidence that he did buy them for himself. His grandson Allan McLane Hamilton says that he owned slaves and purchased them for others. Besides, who got paid? Ben, or the man to whom she leased him?

chernow: Oh, they were merciful slave masters. They were like part of the family. People were exchanging gifts and pleasantries every day.

miranda: That’s not what I heard. One slave named Haare, who escaped, had a limp because General Schuyler, a mean old Dutchman, sent him out to gather firewood. His toes were frozen. The Schuyler mansion was a house of horrors for slaves, yet his profligate daughters, and Hamilton, went along with it.

chernow: Who is telling you these things? Look, Lin, we have a good hustle going for us. We’re both getting rich. This entertainment that you wrote is raking in a hundred million dollars per year. Why are you making such a fuss about these trivial matters? They all owned slaves.

miranda: During your speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, you described slavery as an “unspeakable cruelty” . . . yet in the first part of the speech you extolled those who practiced such “unspeakable cruelty.”

chernow: Oh. You got to go there, huh. Now that you’ve cashed all of the checks, you all of a sudden got qualms. You’re getting three percent of the take. You’re making sixty times as much as the actors. You made six million dollars this year. Plus, you’re getting money for writing the script. Why don’t you share more of your earnings with the actors? It’s their singing and dancing that’s holding up the show. You’re lucky that the bass is so loud that it drowns out your trite lyrics. Yes, maybe I did know that these Founding Fathers were scoundrels, but do you think that I could get course adoptions, bestsellers, and awards if I told the truth? Who do you think I am? Gerald Horne, Nell Painter, Leon Litwack, Lerone Bennett Jr., Howard Zinn or Herbert Aptheker, Nancy Isenberg, Lyra Monteiro, Michelle DuRoss? Now, if you will excuse me, I have a speech to make.

Chernow exits.

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