Ulysses S. Grant: Now, Robert, do you know why I’m here?
Robert E. Lee: Not really. I’m assuming you ran out of whiskey again.
Grant: No. Well, maybe, but my wife usually hides it in the same place, so I think I know where it is. We’re just a little worried up north that you guys aren’t really taking the country’s new laws to heart.
Lee: Which ones?
Grant: Our main concern is that you’re not following the one abolishing slavery.
Lee: What? Why on earth would you be concerned about that?
Grant: Well, there are a lot of black people working on your plantation right now, and they say you haven’t been paying them anything.
Lee: Oh, them? They’re just my unpaid interns.
Grant: Your what?
Lee: My unpaid interns! They’re here for the summer to learn more about what it’s really like to work in the field of professional plantation maintenance.
Grant: Ok…but they do work for you?
Grant: And you don’t pay them?
Lee: I do not.
Grant: And that isn’t slavery because…
Lee: Because of all the valuable experience they gain! Honestly, can you really put a price on experience?
Grant: Well, yeah, I think so. Isn’t that what the war was about?
Lee: No, no, it was about states’ rights. Also, do you have any idea how much of an advantage my interns are going to have when they do try to get paying jobs? The market is more competitive than ever these days, and being able to put “Internship at Robert E. Lee’s plantation” on your resume is worth infinitely more than some measly paycheck. I mean, not literally, because you can’t use it to, you know, buy anything, but metaphorically speaking the value is much higher.
Grant: I see. And the sla—excuse me, the unpaid interns are all ok with this?
Lee: Ok with it? Hell, they’re practically begging me for these things! I had 500 applicants for 20 spots this year!
Grant: Wait, they had to apply for this? As in, being willing to work for free wasn’t enough of a qualification to guarantee them an opportunity to work for free?
Lee: Of course not! We have to make sure we’re only getting the best of the best, especially for a plantation as famous as mine. We generally like to see that they’ve interned for at least one other smaller plantation before they get a chance to intern here. Unless I know their father, in which case I’ll usually give them an internship in exchange for them not revealing that he’s white.
Grant: Ok, yeah, that last part makes sense, but—
Lee: To be honest, I’m not even sure how many of these guys are really that interested in professional plantation work. I think a lot of them just wanted an excuse not to live at home this summer. Let’s face it, the chances of getting laid at Lee’s place are a lot higher than they are in the small towns they usually come from!
Grant: Be that as it may, Rob, I really don’t think experience and a slightly better chance of having sex are adequate compensation for the work these…”interns” do. Can’t you give them at least something of tangible value?
Lee: Well, we were planning on handing out complimentary gift baskets once the internships end. Coffee mugs, baseball hats, some funny t-shirts those smelly kids down in colonial Williamsburg like so much, maybe even a beach towel!
Grant: Getting there…
Lee: Ok, ok. How about we make sure the internship is educational? That way they can receive credit for it at their university, provided they submit a hastily written essay to their school once they finish here that’s supposed to describe what they learned but is basically just an exercise in how many different ways they can come up with to use the words “valuable,” “experience,” and “valuable experience.”
Grant: You know, that just might work! After all, education is the most valuable experience there is. By George, Lee, it looks like you’ve done it again! Now all that’s left to do is start letting black people go to school!
Lee: Not a chance in hell.