Almost two centuries later, we still refuse to engage in meaningful dialogues surrounding both race and slavery. Slavery in this country started the institutionalized racist mindset that left us with a ‘divide and conquer’ mentality among citizens. The effects of holding an entire race of human beings in bondage, for the purposes of obtaining free labor, has left whites with an inheritance of shame and guilt. This inheritance left, as a by-product, so much pain in this country, that the topic rarely enters conversational consideration. To date, the topic of race justice, or reparations, i now strategically avoided, as though, by avoiding the dialogue, we can rid any tangential guilt, or deny it’s historical significance, today’s relevance, or the existence of remnants from our dark past. We must remember this:
WE DIDN’T LIGHT THAT FIRE! WE WEREN’T THERE!
Rather than allowing the deadly embers to burn in our streets, and watch lives being avoidably destroyed, we can prevent 3rd-degree burns and treat the 2nd-degree burns that cause pain for ALL of us. Briefly, I will offer my slant on the topic of slavery as it impacts current social and societal conditions in the U.S.
First, when it was decided that labor was necessary to sustain this newly ‘stolen’ nation, this was a poor country with a lot of untouched land. The settlers needed to build upon the land, without enough people amongst themselves to contribute to their goals. Once slavery began, laws were necessary to regulate ‘ownership’ rules. These original policies and declarations were not in consideration of the human or legal rights of blacks already here. Instead, blacks were not considered human, but property. Hence, no real inclusion into our official documents upon which applies even after the era of slavery.
In order to enslave human beings, one must become detached from recognizing emotions and other human qualities. As they remained detached from the recognition or realization of the cruelty in the practice to keep this labor free of cost, they must convince themselves that blacks were inhuman or subhuman. So, the dominant culture, whites, employed the magical effects of psychological controls. For themselves, the laws supported the practice, and they must promote the collective mindset-a shared reality, set of beliefs that would help digest and justify their cruelty to themselves. This is where stereotypes began to rise as reinforcements for limiting mobility and freedom and rights of blacks.
As time passed, the country expanded beyond the original colonies. The policymakers, white men, still comfortable feeling superior, entitled, and drunk with power, amended and adopted new laws that would support the societal changes and the overall sense of privilege and entitlement. Prejudice and racist beliefs were already internalized by now, and so although blacks were free, their freedoms were limited.
The original sins of the Founding Fathers/new Americans; from the manner with which this beautiful land was acquired from the indigenous people, to the manner with which Africans were brought to this country, and the practices that were adopted thereafter, were passed down to their descendants posthumously.
Over the years shame and guilt were becoming deeply embedded in the collective conscience of these now more humanistic descendants. Whites in this country must have been aware of the countless laws and policies that were inherently unjust, unfounded, and just plain wrong. However, it must have been too great a challenge to change and re-write the very documents upon which we were flourishing and functioning as a nation, soon to become a world ‘superpower’. So, unchanged and unchallenged laws and practices were thus maintained. The nation that was ‘working out’ well for themselves seemed enough to suffice-or so it seemed… THEN. Yet, still we rise!
Imagine that awareness, though, was two-fold, because the sins of the father must have weighed heavily upon the sons and daughters. Ironically, whites began to internalize, express, and act out of great fear of the very people who were held in bondage years before.
Free to prosper, own property-not people and create their own rich legacy, it was indigestible for many southern whites, whose economic survival had been deeply entrenched in slavery. More than this, there was fear that blacks would seek revenge and overtake them all-their country, their homes, jobs, their lives. They were fearful that their women would be raped and abused, as had been routinely done to enslaved black women.
Yet, still we rise!
Just those fears alone would have driven me crazy, and I would certainly devise ways to contain these people so that I could sleep at night, without a firearm at bedside. The former owners/slave masters needed the emotional security to conduct business to maintain their acquired wealth, and privilege they had been afforded.
Psychology of the mind is powerful, but let’s go back for a minute. Especially in the South, where food crops, tobacco and ‘cotton was king’, the slave trade was their lifeline. The cruel and inhumane treatment of blacks, physically and psychologically, must have weighed heavy on the hearts of ALL whites[not only abolitionists or the ‘kind-hearted’ masters]. Thus, the fears were intensified, accompanied by great ambivalence among many too, I imagine.
Picture a person-anyone- previously socialized as though non-human and animal-like by nature, and now free to live independently. That must have been scary, for sure. [for both black and white; rich and poor; northern and southern] In the same environment, beaten every day at will, separated from family and loved ones, housed in squalor, fed table scraps, degraded and berated on a constant basis. Now, the same man is free to walk around town, traverse anywhere freely as equals. NO WAY!
It is difficult to let go of a possession, property, a way of thinking, feeling, behaving- a way of life. You came to believe that you were superior, better, more human, and more entitled than them. I get it! Reluctant to free slaves… enough, it was too much to bear.
So, the political machinery forced into compliance, but many compromises were also made to maintain or enact new more restrictive [white comfort]local and state laws[hence, states’ rights proponents grew stronger]. Jim Crow, voting restrictions, limited access to public places. Separate but equal, property rights, even highway access roads, years later, were routed to prevent business economic growth of and into towns inhabited by freed people. Higher taxes, limited employment opportunities, and so forth…. to entice the return to laboring at minimal wages, if any, remain subservient, contained, controlled, and confused.
My mother used to say, ” You can’t keep a good woman down because, like buttermilk, cream always rises to the top.”
Still we rise!
Fear, anger and resentment arose with the possibility of room for economic growth, prosperity, gaining wealth and most of all-power. They may take jobs; move into our nice ‘white’ neighborhood….and enjoy the promises of democracy and the American Dream.
Psychological warfare is devastating, and from early on in the importation and bondage of Africans-now African-Americans, ideas, concepts, and ‘facts’ were used to limit their mobility on a grand scale.
Beginning with denial of their surnames, religious beliefs, separating families from one another, are cruel practices. The most devastating impact on life goals, self esteem, and ‘dreams’ of better lives, is to deny or destroy someone’s historical identity, self-concept, esteem and significance in the world.
My question concerns life today-the here and now. Were this the 1700’s, 18 or 1900’s, we may not be bothered or disturbed by the societal inequities that exist.
But, this is now, and we know better, we recognize injustice more clearly, yet remain reluctant to speak up, raise our voices and confront our history intelligently, logically, compassionately and competently. Yet, the waves of change grow bigger and eventually consume us, unless we realize that we must ride the waves of change. It seems better to be mindful, and supportive of positive change rather than allow ourselves to be swept up in the midst of a revolution of change. If I know nothing else, I know that the one constant in life is change. So, let’s become parts in the solutions and not parts of the problems. Our children will thank us for being brave enough to do the right thing….for their futures. This should be our legacy!