Racism Is Better Than Slavery
But Not By Much
A guy recently made a remark that caught me off guard. We were working next to each other and somehow the conversation prompted him to make the following statement.
“I think it is time,” he said, “that the black community got over slavery and got on with life.”
It was surprising for two reasons. We weren’t discussing racial issues so it seemed to come out of nowhere. And it was terribly off-center.
There was more to the conversation than that but somehow he thought the remark was related and appropriate.
To buttress the insult, he named several ethnic communities, all of whom had been enslaved and all of whom had done well after liberation.
He also prefaced his remark by affirming he was not a racist. I’m sure you’ve heard some version of:
I’m not a racist but………
To the average person on the street, that idea, which is partly true, gets traction. Other ethnic groups have been enslaved and yet today seem to be doing well in spite of it.
However, there are differences between the black community in America and other enslaved people groups and the differences are obvious. Those differences, however, though easily recognizable are for various reasons met with disinterest.
People just don’t care that the underlying feeling across the American landscape is that Blacks are somehow inferior. I call it a “feeling” because there is certainly no substance to the idea but it is as widespread as blueberry jam for breakfast.
Even my antagonist’s remark was motivated by the idea, although I doubt he realized it. Think about it. If in fact, the black community hasn’t gotten over slavery, how would you explain that? What is holding them back? What could explain their lack of development and over-incarceration?
There are only two possible answers. Either they have been marginalized by the surrounding culture or they are inferior. I would suggest it’s the former.
What I’ve learned while working shoulder to shoulder with black folks while living in the deep south and doing missionary work in a dominantly black community for over thirty-three years is this: whatever gifts, abilities, talents and potential you find in any group you find in every group and to the same extent. Those qualities are just as prevalent among blacks as they are anywhere.
If that is true, though, how do you explain the mindset of my antagonist.
Slavery Gives Way To Oppression
Blacks, of course, have done well. They’ve grown, developed, and extended in spite of social/cultural barriers. During reconstruction as many as 2000 blacks held public office from the local level all the way up to the US Senate but that success was short-lived. They were stopped short by oppressive responses (black codes) from vindictive whites.
The fact is the Civil War ended slavery but it gave rise to many forms of ongoing abuse including lynchings, beatings, oppressions, and even lawmakers who weren’t motivated by liberty and justice for all.
When my guy made his remark, my first reaction was to suggest it’s kind of hard to rise above when you’ve got a noose around your neck. I didn’t say it. I wanted to but I knew he hadn’t really considered the actual facts and was probably so consumed by his own misinformed perspective that the discussion would take longer than either of us had to offer.
That, and I didn’t have my notes in front of me. And we were at work.
So, this article is now the prodded outcome of his very uninformed remark.
There is much evidence proving the black community has been repeatedly and continually oppressed and that the oppression they’ve experienced has to a large extent prevented their rising above.
First a disclaimer. Actually two. One involving the police and one involving the inherent qualities of the Black community.
First the police.
I’m not anti-police and I do believe in law enforcement. We need laws to order society and enforcement to maintain those laws. The police in our communities do a remarkable job and it would be hard to imagine a safe America without their presence.
But two truths should be considered. The police are human and like all humans can err, especially when the pressure is high and theirs is one of very few professions where life and death decision-making is in the job description.
The police face a lot of pressure on a daily basis. It would be unfair to assume the police will perform completely without error.
But aside from the potential to err under pressure, there is a second issue to consider. The brief.
The police are given a playbook written by other branches of the government.
Once legislators write our laws, the script is handed to enforcement agencies who are then held accountable for how well they enforce those laws.
Unfortunately, in some cases, laws are motivated by attitudes, and in the case of Black America, the attitude has been anything but fair. Equality has not been the rule.
Even at the highest levels of government, attitudes about black inferiority have contributed to laws slanted against their advancement.
Think about that for a moment. If blacks were inferior, why would we need laws that restrict their access to opportunity? Laws that dictate what they can do, where they can do it, and who they can do it with.
If you think those laws don’t exist, consider Ronald Reagan’s war on crime.
The War On Crime
Nixon got the war started but it was Ronnie who capitalized on it. Under his influence, the number of incarcerated individuals doubled during his time in office, and on the strength of the laws he put in place the prison population grew by five even after he left office reaching an eventual high of over 1.6 million.
A large number of those incarcerated happened to be black.
This outcome had nothing to do with the crime rate, which remained relatively consistent. It was Reagan’s manipulation of the legal and economic factors which made the difference.
And Reagan’s policies clearly targeted the black community. Even though whites reported using crack cocain more than blacks, sentences against blacks were 11 percent higher than whites before mandatory sentencing – in 1986 – and by 1991 was 49 percent higher. Vox sites a few articles that gives more of the details.
If you’re curious, this article explains exactly what Reagan did to achieve this effect.
Black/White Incarceration Rates
The discrepancy between black and white incarceration is no small matter.
The black population is approximately one-fifth of the white population but even though there are five times more whites than blacks the incarceration rates are inverted. Black Americans are incarcerated at approximately 5 times the rate of Whites and many of those convictions are drug-related.
Since blacks and whites peddle and consume drugs at about the same rate, you would expect the incarceration rate to be about the same for both communities.
Not so. According to the numbers, white imprisonment is only 1.5 times that of blacks. How do you explain the disparity?
Another issue that deserves separate consideration is the tendency by American policy makers to use incarceration as a first line of defense against crime. America has the dubious distinction of maintaining the largest prison population in the world, even more than autocratic countries like China. Again thanks to Ronnie.
The expense of that strategy has become a huge burden which tax payers are having to bare.
Mention lynchings and you’ll probably get some form of the eye-rolling not-this-again response but you might be surprised by the facts.
I recently asked a person when the last recorded lynching occurred. They didn’t know for sure but guessed it was sometime in the late 1950s. The person I asked was black. He understood the issues as well as any black person could, but even he was misinformed.
According to History.com, the last Klan-influenced, rope-implemented lynching occurred in 1981. That’s just over forty years ago which is a little too close for comfort.
The victim, Michael Donald, was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time and, of course, happened to be black.
If it hadn’t been for the persistent efforts of Michael’s mother, the murder wouldn’t have been fully investigated and the case would have been dropped. How is that possible in America? Why did the authorities, even the FBI, need prodding to execute justice in Michael’s case?
Fortunately, the case was eventually fully prosecuted but even though it put a damper on future KKK lynchings, it did nothing to stop open threats to black members of society. Attitudes stayed the same and methods evolved.
The tragedy is this happened in America, the land of the free, and it occurred more than a hundred years after slavery was officially criminalized. The tragic murders of other blacks are still happening at an alarming rate.
If you think things aren’t so bad and the abuse is overstated, it wasn’t until March of 2022 that congress passed an anti-lynching bill even though bills had repeatedly been introduced for the last 120 years.
Why did it take so long to get such a bill passed? The answer is simple. Because racism has a long shelf life. It hides in the shadows and moves in the undercurrents.
Unfortunately, lynchings still occur. This article from the Washington Post lists eight suspicious hangings in Mississippi, none of which were investigated thoroughly and all of which were ruled suicides. It’s particularly suspicious that some had hoods over their heads with their hands tied behind their backs. The last one mentioned occurred in 2019.
It didn’t involve a rope but what can you call George Floyd’s murder if not a lynching?
A phenomenon we’re accustomed to in America but is rarely found in other countries is what is known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. In the past, these institutions were referred to by name without the HBCU designation but the terminology, though not new, is now used frequently.
We’ve all heard about HBCUs and, more importantly, what the US government has done for these schools but the real point is lost in the discussion.
Why do they exist at all? Why are there schools that are referred to as historically black? Why was education for blacks separated from the mainstream and why has the approach persisted for so long?
The only answer to that question should embarrass all of us. It was one more way to isolate the black community keeping them at arm’s length.
There are 107 of these schools. Each one has a separate history but all of them were started for the same purpose. Not to give educational opportunities to blacks but to bar them from the mainstream. Separation was the motivation behind starting these institutions and their example stands in great relief to how we have treated other ethnic groups.
There are no historically Jewish colleges or universities or Irish colleges and universities. The same goes for Danes and Italians and Latinos. All of these groups have experienced their share of insult and abuse but none were isolated from the larger community. No other ethnic group has a separate set of schools just for them.
There are other cultural barriers to the advancement of blacks but that’s for another post. For now, enjoy the read and above all…