Racism. Police brutality. College. Career. Housing. Healthcare.
These are the reasons Black Lives Matter is loud as all hell in 2020. Plenty of people – both white and black – seem to think that the impact of slavery is minimal at best today. I’m writing this article to tell you why it is not.
Some of the most common answers in denial of slavery’s continued impact on black communities is, “But I never owned slaves,” or, “But they got the vote,” or, “They have the same rights as us.”
Let’s go through these one by one.
But I never owned slaves.
What I think is funny about this response is the defensiveness of it. It’s as though the person answering this way is somehow afraid that the person asking is accusing them. These folks are missing the point. It’s not about you on a personal level. It’s not even about all white people who are alive today.
It’s about recognizing what happened from 1619 to June 19th, 1865 (and all the way to the 1970’s!) and understanding that it still affects the black community to this day. Four million people were enslaved by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln on September 22nd, 1862. (It would go into affect on January 1st, 1863, but all slaves would not be freed until June 19th, 1865.)
Four MILLION people were enslaved simply because they were born black. It’s recognizing that the end of slavery in 1865 was just the technical end of forced labor, not the end of racism. (You’ll see why “technical” is emphasized a bit later on in this article.)
After the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were given the land that their slave holders forced them to work on for centuries. Yay! See? We white people sure did make it right, huh? Oh, but wait… Months later, when President Andrew Johnson took Lincoln’s place, the decision was reversed. The government pardoned the plantation owners and returned their land to them, taking it away from the slaves who just received these properties!
What. The. F’k!
But it was “okay,” because the plantation owners were willing to hire them as field hands! And by “willing,” I mean by 1866 black people had to sign a year-long contract with an employer or be thrown onto a plantation for no pay. (Wait, isn’t that slavery…? I guess we aren’t past this after all.)
Because the black community were not afforded an education, many unable to read or understand figures, these plantation owners took advantage of them. The plantation owners kept the books and claimed that the expense of keeping the sharecroppers in food and board was more than the amount the sharecroppers earned.
In some cases, this was used as a sneaky way of keeping slaves. The plantation owners claimed that the sharecroppers were indebted to the plantation owners, whether it was true or not. (In almost all cases, it was not.) As a result, they could not leave the land until the debt was repaid.
Sharecropping is when a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on the land. Sharecropping has a long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements that have used a form of the system. Some are governed by tradition, and others by law.
So, it’s not about whether or not you or your ancestors owned slaves, but about realizing that the laws have never mattered. It’s about understanding that the Ku Klux Klan quickly formed to terrorize the black community to keep them underfoot so their fear would keep them under the white community’s control.
But all of this is in the past, you say. What does this have to do with me? What do I have to apologize for? You’re missing the point. This isn’t about you apologizing. This isn’t about anything being a direct result of your actions. This is to help you understand why the black community still faces hardships to this very day. And why it is on us white people, who have had every advantage in life, to make it right.
Yes, I know what you’re going to say. You grew up poor. You couldn’t afford college, either. You worked hard and tirelessly to build your success. Or maybe you’re even still living under the poverty line, despite your “white privilege” that you don’t understand.
I don’t Have White Privilege!
Has anyone ever looked at the color of your skin and decided that you were the wrong choice for something? Or have they ever moved to walk on the other side of the street when they saw your skin color approaching from afar? Have you ever been stopped because you “met the description,” even though the actual suspect was half a foot taller than you? And you’re in a suit, but the suspect was dressed in casual clothes? No?
Denying that white privilege exists is denying that black struggle exists.
White privilege just means that nobody has looked at your skin and went, “I bet this bitch is about to steal my shit,” or “This dude is probably uneducated as all hell. I bet he talks ghetto.” If an employer has ever let you start work before your background check has come back, you have white privilege. If you’ve received phone calls to interview from just about everywhere you’re qualified to work, you have white privilege. (DeShaun got an interview at Burger King, but his business degree is gathering dust despite applying for managerial positions in many predominately white corporations.)
Don’t believe this is a thing? Here’s what the Harvard Business Review has to say about it:
We chose field experiments as a sample because they are widely regarded as the most valid method to assess discrimination. They generally come in two major types: Résumé audits, done through the mail or online, submit fictitious résumés with equivalent qualifications and ethnically identifiable names. And in-person audits — done with trained pairs of testers, white and nonwhite — have participants apply for jobs. By examining the rates of callbacks, or invitations to job interviews, for white and nonwhite applicants with equivalent qualifications, these studies provide high-quality measures of rates of discrimination in hiring.
Broadly, our meta-analysis of callback rates from all existing field experiments showed evidence of discrimination against both black and Latino applicants. Since 1990 white applicants received, on average, 36% more callbacks than black applicants and 24% more callbacks than Latino applicants with identical résumés.
To read the rest of this article, click here.
Hiring discrimination against black Americans has not declined in nearly thirty years – three decades. This is still an issue and until this can be corrected, then you cannot say that the color of your skin, my fellow white American, does not afford you certain advantages.
Booker T. Washington
I want to break from this for just a moment to tell you about a successful black man named Booker T. Washington. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, a black college in Tuskegee, Alabama. This college is possibly so noteworthy because Booker somehow managed to secure donations from three of the richest white industrialists in the entire world. Their names were John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie. Any of those sound familiar? Here is what he had to do to keep his status and influence in American society.
Booker T. Washington opened the Tuskegee Institute on July 4th, 1881. He had to be careful about how he presented this opportunity for black people to prevent upsetting white people. (Something black people still have to do today in order to keep themselves safe.)
Don’t believe me? Google “Karen” and “barbecue,” or “Karen” and “park,” or “Karen” and “UPS delivery.” A white lady calls the cops on a black man, lying through her teeth about death threats or a gun, and here come a few corrupt officers to blow the man away. I’m not saying all cops are bad, but we need a damn reform if so many boys in blue are going to fear for their life as soon as they see a black man. Holy shit!
Back on the topic at hand, though. A white man once asked Booker T. Washington why a black woman needed an education when she can tell if a skillet is hot just by spitting in it. Booker T. Washington said that the education was to teach them not to spit in the skillet, downplaying the power that education would afford his community. This is what black people had to do in order to get a leg up in American society.
Booker T. Washington proved his cleverness again in 1890, when Isaiah T. Montgomery (the only black delegate at that time) voted in favor of the Jim Crow Constitution in Mississippi. The white government chose this delegate to “represent” the black community, knowing that they needed someone from the black community to force through racist ass laws. (Listen, I can’t help but get a little pissed off writing this, alright? Deal with the swearing and the total abandonment of unbiased writing.)
Anyway, Isaiah voted the way he did because he wanted to protect Mound Bayou, one of the most prosperous black communities in the country. It was not destroyed by the white community, as many other black communities had been. This is likely because, by then, the white community had decided that separation of blacks and whites was an acceptable compromise.
When Isaiah voted, he voted in favor of keeping “illiterates” from voting. But this was a thin disguise for the true purpose of keeping black people from voting at all. James Vardaman, a Democratic member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, even had this to say:
There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter…. Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n****r from politics. Not the ‘ignorant and vicious’, as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the n****r…. Let the world know it just as it is…. In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro…. When that device fails, we will resort to something else.
I say all this to tell you what a powerful black man like Booker was forced to do to keep his status and sway in society. This is an explanation for what he had to do to advance his community during this time.
Booker T. Washington did not speak up against Isaiah Montgomery’s decision to vote in favor of this voting law. Why? Because rich white men sponsored his college, the Tuskegee Institute. This historically black college offered the black community more opportunities at the time than any other college for black people. And education is key to furthering oneself and advancing your community.
“Booker was nobody’s fool. The Carnegies and the other benefactors of Tuskegee would not have contributed a dime if he, at that moment, had offered a threat to the existence that these wealthy white men were perpetuating.”
– W. W. Law, Civil Rights Leader – 1923-2002
Booker T. Washington instead searched for a way to secure lasting peace between the black and white communities. In Atlanta, Georgia, at the Cotton Exposition in 1895, he gave a controversial speech.
This expo fell on “Negro Day,” on September 25th. Despite it being a special day for the black community, an editor at the Atlanta Voice wrote to discourage black attendance. This editor warned that men and women of color would be treated badly and be humiliated if they were to attend.
But they attended anyway, ’cause f’k these racist ass supremacists.
Booker T. Washington was invited to speak at this expo, though, and that sure did make all the white folks clutch their pearls when he rolled out on stage. But then something totally unexpected happened:
Booker criticized his own community for seeking political and economic power during Reconstruction. He suggested segregation in all social settings, a ploy to secure racial peace at the expense of equal human rights. He raised his hand up, fingers spread, and said, “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the finger, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
He did this to bring peace to the black community and there were mixed reactions from black people. Lynchings were at an all-time high and many black communities had been laid to waste by racist ass white people. The white community jumped aboard in a frenzy, overjoyed with the compromise. It’s the opinion of many that Booker T. Washington was a clever man, defending Jim Crow to calm the white community’s anger and help his community to progress.
Only thirty years had passed between the end of slavery and Booker T. Washington’s speech. This, to a large swathe of the black community, seemed a woeful setback on their road to equality. But in retrospect, this may have been a necessary step to see the black community progress and thrive, to survive. This is what black people had to do in order to get even a sliver of the same rights and freedoms that white people have always enjoyed freely.
Booker felt that his Industrial Institute would help make businessmen and businesswomen of the black community. Focusing on that first and letting civil rights take a temporary backseat to building a strong capitalistic base of the black community would pave the road to equality. It was his expectation that creating a strong black community of business owners would earn his community the respect necessary to achieve equality.
W.E.B. du Bois
Harvard educated sociologist and scholar of black life, W.E.B. du Bois was an initial supporter of Booker T. Washington. In 1903, he wrote a book entitled The Souls of Black Folk. He challenged everything Booker preached, seeing the rise of violence and lynchings that plagued the black community at this time. He decided that he could not accept Booker’s suggestion to wait for equal rights, wait for the right to vote, wait for the day the black community would be treated as human beings.
He said in a public statement that black people should protest until they acquire these rights.
Booker T. Washington struck back by going to Atlanta, Georgia and using a few success stories to back his Jim Crow philosophy. Atlanta was one of the most progressive cities of the early 1900’s, but it was still heavily segregated. Black people owned homes there, there were more Negro colleges than other places in the states, and there were more African American publications than almost anywhere in America.
W.E.B. du Bois was one of the most eloquent, intelligent, dignified men in the country. He was a teacher at Atlanta University and always wore a suit. But if he had an appointment with a lawyer in the Candler building, he still had to wait for the freight elevator. He could not use the main elevator, which was reserved for whites. It did not matter that he had all these accolades, achievements, and affluence.
So, even the most “progressive” city of this time could not see the worth of a man that was many men’s superior. Because his skin was the “wrong color.”
Thomas Dixon’s play, The Clansman, opened in Atlanta, Georgia in 1905. It depicted “lustful, degenerate black men” preying on “innocent, virginal white women.” Right after this, the press began publishing FALSE news stories about black men raping white women. White people lost their minds. About five-thousand white men joined together to avenge their white women, despite the news stories being entirely fabricated.
White men began to attack random black men who were working on the streets as newspaper boys or messengers. They began dragging them out of their houses and businesses. The black people who fought back were killed. The ones who did not fight back were simply trampled and left alone. This happened in downtown Atlanta mere blocks from the police station.
Five-thousand white men killing and beating black men in the streets. And not one police officer. Not one arrest. It was 1906. The militia finally arrived to restore order.
Booker T. Washington tried to downplay what happened, but he didn’t have clout anymore. Atlanta was supposed to be the “experiment” that separate-but-equal was going to work. That was Booker’s golden city, the example of his philosophy’s success. With this incident, this massacre, it proved that playing by Booker’s rules would not protect the black community.
W.E.B. du Bois left Atlanta after this massacre. He moved to New York in 1910 to join NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). He became the editor of their journal, The Crisis, which he would weaponize against Jim Crow. He used it to expose crimes against the black community, advocate for women’s rights, and much more.
Within four months, the subscribers went from one-thousand to six-thousand, eventually reaching 100,000 subscribers to The Crisis.
W.E.B. du Bois supported Woodrow Wilson for president, who expected Wilson to keep his word despite the fact that he was a Democrat from the South. Wilson promised fairness and justice for blacks. du Bois wrote in The Crisis that he wanted Wilson to advocate for black voting rights, the education of black children, the outlawing of lynching, and for the people of the black community to be treated as human beings.
As soon as Wilson took office, he let three Southern cabinet members segregate their departments. One white supervisor said, “There are no government positions for Negroes in the South. A Negro’s place is in the cornfield.”
W.E.B. du Bois wrote in The Crisis that Wilson allowed the government to set people of color apart as if they had some awful disease, like leprosy. He said that fine men and women of color working in the American government now had to perform their duties behind screens as if they were contagious.
In 1915, The Clansman was made into a motion picture called, The Birth of a Nation. (Oh, this should mean great things for the black community, I’m sure…) The NAACP tried to get it banned, knowing that it would only stir up more racial tensions and white fear. And the government did so right away.
Nah, I’m f’king with you. They let that shit fly. In Lafayette, Indiana, a white man killed a black teenager after seeing the movie. Gangs of white people attacked black people in the streets. The Ku Klux Klan? They sprang back to life, empowered by the film.
The KKK gained traction in the North where they typically didn’t get as many members. This new movie gave white people in the North some support for the racism they already believed in, but perhaps weren’t yet compelled to act on.
During this time, Booker T. Washington died.
Okay…but I still didn’t own slaves.
Yes, I heard you the first time. Again, I will remind you that all of this is to show you how our own government has impeded the progress of the black community throughout history. In 2020, white people see that black people are not subject to these laws and they think that should be the end of it. I’m trying to explain to you why this is just the beginning of the black community’s chance to become equals to the white community. They have not had the time or opportunity to reach success as the white community has been afforded. This is the beginning and it is essential for you, as a white person, to understand this critical fact.
Also, despite the laws that are in place, we can see rollbacks in a heartbeat if we aren’t vigilant. When racists get brave again, as they are now, and public support for rolling back protections gains traction, that’s when we have trouble. And civil rights laws can be rolled back.
The Trump administration just rolled back previously granted protections for the LGBTQ+ community in healthcare matters. Tennessee just outlawed abortions – women’s reproductive rights – beyond the six-week mark. Why was this possible? Because the public grew complacent or there were more people who felt safe and comfortable in stripping away people’s basic human rights.
Lynchings are happening again.
LYNCHINGS ARE HAPPENING AGAIN.
Why are you pretending nothing bad is happening? Why are you pretending that the black community and people of color are not in serious peril again? It is because you do not know the history, how the black community have historically lost their rights. Now you are learning and I hope to all hell that you can read this and then look at today’s world and know that you cannot remain silent.
How Racism Affects The Black Community Today
Why is the black community still struggling? Let me provide a quick analogy. The struggle of the black community can be likened to a garden. Plants that are grown in rich, fertile, loamy soil and given every opportunity and resource to survive are going to grow much stronger and healthier. Plants that are grown in rocky, sandy, and unforgiving earth, deprived of every opportunity or resource to survive, will wither and die. Perhaps there will be a few plants that survive despite all odds, like the resilient black community has demonstrated throughout the centuries, but their growth will be stunted.
You did not own slaves, but that is not the point. You did not own slaves, but by responding to cries of injustice that way, you are dismissing the whole argument. Because you did not own slaves, you have no obligation to help your fellow man? Because you did not own slaves, it is moral and good for you to stay silent and pretend there is no struggle in the black community? You think the laws that give the black community the same rights as white people mean something, but they mean nothing if they are not upheld.
Where are they not upheld today, you might ask? (Who am I kidding? You’re definitely asking.) They face quiet discrimination in wage inequality, which forces many people of color to live in low-income housing in neighborhoods that offer little in the way of healthcare. They are wrongfully convicted of crimes and left to rot in prison for over a decade before their convictions are overturned. Inner city schools do not get as much funding as white schools, fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. And yes, that shit should be illegal, but the only law is against discrimination of students attending the federally-funded schools.
OCR enforces several Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive Federal funds from the Department of Education. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, sex, disability, and on the basis of age.
There are no protections to ensure that all students receive the same education, regardless of race, across all public school districts. And the amount of federal funding is only around 8%, so where does the other funding come from?
Public school funding in the United States comes from federal, state, and local sources, but because nearly half of those funds come from local property taxes, the system generates large funding differences between wealthy and impoverished communities.
With many in the black community living well under the national poverty line, this means that black communities are not able to fund their schools as well as white communities. This also provides little opportunity for continuing education. It’s a domino effect that keeps the black community down. I do not know why this is still happening, if it is by design or allowed to continue through indifference on the part of our government officials, but the result is the same. It is killing people of color. It is killing white women, too, if that will get you on board!
Here’s a snapshot from khanacademy.org to help you understand wage inequality (as of 2013):
We can see that wage inequalities occur prominently along race and gender lines. We can also see that men earn more than women on average, and Whites earn more than Blacks and Hispanics regardless of gender. Over time, it seems like both the gender and ethnic wage gaps are gradually narrowing. Increases in education levels or improved social policies could all contribute to a decrease in salary inequalities.
But you may ask, what about inequalities across different types of jobs? Does gender or race affect whether a person gets paid more even with the same job? Let’s look at wage differences by occupation:
Normally, jobs with higher occupational prestige or status pay more. These types of jobs are often viewed as those that require higher skills and qualifications or higher-level jobs. We can see from the above table that women’s average incomes are lower than men’s in nearly all job categories. However, the gender gap is further strengthened by an ethnic salary gap. The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2013 was $453 per week. Hispanic women fall below that line in several occupational categories! You can also see that more Hispanic women are in “low status” or low-earning jobs, while almost 50% of White women have “high status” occupations.
To read the rest of this article, click here.
There are laws in place against racial profiling, racial discrimination in employment or the workplace, racial discrimination in college applications, racial discrimination in housing, and many other areas. To combat these things, we’ve passed Affirmative Action laws that require colleges to meet racial quotas. Want to know how well that’s gone over with white folks over the years? Check this out: Affirmative Action Disputes By Privileged White People.
(Okay, so that’s not really the title of this CNN article. But it does give you a timeline of all the times white people went crying to the Supreme Court that giving the black community a freaking chance for once in American history was “unconstitutional.” Karen, do you know what was constitutional prior to 1865? Slavery. And then we came up with something called “amendments.” Sit down.)
We do these things to correct the long backgrounds of oppression that has kept the black community down for so long, and there are still people who are fighting it. And this is just what we see in public. How many people disagree with these laws to encourage equality and, instead of filing a lawsuit, just decide to not hire someone of color on the basis that a white person is “better qualified?” I’m telling you, it happens often. It’s illegal, sure, but how often does anything get done about it? Only if there’s video, in most cases, and even then it probably needs to go viral first.
So many times in the past, the laws protecting the black community were there and were not enforced, to the point that President Johnson (who succeeded Lincoln) even openly said that it was a “white man’s government” and a “white man’s nation” as soon as he took office. That means that he looked at the laws already in place and went, “Nah, f’k those. I’m gonna overturn all of that.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was in full effect in 1864 and by 1866, Black Code laws beat down the black community all over again. This was before Jim Crow laws were even enacted. Here is an excerpt from To Make Our World Anew: Volume II: A History of African Americans Since 1880 that might better explain what I mean by this:
Despite initial setbacks, black people were indefatigable in their commitment to own land, enjoy citizenship, exercise political power, build institutions, and live in a South where everyone was free and equal. They remained optimistic because of the presence of federal troops and institutions such as the Freedman’s Bureau. However, once Andrew Johnson was sworn in as president following Lincoln’s assassination, he made his position clear: America is a “white man’s nation” and white men shall be the ones to rule the South. Throughout 1866, President Johnson appointed avid racists to positions of power in the Southern provisional government. They, in turn, disarmed the majority of black federal troops at the very moment when planters formed armed terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and and the Knights of the White Camelia. In 1866, these white office holders dedicated to white supremacy passed a series of laws known as the Black Codes. The Black Codes restricted black freedom of movement, the amount of land blacks could own, whom they could marry (interracial marriages were outlawed), and their right to bear arms. Some of the most draconian of the Black Codes laws were the apprenticeship laws, which allowed former masters to literally retain ex-slaves under the age of twenty-one under the pretext that they needed a guardian.
– Excerpt from To Make Our World Anew: Volume II: A History of African Americans Since 1880 by Earl Lewis (2005)
The Reconstruction period, which was a twelve year span between 1865 to 1877, is often thought of as a short period where black people were allowed to do everything white folks could. But as we’ve learned from the excerpt above, that is simply not true. Shortly after President Johnson took office, the white men in government found a new way to suffocate the black community with the Black Code laws.
And during this time, minors and “lawbreakers” who did not tie themselves to a place of employment every year were subject to forced and unpaid labor anyway. Could you imagine if our government today forced us to have a job? All those people who take a year off before college would be shipped off to a plantation. And what if nobody wanted to hire you? What if you suffered an injury and needed time off? Just think about how this would impact you, on a personal basis, if these laws were applied to you right now.
The past directly impacts the black community and that is why I’m teaching you about it right now. Up until as late as the 1970’s, black people were still enslaved. Yes, even though it was against the law. Remember how I told you about the sharecroppers? That’s the loophole plantation owners used to keep and own slaves in the late 20th century. Y’all’s PARENTS were born in the seventies! As I have said already, this is the beginning of the black community’s freedom. Thinking that they should have already recovered because slavery ended in 1865 proves that you do not know the history that came after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Segregation didn’t end until 1964. It is now 2020, which means that black people have only been able to swim in the same public pools as us for 56 years.
There are still people alive today who remember the drinking fountain they weren’t allowed to drink from. Could you imagine that being one of your childhood memories? Nobody is saying you should feel guilty for something you didn’t do. What we are saying is that getting defensive and acting like the black community should just “get over it” isn’t solving the problem.
The mindset that the black community is somehow inferior to the white community remains prevalent in the U.S. in many ways. We have to recognize that the impact of slavery is affecting the black community 56 years after the end of segregation or else nothing will change.
So, no, you didn’t own slaves. But remember that there are people of your own race who would have fought for the right to keep slaves. Remember that there are people of your own race who think black people are violent, ghetto, or criminal for no other reason than the color of their skin. And then do something about it. It isn’t accepting “blame” or admitting fault on your part of some sort. It’s recognizing that the color of someone else’s skin causes them more obstacles than the color of yours and trying to change that.
But they got the vote.
Some people say this with a straight face, as if it’s a valid argument. The “vote” doesn’t stop you from getting suspicious looks in a predominately white neighborhood. The “vote” doesn’t make white people stop viewing you as a threat when you walk past them in a park. The “vote” doesn’t stop law enforcement from claiming you “meet the description” of a criminal. What description officer? Black? ‘Cause there sure are a hell of a lot of suspects, then!
And the “vote” didn’t help Ida Wells, a school teacher:
On May 4, 1884, a train conductor with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad ordered Wells to give up her seat in the first-class ladies car and move to the smoking car, which was already crowded with other passengers. The previous year, the Supreme Court had ruled against the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875 (which had banned racial discrimination in public accommodations). This verdict supported railroad companies that chose to racially segregate their passengers. When Wells refused to give up her seat, the conductor and two men dragged her out of the car. Wells gained publicity in Memphis when she wrote a newspaper article for The Living Way, a black church weekly, about her treatment on the train. In Memphis, she hired an African-American attorney to sue the railroad. When her lawyer was paid off by the railroad, she hired a white attorney. She won her case on December 24, 1884, when the local circuit court granted her a $500 award. The railroad company appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling in 1887. It concluded, “We think it is evident that the purpose of the defendant in error was to harass with a view to this suit, and that her persistence was not in good faith to obtain a comfortable seat for the short ride.” Wells was ordered to pay court costs. Her reaction to the higher court’s decision revealed her strong convictions on civil rights and religious faith, as she responded: “I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people. … O God, is there no … justice in this land for us?”
Ida B. Wells went on to use her voice to expose injustices against the black community and even won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize special citation this year.
So the answer, “They got the vote,” is total shit. It ignores all the other rights and social esteem the black community should have. The argument is literally, “They have this one human right. Why isn’t that enough?” What in the actual f***?! And just because black people have the “vote,” doesn’t mean they have the same advantages white people have today.
You know who isn’t allowed to vote in America in the year 2020? Prisoners. And a country that will not allow their prisoners the right to vote has a strong interest in jailing those with differing political views. The right to vote has been a given for the white community since Day One. Then the right to vote came to the black community in 1870 (although the white community threw every obstacle at them to suppress their vote in the following decades). And then, finally, women received the right to vote in 1920.
But most prisoners, who are still citizens of the Unites States of America, are denied their right to vote. It isn’t a federal law that they aren’t allowed to vote. In fact, it’s only outlawed in 48 states. For what reason? Well, prisoners still get counted in the U.S. Census. So, the more prisoners in that county, the more representation it gets – even though the extra people that are counted are unable to cast a vote. They can’t weigh in with their political beliefs, but they are still aiding whatever political leanings make up the majority of their county.
This contributes to systemic racism, because the more people of color they throw in prison, the more government resources and political representation they receive. Let’s look at two fictitious counties.
The first county has no prisoners and 100 citizens. The second county has 100 prisoners and 100 citizens. The second county gets more political representation. What does that mean, though? How is that such a big deal?
Political representation is the activity of making citizens “present” in public policy making processes when political actors act in the best interest of citizens.
You’ve heard of the House of Representatives before, right?
As per the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives makes and passes federal laws. The House is one of Congress’s two chambers (the other is the U.S. Senate), and part of the federal government’s legislative branch. The number of voting representatives in the House is fixed by law at no more than 435, proportionally representing the population of the 50 states.
“Proportionally representing the population of the 50 states.” That means that the more people reflected in the U.S. Census in a state, the more representatives are appointed to the House of Representatives on their behalf. The more non-voting prisoners, the more people in the House that are able to vote for your state. More than 275 bills were passed by the House in 2019 alone. (Source.) What are some of these bills that were passed through the House of Representatives?
- Give American workers a long overdue raise by raising the minimum wage and making sure women are paid fairly for their work.
- Protect the retirement of Americans who worked hard all their lives.
- Enact gun safety background checks.
- Cut taxes for Gold Star families.
- Protect consumers from being ripped off by fine print contracts.
- Protect people with pre-existing conditions, reverse health care sabotage & lower drug costs.
- Support veterans.
Senators are elected by direct votes from, typically, non-incarcerated people. So that means all a state has to do is make sure they lock up the majority of people who would vote against their political views. This basically translates to a benefit for white people in rural areas and a disadvantage to the POC vote.
African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent
defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated. They constitute 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in “group exonerations.”
And how long does it typically take for black people’s wrongful convictions to be overturned?
Now, I’m not saying that police see a black man and go, “Well, we gotta lock him up so he doesn’t vote Democrat.” I’m saying that the casual racism that gets black folks locked up is the start of all of this. A police officer sees a black person out at night, assumes they’re doing something wrong because of the color of their skin, and takes them off to jail. Now they go to court and are wrongly convicted of a crime. Now that they’re in jail, it takes an average over a decade for their conviction to be overturned and their right to vote to be restored.
Do you see how this is benefiting white America? Do you see how this is benefiting certain people on a political platform? This what we call systemic racism.
And while we’re talking about the vote, let me tell you all about Wilmington. You know what happened in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898? The black community became the majority of the voting population and secured many social statuses of a middle-class or upper middle-class ranking. Yay! Equality! Finally, black people are doing well and being treated like human beings. Let’s just check on the white folks real quick…
Oh, white people are freaking the hell out! Black folks are gonna start thinking they’re equal to us or something. They’ll control the city! We can’t keep them subjugated at this rate!
Black people held elected and municipal positions, appointed by black Republicans. At this time, the Democratic party was the party of White Supremacy. (Damn, that shit just did a one-eighty, didn’t it?) Black people also held positions of justices of the peace, firemen, magistrates, and public health workers. They were an example to the black youth, what they could become with hard work and determination.
In the statewide and local elections of 1898, the Democratic party went on a smear campaign. And I don’t mean that they said crap like, “A vote for a black Republican is a vote for interracial marriage,” or something oh-so-shocking. I mean – Well, here’s a direct quote:
“The slogan of the Democratic party from the mountains to the sea will be but one word: N****r.” -Daniel Shane, Democrat
These motherf’king white supremacist Democrats ran their campaign on the foundation that they were the only party capable of saving North Carolina from “Negro rule.” What in the actual f’k, America? They created fear in white women that black elected officials would become a danger to them. The press drew up cartoons of black men preying on white women as demonic incubi, a mythical creature that rapes women as they sleep.
The Democratic party deliberately stirred up racial tensions and fears in order to win the election and beat down the black community. Are y’all keeping track here? How many times have the black community risen up a little in this article only to get the smackdown again from scared white people with inferiority complexes? It’s 1898 and the black community still can’t catch a break. Are we starting to see why they are still struggling in 2020?
Rebecca Felton, a Georgia feminist – (Oh, f’k me. Racist feminists. This story is wild as f’k.) Anyway, she actually wrote an article saying, “If it requires lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from ravening, drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand Negroes a week if it is necessary.”
In response to this, Alex Manley, a black man who owned this editorial where this was written, released this statement:
“Our experience with poor white women in the country teaches us that the women of that race are not anymore particular in the manner of clandestine meetings with colored men than white men with colored women. You leave your goods out of doors and then complain because they are taken away.” – Alex Manley
That was not “politically correct” to say at that time. What Manley meant there was that white men freely engaged in sexual intercourse with women of color and soon, white women would be doing the same with men of color. This pissed off all the white people.
Calls for violence bubbled up from powerful white figures. White people brought guns to the polls, intent on killing any black men who refused to leave the polls without voting. Alfred Wadell instructed the white public to kill any black man who tried to vote.
Black voters turned out and voted anyway, ’cause – again – f’k white supremacists. The black community is strong as all hell, y’all! So, then what happened? White folks stuffed the ballot boxes. Every black candidate in North Carolina was defeated.
So the black community played by the rules, went out to vote at peril to their own life, and still got the shaft. Sounds about white.
Manley’s newspaper company was set on fire and all black elected officials were driven out of office. Well, would you look at that? White people giveth equal rights and then white people taketh away. Remember earlier how I said the laws on civil rights could change at any time? Here’s a nice historic example of that shit happening.
The laws will be upheld until they aren’t.
We must keep our government accountable and ensure fair elections. We must not grow complacent or allow minorities – women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, etc. – to lose their voice because we can’t be bothered to join our voices with theirs. We have a responsibility as the majority to lift up our brothers and sisters and ensure that they remain equal with us.
Damn, to see that they become equal with us first, because look at how they keep getting stomped down in 2020! This shit is NOT equal!
Anyway, after this shit happened with the polls in 1898, white men went and massacred a shit ton of black people. The black men they targeted were doctors and lawyers, people who “took the white man’s rightful place.” Black people still fought back, writing letters to their government to demand that they uphold the law. In the end, many black people fled from Wilmington into the wilderness, losing their social status and livelihoods in the blink of an eye. Any who remained in Wilmington, settled back into subjugation and “learned their place” in white society. (I f’king hate this story.)
Previously integrated public areas backslid all across the nation. Political cartoons went out with messages like, “Who said the Negro is free?” and other such messages. Black people were forced into the back of buses again. Some political cartoons said things like, “For rent – No Negroes need apply,” “All Negroes are guilty – Justice for whites only,” “Theatre – Whites only,” “Wanted! 100 workmen, whites only,” and so on.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown
In 1901, Charlotte Hawkins Brown converted an old blacksmith’s shed into a school for girls. It was called the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute and in two decades, it would become a prestigious school for young black women. She pretended that it was a vocational school to teach “low-status” skills in order to provide the women of the black community with higher learning.
She used this front in order to avoid white violence and secure white donors for her school. The reality was that this school taught the students leadership qualities, French, and many other high-status skills. As long as black people were not learning something that could help them rise above their so-called “rightful place,” white people were chill about it.
“She always taught us that you could be as good as anybody else, regardless of what your color is. She told us that and we appreciated that, because you know, you go around thinking that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and you won’t never be nothing or something like that and she made it – told us that it wasn’t true. We could be anything we wanted to be.” – Elizabeth Mead, Palmer Institute, Class of 1936
Charlotte Hawkins Brown fought fights that were ahead of her time, determined to create a better future for the young children in her Institute. This was very dangerous for a black woman at this time. She could not shield them all, of course.
Convict Lease Gangs
Convict lease gangs targeted black children as another way around the outlaw of slave labor. (Hey, doesn’t this remind you guys of our for-profit prison systems…? We’ll get to that in a second.)
Here’s some of the kids and their terrible crimes:
Cy Williams, age 12: sentenced to 20 years for taking a horse he was too small to ride
Will Evans, age 8: sentenced to 2 years for stealing change off a store counter
Mary Gay, age 6: sentenced to 30 days for taking a hat
Who the f’k sentences a six year old to hard labor? By the early 1900’s, tens of thousands of Americans (not just black people) were in convict lease camps. A quarter of these “criminals” were children. When a business needed workers to work on a railroad or a mine or anything like that, they’d pay the city for so many workers. The city would then send them prisoners to perform the work. This created a demand that funded the city. (*cough, cough* For-profit prisons. *cough, cough*)
Sheriffs would arrest blacks for misdemeanors and vagrancy to fill the demand, giving them lengthy sentences that didn’t fit the crime. (Um…guys? Are we seeing a parallel here at all? Like, this shit is still happening, right? I’m not imagining shit?) A white man would get like three months jail time for stealing shit, but a black man charged with the same thing is going out on convict lease for two damned years!
Many men died while in custody and none of the jailers gave a shit or took efforts to protect these people. This was worse than slavery because the lives of those working on convict lease gangs did not have the same long-term economic value as those of a plantation owner’s slaves. There was no reason to ensure their long, healthy life, because they did not need to keep them alive as long as possible. They were expendable and were treated worse than livestock.
Over one-hundred men a year were lynched during this time period, with thousands more dying in convict lease camps. Mortality rates in these convict lease gangs were between 15%-45%. The convict lease camps targeted poor people in general, but black men were targeted with more interest. (Poor people. Hm, criminalizing poor people… Damn, this shit sure sounds familiar.)
They have the same rights as us.
Do they, though? This is flat out denying that there is a problem. White people in America have always been free. They have always been on top, unfettered, unrestrained, at the expense of the black community. And that has not changed. And this is not right.
This one fact is the reason that the black community is still feeling the impact of slavery and segregation, which stretched from 1619 to 1864. The laws can go into place, but the minds of people are slow to change.
It isn’t that the black community is still angry or aren’t angry, but the fact that there are white people who still view the black community as “inferior” people. White folks who think there’s a difference between “N-words” and black people. (Seriously. I’ve heard this said to me on more than one occasion. Like, what the f’k??? Why do you feel comfortable saying that out loud?) White people who think that most black people are lazy and on government assistance because they don’t want to work. White people who think that black people deal drugs and participate in gang activity by default.
And if they meet a black person that doesn’t fit these stereotypes, then that black person is assumed to be the exception to the rule. Because “most” black people are…what? Sit down.
Racism & Slavery
I’ve touched on both of these topics a bit already, but I want to delve in a bit deeper about how this still affects the black community today. I mentioned earlier that white people have always been on top in this county. On the other side of that, black people have always been downtrodden or held back. Yes, there are plenty of successful black people – actors, singers, business owners – but that doesn’t erase the fact that their battle has been harder due to the color of their skin.
The white community have always starred in films, owned businesses, and chased their dreams without doors slammed in their faces because of their race. If you think it isn’t a problem today, you must not know many black people. (Don’t “black friend” me right now, please.) I’ve seen it myself. The default in America is that white people are “the norm” and black people are “different,” which automatically causes an issue.
Segregation has only been over for 56 years, which means a lot of the older white population’s earliest memories are “othering” the black community. Maybe some of them are trying to get on board or even fought for the end of segregation, but the fact is that the thought process still exists today. Those people raised children with those ideas, things like “blacks and whites don’t mix” and “there’s a difference between N-words and black people.” (Seriously, I f’king hate that last comment. I keep mentioning it, because it pisses me off so damn bad.)
The point is that there’s still a large swathe of this country who still have it in their heads that black people are not equal to white people. That affects opportunities for the black community in several ways, such as:
If someone reports a suspicious black person, the cops are stopping any old black person for “matching the description.” Now, I’m not saying all cops, because that’d be as bad as saying all black people or all white people are bad, because I had a bad experience with one person. There are good police out there who even step in like a decent human being to stop their partners from killing people. (Why is this praiseworthy? What a f’king time to be alive…)
Still, though, we see it in the news now. We see it on social media. And in the wake of this new surge of protests and riots, this civil rights movement of 2020, we’re seeing it more and more. Six lynchings in one week, but racism in America is dead? Go home.
And not only are black people more likely to be assumed guilty of a crime based solely on the color of their skin, but they’re more likely than white people to be killed in an interaction with a police officer. Why? Why do police fear for their lives more often when interacting with a black person than with a white person? It is because of preconceptions passed down through the generations, from the days of segregation to today.
College, Career, & Housing
From 1619 to now, there have been generations of white families with inheritances of land, money, and businesses that could not have been made possible by the abduction and abuse of African Americans. These families have generations of folks who have gone to college in their families, whereas many black families are only first or second generation college graduates.
And it is not their fault. They were held back by white supremacy and were not afforded the same opportunities as the white community. And yes, I’ve mentioned a few black colleges that afforded excellent opportunities for students, but most black schools were horribly under-funded. Tuskegee and the Palmer Institute were rare and only possible due to clever, covert tactics on the parts of their founders.
Other black schools lacked books, resources, safe and functional buildings, teachers, and so on. So, yes, there was an opportunity for school in the black community at this time. But it was the difference between Harvard and being taught science by The Waterboy’s mother. (This is an exaggeration, of course, but the message remains the same. The black community could not afford to educate their youth and provide them with the same opportunities for success as the white community.) They did not have the resources necessary to educate their community at the level the white community could teach their youth.
Oh, but you never inherited anything, Random White Person? You pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps. You haven’t profited from slavery at all!
Your skin color doesn’t negatively impact your life. When you are walking at night, the color of your skin is enough to exonerate you from any ill thought. When you apply for a posh position, you don’t have to worry about your name giving the interviewer pause.
And don’t even go with, “Well, people should name their kids something normal.” Like what? A white-sounding name? You know, back in the days of slavery, slave owners would change the slaves’ names, too. Like Redoshi, who was kidnapped at the age of twelve from Africa in 1860, and called Sally Smith in Alabama. (She died in 1937.)
Someone’s name, the color of their skin, their accent or way of speaking… None of these things speak to the character of the human being. And if you’re a “woke” white person who thinks Martin Luther King Jr. was a swell guy, then you seriously need to read his speeches again. All humans should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
This is by no means the complete history of the black community. I will likely return to write about Plessy versus Feguson and the war against Germany in 1917. (Spoiler alert: Black troops were treated like f’king shit – as they fought for our country! You know, the same country that lynched, enslaved, and segregated them? Yep, even as these things were happening, we sent them off to war to fight for this great country of ours that treated them worse than animals.
Anyway, in conclusion, we owe everything we see around us to people of color. This nation would have died in its infancy if it had not been for black people and Native Americans who taught us how to survive here when we first invaded. And the only repayment they have received was the murder, rape, and discrimination of their people since the word, “Go.”
Do not apologize for your white privilege. Do not symbolically “renounce” your white privilege. Neither of those things does a damn thing for people of color in this country. Now is not the time to kneel in penance for something you did not do. Now is not the time to kneel at all.
Now is the time to stand up! Use the color of your skin to protect others. Use your white privilege, because you cannot rid yourself of it no matter what empty vows you shout in the street. A cop is not going to see you as black because you have “given up” your white privilege. An employer is not going to see you as black and deny you a job.
Instead, use your power as a white person to build the rights of your fellow black brothers and sisters.
If the color of your skin can protect others, gladly sacrifice it.