July 27, 2020 – 4:30 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (www.richweissman.com)
The enslavement of African people was part of our nation’s beginnings, starting in 1619 in Point Comfort, Virginia with the arrival of the first 20 African slaves brought onto the shores of this continent. Indeed, this nation was built on the backbreaking work of enslaved black people for the following 250 years, and many of the nation’s founders and writers of the Declaration of Independence and subsequent U.S. Constitution were themselves slave holders, unwilling to recognize the horrors of slavery and the institutional persecution of black people, and they baked racial inequality into the Constitution. Racism has always played a fundamental role in the nation since its inception. By the 1860 U.S. Census, there were 4 million black slaves in the U.S. just prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 following the end of the Civil War (1861-1865). Eleven southern states initially created the Confederate States of America in 1860 and began the Civil War. The Confederacy existed for less than five years until 1865. And the Confederate (aka rebel) flag was created in 1863 and lasted less than two years. These states declared themselves to be independent of the United States after Lincoln was elected, so as to form a separate nation with highly limited central government and with the institution of black slavery at its core. Although based on centuries of brutal slavery and racism, the Confederacy was defeated in those five years, thus ending hundreds of years of the horrific institution of black slavery in the U.S. The Confederacy itself, and the flag to which it pledged allegiance, represented an ugly and short period in which an enemy of American democracy, rejecting the Constitution, emerged and was vanquished. There is no reason to celebrate it or its flag other than to continue to promote racism and treason. The end of the Confederacy should have marked the beginning of the inclusion of black Americans into the concept of “we the people.”
But, institutionalized and systemic racism did not end with the Civil War and was not, and is not, restricted to the southern states. Slavery may have been abolished, but the disdain and cruelty towards black people immediately exploded following the passage of the 13th Amendment, with the formation of the KKK in 1865 in Tennessee, and years of continued riots of white people against black people, starting with those in New Orleans and Memphis in 1866. The following year, the Jim Crow laws era emerged and lasted 100 years until 1965, where denial of civil rights and horrific acts against black people, including mob lynchings and destruction of black homes and businesses, were the norm. As a part of it, came the destruction and massacre of vibrant black communities throughout the nation, including Greenwood, Tulsa (OK) in 1921 and Rosewood (FL) in 1923, to name just a few. Throughout the U.S., segregation, inferior housing and schools, lynching, redlining and ghettoization, economic subjugation, denial to medical access, political oppression through poll taxes and other forms of denying black people access to vote, and a deep-rooted cultural bias against black people and their ability to be free and equal remained and continues to be a part of the American experience. The modern civil rights movement of the 1960’s pushed the issue front-and-center and moved it forward. We saw black leaders being fire hosed and even murdered, including Medgar Evans (1963), Malcom X (1965) and MLK (1968). We saw children being attacked for going to school, and ordinary people being beaten or killed simply because they wanted black people to be treated not as lowly and dispensable, but as full human beings. And we saw the rise (and ultimate defeat) of Alabama Governor George Wallace as a serious national Democratic and then 3rd party presidential candidate, running on a segregationist platform. Although advances were made, the 1960’s civil rights movement did not eradicate the multi-faceted institutional and systemic racism that remains part of the American psyche. Certainly, a part of the Trumpian display of white supremacy and other racist beliefs are a reaction to having had an educated, eloquent, dignified and admired President Obama. And now, we see the ugly face of racism alive in our culture with the support of the current administration, with the increase in privatization of prisons and federal policing, and in the full support from its enablers in the U.S. Senate and in other government bodies throughout the nation.
As white people, we need to think ... Imagine growing up and being reminded daily that your life is not important to the larger white society. Image being viewed as an object to be used, with no intrinsic human value. As a close black friend said to me, the worst of aIl is being perceived as sub-human, as innately inferior to white people, as an animal or anything but a human being. Imagine how that feels to have white people look at you and not see a human being. And image the anger it engenders each and every day as black people confront a merciless white world that is unable to see or correct its racism at its core.
Imagine being subjected to racism at every turn, often having to live in poverty and inferior housing, attend poorly funded and often segregated schools, offered only menial jobs, and be denied access to so many parts of society that are somehow designated for whites only. And, imagine being disproportionately arrested and imprisoned, facing rigged policing, court and other practices which perpetuate racial inequality, through the racially biased systems of arrest, bail, court-appointed legal support, inequitable sentencing and incarceration, and post-incarceration fees. Imagine having your life or your life’s future extinguished because of a racially biased policing and criminal justice system practices.
And imagine being afraid to walk outside in your neighborhood or in a local park. Imagine being afraid to drive your car or to go shopping in a store. Imagine being afraid of the doorbell as it might mean danger. Imagine being afraid to send your children to school or to worry about your spouse going to work. Imagine living like this every day. Imagine being at the mercy of white people and having to explain it all to your children so that they understand the dangers. I'm not talking about overcoming hardships or difficult circumstances which many people face. I'm talking about being black in America and having to overcome challenges that only black people face, and then living one's life afraid, making each day an anxious and potentially deadly one.
White people like me need to begin to try to comprehend white privilege and black oppression. We'll never experience the oppression; we'll never fully understand it on a visceral basis. But we need to try to empathize and get on board and fight for change, because black lives do matter and black people should not have to live lives unfairly and in fear. No child, no adult should feel that their lives are of lesser value because they are black. And racism is a white problem and we must unequivocally own it.
And we have a profound question to answer. Black people have been raising these issues for decades and decades. We’ve seen the violence; we’ve heard the most horrific stories of the pain the black community suffers. Why have we the white community not listened to the black community and taken these events and issues to heart? What have we been waiting for? So much of white America has been at best indifferent and at worst complicit. For shame. But it’s time for change.
So, what do we do? How does the current environment give us reason to rise up and make a difference?
BLACK LIVES MATTER AND BLACK VOTES MATTER
Fighting police brutality against black people, demanding a complete overhaul of the racist policing and judicial systems, and removing all icons and vestiges of the atrocity of slavery, the Confederacy and the Jim Crow brutality are clearly important. Black Lives Matter is a call to action we all need to hear, embrace and support. It is, at its core, an issue that white people (like me) need to own and correct with honesty, humility and an understanding of history.
But it’s only a start. We need to fight more than systemic and institutionalized racism in the policing and justice systems, and we need to topple more than statues and flags. We also need to topple the foundations of systemic and institutionalized political racism as another component to the BLM movement, and get behind what I now call Black Votes Matter. Until every black person has an equal vote, we will not make serious change in removing racism in the nation. Much of the direction our nation takes is a result of the ballot box, and we need to ensure that black voices are equally heard in every election in the nation.
What does Black Votes Matter mean to me? Three things …
1) Eliminate the electoral college which denies black people equal footing. Let’s be clear, it was created in 1787 and is embedded into our Constitution so as to give greater power to the slave states through the “three-fifths compromise” in which black slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of allocating representatives and electoral college votes, but would have no rights to vote themselves. Even with the granting of voting rights to black people, the electoral college remains a mechanism by which the former slave states and other often conservative states throughout the nation now retain greater power. They receive disproportionate votes for electing the U.S. President and Vice President. It is a vestige of slavery that needs to be abolished.
2) Eliminate voter suppression which denies black people equal access to the voting booth and end the vestiges of the Jim Crow era. The inability for black people to vote on equal footing minimizes their voting impact in elections, through barriers to register and remain registered, requiring fees and petitioning for those with previous criminal records, inadequate polling locations for black communities, barriers to vote-by-mail, barriers for expanded voting periods and other insidious tools utilized by those who wish to suppress black votes.
3) Eliminate gerrymandering which, among other goals, disempowers and disenfranchises black people through racially designed districts to diminish black representation. Gerrymandering is a pernicious method of creating districts that often disproportionately takes power away from black communities. Mind you, it has been used for a host of other reasons to provide the majority party with greater power, and it must end, particularly because it devalues the power of the black vote.
These three structural forms of political racism must be toppled along with ending the racist police and judicial activities, and the racist icons of slavery and the Jim Crow era. If black votes are worth less than white votes, then we are not a democracy and we cannot effectuate true change. To fight racism at its core, we need to embrace Black Votes Matter and fight for changes in these three destructive forms of systemic and institutionalized racism, and I’m starting to think that America may be on the cusp of being ready to finally face the inequality in our political system and ready to fight for genuine equal voting rights. Black America deserves to have these racially and deceitfully designed activities put into the history books so that black Americans can become equal participants in the political process.
Here’s how we start …
1) Ensure that Trump and the GOP are soundly defeated in November. This is a beginning point to allow for the start of Black Votes Matter. We need an administration, Congress and other government bodies throughout the nation to reject Trumpism and its basis in white supremacy. We need to work hard and financially support Biden and Democratic candidates at all levels and not assume that it will be an easy election.
2) Fight against voter suppression and support the organization that Stacey Abrams has put in place to work towards ending voter suppression (fairfight.com). We must ensure that black people have equal opportunity to vote, and Abrams is on the right track, taking the lead on this critical issue. We must support her organization’s efforts.
3) Start a serious effort towards the elimination of gerrymandering and the electoral college (which will be difficult and require a change to the Constitution) once Biden is in office. These two vestiges of slavery and racism need to end, and we must make Black Votes Matter a top priority in the new administration and Congress.
Black Lives Matter isn’t just a slogan. It’s not simply a social media posting. It’s a call to action, and we need to act and include Black Votes Matter as an important component. Why? Because America cannot be a free nation without the 43 million black Americans having equal freedoms, and not until every black vote equally counts. It’s important that we fight all forms of racism, including justice system, economic, housing, education, employment, healthcare and other avenues of systemic and institutionalized racism. Black Lives Matter and Black Votes Matter has handed white America a long list of issues to tackle and we must be prepared to take them on. No excuses.