February 1, 2021 – 10:45
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (www.richweissman.com)
It’s Black History Month. As white people, we need to envision and understand the history, starting in 1619 in Point Comfort, Virginia with the arrival of the first 20 African slaves brought onto the shores of this continent. 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 slaveholders, 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 our 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 U.S. 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 end of the Confederacy should have marked the beginning of the inclusion of black Americans into the concept of “we the people.”
But it didn’t.
Institutionalized and systemic racism and white supremacy continued and grew in different forms and 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, 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 yet, we continue to see the ugly face of racism alive in our culture with racist policing and privatization of prisons, and in the full support from its enablers in the U.S. Congress and in other government bodies throughout the nation. We have seen the horrific racist response among many white people to the BLM movement, unwilling to stop the horror we see of black injustice through cell phone videos.
And now, just a few weeks ago, Confederate and Nazi symbols of white supremacy were weaponized in our Capital through a violent act of insurrection by the supremacists, angered by the rejection of Trumpism and a Biden/Harris win, which the haters see another positive step for POC which should be battled.
White supremacy is alive in America. And it’s our job as white people to grab our chisels and actively chip away at its foundation. We start by educating ourselves on black history and face the realities of that history, and America’s role in dehumanizing our fellow black citizens, from Point Comfort in 1619 up through today at the nation’s Capitol. For 400 years, white America has been and is racist. It's time for us to end that cycle.