MLK’s Dream and the Continuing History of Racism in America
Black Slavery provides a poignant narrative for understanding America’s history, and there are two versions of this story competing for emphasis in the media and in the nation’s school curriculum.
One of the currents is well represented by The New York Times Project 1619, a major research effort published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africa’s first slaves. Somewhere between 20 and 30 captives from this distant continent docked in a coastal port near Point Comfort in Virginia on an August morning 402 years ago.
Selling these dark-skinned people into slavery left them without rights, completely at the mercy of their buyers. Families had no status. Children, excluded from school, were bought and sold at the option of their owners. There were no white slaves in America, so this represented the establishment of race as an indelible feature of America’s foundational identity.
In comparison, the masses of Irish emigrants who came to the New World during and after the Great Famine in the second half of the 19th century were treated with abominable ways. They have suffered pervasive discrimination, including being subjected to crude stereotypes highlighting their alleged inferiority.
The powerful Know Nothing movement brought them together – blacks, Irish and Catholics – as incapable and unworthy of participating fully in American life. Yet the Irish never wore the mark of slavery and most saw their white skin as a bonus as subsequent generations moved towards respectability.
The second story begins in 1776. The vaulting language of the Declaration of Independence, rejecting British colonialism with all its pomp and pretensions, still resonates: “All men are created equal” with “Inalienable rights” to “Life, freedom and the pursuit of Joy. “
Yet this inspiring rhetoric came from the pen of Thomas Jefferson, a man who during his lifetime owned more than 600 slaves. His noble message was relayed to the 13 turbulent colonies, all of which subscribed to some version of racial slavery. Five of the first seven US presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Jackson – owned slaves.
Then the colonies became states and they accepted a new constitution. It is a document revered in many American homes, but this early version codified slavery, explicitly endorsing the right of a slave owner to capture fugitives who crossed state lines trying to escape. their forced servitude. And by distributing the membership in the House of Representatives, blacks were counted as having the value of three-fifths of a white person.
Racism can rightly be seen as a social unrest and a moral calamity. Ninety years after the British left, a savage civil war ensued, largely because the slave system had become so morally repugnant that many rulers and thinkers of the time, encouraged by some religious leaders, were determined to end it. The Union side, led by Abraham Lincoln, defeated the Confederate States and all slaves were granted freedom after the Union victory.
Unlike other wars where the losers are humiliated and their philosophy rejected, the defeated side of the American Civil War was able to tell nostalgic tales of their contented way of life in a slave society. Some books and movies have described the days of white supremacy as the good old days.
Monuments have been erected along the Southern States and beyond for Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other prominent rebels, as if their blatant betrayal amounted to a version of patriotism.
Blacks could vote after the Union’s victory in the Civil War, but after a brief period of hopeful reconstruction, Jim Crow’s laws and practices took over. These were so disgusting and cruel that millions of African Americans abandoned their homes during what is known as the Great Migration and fled north to major cities where, although prejudice has always been a factor importantly, they had a better chance of finding a job and some meaning. of dignity.
Religion was a powerful force in those years. Powerful Protestant communities and a growing number of Catholics did not come together with the loathsome belief that God created two unequal classes of human beings, which was a fundamental perspective not only of slave society but of the Jim Crow culture which followed her and lasted until the president. Johnson’s reforms in the 1960s.
The main message of the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement affirms black equality at a time when economic and penal systems often rig this principle. Opponents mock the BLM by unfairly claiming that black people seek special privileges.
Post-Civil War debates over the various entanglements of white supremacy continue, especially as many Republican-majority state legislatures pass laws to limit black and brown voting rights. The Jim Crow mentality no longer applauds the gallows, but all kinds of lame excuses are being offered to restrict the voting rights of non-white citizens.
The murder of George Floyd has led to massive protests calling for police changes in all American cities. These gatherings, mainly young people of all colors, motivated many first-time voters to vote in the presidential race last November.
Make America Great Again has become Teach America’s Great Again. Steve Bannon, the far-right propaganda guru, was clear on his vision for the great battle to come: âThe way to save the nation is very simple, it will go through the school boards.
Last fall, the American Historical Association and Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted a major national survey to find out what Americans think about historical studies. The results showed that 70% of Democrats believe any study of the past should question the integrity of the institutions and rulers of the past. However, 84 percent of Republican respondents believed the goal should be to celebrate the past, especially the leaders of the American Revolution.
Most conservatives look askance at any emphasis, especially in the classroom, on the horrific history of slavery. They don’t want to hear about 1619, and they believe that the unmistakable heroism of Washington and Jefferson should be at the center of every school’s curriculum.
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Yet there have been dramatic positive changes in race relations, culminating in the election of Barack Obama to white Republican candidates in 2008 and 2012. A majority of the white electorate voted for his Republican opponent, but Obama did not. could not have won without the strong support of the Americans. which does not look like him. Historically, these victories represented real progress and had monumental symbolic significance.
There is now a strong black middle and professional class. As disproportionate poverty rates persist and severe wealth disparities persist, nearly half of African American families have annual incomes above $ 50,000.
Black women are graduating from college at truly encouraging rates, and the number of teenage pregnancies in minority communities has plummeted.
Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd, after a lengthy trial in a televised court, sent a clear message that the law must be applied fairly. Demands for structural changes in the police are more difficult to reject and, indeed, are already leading to positive movements in many cities.
Martin Luther King dreamed of a society where people are not judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. The continued inter-community dynamism of the BLM movement suggests that we are moving in the right direction.