Don't like to read?
As we look at the history of race, slavery, and the American caste system, still well in place today, there are things that we as citizens and non-citizens of the United States need to know. History, especially history written by the dominant culture, is typically used to bless and sanctify those who hold power, uphold the positive myths, and rewrite the not-so-flattering reality of history.
Let me try to capsulize the history of our country, recasting it in a way that will highlight why we are where we are as a country today. I’m going to throw out a few facts for us to ponder. There is a more profound history to each of these facts that I recommend we all study.
- Race is solely a social and economic construct and has no scientific proof regarding the degree of intelligence or human potential of any person who ever has ever inhabited this planet. Race was created to substantiate the free labor found in slaves predominantly from Africa. Science, sociology, and anthropology have been coopted through the years to validate the power structures depending on free labor through the slave trade and even after emancipation.
- Race division, slavery, and the subjugation of Native Americans was blessed by the Roman Catholic Church through the Doctrine of Discovery and universally adopted by most Christian denominations (Pope Alexander VI, 1493), which allowed for ‘civilized’ Christians to take any land and subjugate any people who were non-Christian and refused to accept Christianity.
- Wall Street was founded to manage the economy around slavery. African slaves built the wall that gave Wall Street its name. To normalize this massive trade in human beings, in 1711, New York officials established a slave market on Wall Street. New York was a crucial location in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which established it as the world’s financial capital.
- The law enforcement system has its origins in the establishment in 1704 of a police force to track down, capture, and return runaway slaves. The goal then was to track down and return to enslavement; the goal now is not fairness, but to track down and ‘enslave’ in jail or prison.
- One main reason the American Revolution was fought was to preserve slavery. In the 1770s, a major British court decision, Somerset vs. Stewart, signaled an end to slavery in Britain. Word spread like wildfire throughout the slave communities in America. Both those in the North and the South, who benefited greatly from slavery, were not about to let this source of free labor devastate the colonies’ economies.
- Laws, written both before and after the revolution, gave full rights to only free-white persons, excluding Black and other slaves and the indigenous population. The legal term ‘white’ became the measure of inclusion throughout the majority of the history of the U.S., and every ethnic group that came to the United States had to ultimately prove themselves as being ‘white,’ even when from physical appearance they were not.
Not until the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were African Americans — now 184 years behind in every measure of economic and social progress since the founding of the U.S. — legally free to pursue their full stature in the ‘American Dream.’ The white privileged class stole from and raped them of an economic base which white Americans built up over many generations of working, only made possible by subjugating and destroying African American lives.
- Social scientists throughout the years continued to hold to the superiority of the ‘White race,’ which carried over into the general society, the legal system, the rights to homeownership, to benefits from serving in the military in World War II, to benefits from the New Deal, etc., etc.
- The real estate practice of Contract Buying, very much practiced in communities like North Lawndale in the ’50s and ’60s, robbed African Americans of $4 billion in housing equity alone.
- After the 1968 Riots following the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., drugs and guns were deliberately introduced into Black communities. Once the population became ‘addicted’ to both the profit and the use of drugs, laws focused on arrest, incarceration, and imprisonment were implemented, which inordinately focused on Black communities — and very little on white communities. Consequently, the African American family has been devastated while the policing/criminal justice/prison pipeline benefits whites.
There are many other aspects to this sad, horrific history in our country, and, although painful, it is helpful for us to come to terms with this. We need to reconcile the pain of the past caused by our white ancestors, acknowledge and revere the contributions of African Americans to our collective history. We need to work together to tear down the systemic and personal internal obstacles that will help us together to create the new history that finally recognizes the sins of the past, builds a system of reparations, and moves us toward full economic and human equality for the Black community and us all.
Contributed by Father Larry Dowling
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Scazon’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Illinois Springfield’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License