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LJ Idol - Week [18] - Not the Slavery

The history of the United States is filled with glorious stories and heroes, triumphs of the spirit and tremendous tales of overcoming obstacles to reach success. But it also has a terrible, horrible element as well.

We, as a collective society, need to talk about slavery, as it does have a continuing impact on the lives of Black Americans. As any businessman will tell you, to make the largest profit, you have to keep your costs low. Well, nothing is lower than slavery, that’s for sure. And large profits were made. Such current companies as Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Barclay’s and New York Life, among many others, are documented as having made money from the slave trade in some form.

The wages that should have gone for the labor that would have lifted Black families up to a higher standard of living, three to four hundred years ago, multiplied over time? The playing field today would have been at least somewhat more level. Slaves endured abuse, punishment (which sometimes took unspeakable forms), and the murders of loved ones.


There was also the deliberate separation of families, and the erasing of records: names and histories, excised, making it extremely difficult to both know what occurred and to know who was responsible. Even the ability for someone to trace their family tree has been obscured in the name of protecting the guilty, and that’s all a part of what slavery’s impact has today.

As Americans, until we sit down at the table and have that discussion, which still hasn’t properly happened, we really aren’t reaching the heart of the issues of the economics and the sociological aspects of elements like slums, poverty, education, hunger, violence and inequality.

But there’s another element, a more insidious, more commonplace and much more current element that was an ancillary part of the slavery process. And it’s this completely separate element that has had the lasting impact on our country, our economy, our way of life.

When you own a slave, you own another human being.

Let’s think about that for a moment. These slave owners had human property. How could they justify that? There really is only one way to justify that: convince everyone that slaves aren’t human.

The African slaves looked so very different from their white counterparts: dark skin, differently shaped noses and mouths, differently textured hair. It’s likely that many people truly believed that those people weren’t really people at all, just based on appearances, and perhaps, based on the reactions they viewed from those “pieces of property” being removed from their homeland, put in heavy chains and forced into servitude. Like breaking a wild horse and training it to pull a plow, it took time to domesticate these “savages.”

Certainly, that helped perpetuate the thought that these slaves were not human, or at least weren’t the same sort of human as they, the genteel whites from areas of Europe were. And the fact was, people WANTED to believe that. You couldn’t, in good conscience, deal with the institution of slavery unless you believed it. Otherwise, what did that make you?

It’s that element, the belief that slaves weren’t quite human, that permitted everything else that followed. And this belief is what continues to remain entrenched and unchanged over all this time. It’s taught by parents to their children, by the media to the masses, by that desire to make it an “Us versus Them” situation. It brings the Nielsen Ratings. It wins Academy Awards. It disenfranchises millions. It’s the one element we simply cannot get beyond. “Those people aren’t people like us.”

In addition, there are two ancillary thoughts that seem to be couched in this element. The first thought: if you enslave people and then they are free, there is the fear that there is going to be some sort of retribution. And really, wasn’t that the point of the Jim Crow Laws, that not only prevented blacks from having equal rights, but disallowed things like interracial marriage, purchasing property in specific areas, or even being able to eat a sandwich at a drugstore lunch counter. Jim Crow made sure that blacks were out of sight for the whites’ piece of mind.

The second thought is that blacks are, in fact, super human. As counter-intuitive as you might think that is, there is a sense of awe about the physicality of these people. Some of the greatest athletes of all time, from Jesse Owens to Serena Williams, from Jim Brown to Jackie Joyner-Kersee, from Wilma Rudolph to Michael Jordan, to every winner of every road marathon in every city in the world, during their careers, the thought is that blacks are all capable of remarkable physical acts. Pair that with the first thought, that fear of “payback.”

That is how, in 2014, you get Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner, in Staten Island, NY, two unarmed black men, murdered by the police. That is how you have a prison system (the modern form of slavery) filled to overflowing with blacks and other minorities. That is how you have a continued undercurrent of animosity between law enforcement and residents in lower income communities.

White supremacist groups have not vanished. In fact, they seem to be more active in this country now than in the past twenty-five years. Could that have something to do with the first black US President? And certain people want to protect the legacy of their families and the fortunes that they have accumulated from that. This, as the population is becoming more brown.

Breaking news: we have biological proof that black people are, in fact, human beings. Now, we must get through the psychological issues that have plagued this country since before it was even founded. But to do that, we have to finally let go of this one little lie. And on that day, when people not only understand that blacks and whites and ALL humans are made of the exact same stuff, but embrace it, can we truly become the United States of America.

//

This piece was created for LJ Idol using the prompt: "disinformation"

Comments

( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
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low_delta
Aug. 15th, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
Well, nothing is lower than slavery, that’s for sure.

Pretty much.
penpusher
Aug. 17th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading along!
adoptedwriter
Aug. 15th, 2014 08:55 pm (UTC)
So well said! AW
penpusher
Aug. 17th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
Thanks very much.
roina_arwen
Aug. 18th, 2014 04:53 am (UTC)
It's sad that we need a piece like this even in 2014!
penpusher
Aug. 20th, 2014 01:20 am (UTC)
To quote Cat Stevens (now Yusef Islam): "Now I've been cryin' lately/ thinkin' about the world as it is/why must we go on hatin'?/Why can't we live in bliss?"

Thanks so very much.
halfshellvenus
Aug. 19th, 2014 06:51 am (UTC)
People (mainly, white people) think that by just avoiding this topic it will just go away. But then we don't learn from our past, or notice the ripple effects that continue even now.

Nicely said.
penpusher
Aug. 20th, 2014 01:21 am (UTC)
Avoiding is how we got here. I really think this could have been fixed at any point between the Emancipation Proclamation and today, had people actually wanted to fix it.

Thanks for reading and your comment.
rayaso
Aug. 19th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
This was an excellent essay, and I have seen so few of them. I also like the way you brought in the Brown & Garner cases near the end. This was very thoughtful.
penpusher
Aug. 20th, 2014 01:25 am (UTC)
This essay was going to happen, LJ Idol or not. I actually started thinking about writing it a half day before the assignment. But the prompt was an absolute lock and really gave me the direction I needed to make the statement.

Thanks so much for a great compliment, though I wish I never had to write it.
dmousey
Aug. 20th, 2014 01:32 pm (UTC)
As my hubby puts it, we should view ourselves as 'Earthlings' we're all children of the earth.

Thanks for this piece. :)
penpusher
Aug. 21st, 2014 11:29 am (UTC)
It's within the lack of love for others that we have pretty much every problem on earth.

Thanks for reading and your comment.
mallorys_camera
Aug. 20th, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
Good essay.
penpusher
Aug. 21st, 2014 11:29 am (UTC)
Thanks very kindly.
uncawes
Aug. 21st, 2014 04:45 am (UTC)
American history fascinates me. So very different from my own country's history.
Nicely written
penpusher
Aug. 21st, 2014 11:32 am (UTC)
There are some parallels, with the Aborigine people certainly, from what I have read and seen... But that probably more closely parallels the experience Native Americans endured.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
i_17bingo
Aug. 21st, 2014 01:12 pm (UTC)
The second thought is that blacks are, in fact, super human.

This really is one of those things that's kind of difficult to explain to some. But really, by granting them superpowers, you're separating them from us (and justifying why you need six bullets when a kid talks back to you--you know, he's really strong. It's genetics!).

My pet peeve is that people who say, "Slavery has been over for, like, 200 years" (these people didn't do well in school) are often the folks who worship the Founding Fathers or believe that the South will rise again.
penpusher
Aug. 21st, 2014 04:38 pm (UTC)
In both of the recent police slayings, Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner here in New York, the victims were very big men, larger than the police officer that killed each of them. The factor of being intimidated, despite being the one with the deadly weapon, is part of the psychology these police officers will likely use in their defense.

Slavery has been over for hundreds of years, but it's that lie that was told to make it feel okay for all of those masters and their families throughout the generations that perpetuates everything, and dismantling that concept is both long overdue and likely not going to happen soon...

Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment.

beeker121
Aug. 21st, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
This is a thoughtful, powerful piece of writing.

How often do all of us ignore something we know is wrong, because it's not wrong right now and that's easier? And that's individually trying to confront this as a nation is so much bigger, and so much more necessary.
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 04:34 am (UTC)
Thank you very much. It's something I wish I never had to write.

Certainly there are many beneficiaries of the Status Quo, but the point is there could be and would be so many more beneficiaries by making this change.
karmasoup
Aug. 21st, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
I believe the problem of racial conditions is a bit more complex than this, but I agree with many of your points here, and certainly would warrant that the emotion behind it is justified.

My Dad readily admits that his own grandmother was a racist, in a way that I'm sure she wouldn't have even recognized, but, Memphis was so segregated, and she just didn't believe that "those people" were equal to her, though, I'm sure she thought she was kind to them, the way one would be to a pet, or school children, or patients in a terminal cancer ward. As if they can't tell that you think you're above them. I'll be honest, I was 10 when he first told me that, and I was disappointed with the memory of someone I'm related to, although someone I'd never met, but he tried to explain that it was just a different time, without excusing her position.

I'd like to be understanding, but I just don't know how to put myself in her place. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it means we've come far enough that I can't even relate to that mentality, though, I'm sure there's generations of evolution yet to come.

I'm Native American (adopted), and the slave trade started here with us, though it didn't pan out for the colonists, so they had to expand their search to the dark continent, and I'm sure I could write essays on our history, though, sadly, as I do see, as you say, the world getting darker, and while I do not fear the homogenization of the people of this planet into one global race (obviously, given my choice of mate), I am also saddened as it means the loss of our own bloodlines, our lineage, and eventually, even, given enough time, our heritage.

Still, I do look forward to a day when we as humans will no longer be separated by our markings, our dividing lines, or our cultures. For certain, I do see there will be a time in the not so far distant future that "whites" will be a minority in their own right, and, hopefully, that backwards, redneck, podunk mentality that unleashes such vitriol as to suggest we should put the "white" back in "whitehouse" will seem so antiquated, it will be hard to record in history to the next generation how we ever could have such perceptions. Sadly, I'm certain this will not be in my lifetime, but I firmly believe in the ideal of leaving such a world to the progeny of future generations.

Edited at 2014-08-21 07:54 pm (UTC)
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 04:52 am (UTC)
I definitely didn't intend to claim that racial issues were simple, just that they began with a single lie. If you believed that slaves were not fully human, then beating them, burning them, splitting them from the rest of their families, even killing them, all could be done with a clear conscience.

The lie perpetuated even as slavery ended, which permitted Jim Crow, which, really allowed whites to consider blacks less intelligent (second rate school systems), limited employment opportunities (lower income) and needing to find an outlet caused by the frustrations of being trapped (the violence and alcohol/drug abuse).

If you look at Barack Obama, you see a Harvard Law Scholar. A truly intelligent man, intent on solving as many problems as he can. To me, he saved the USA from a potentially horrific financial collapse at just the right moment. That's because he had the opportunity. He got to eat proper meals growing up. He got good training and education. He had the chance to attend a couple of Ivy League universities.

If the racists had their way, he never would have been anything more than Michael Brown. And if that were the case, where would the country be now?

But the question I ask is, how many other Barack Obamas are out there, waiting to help not just the US, but the world, and they are being prevented because of the layer upon layer of hatred and racism?

It's interesting what you feel is important and crucial. The loss of bloodlines and heritage? Well, no. That is fixed in history. It's just that the people who might want to celebrate those elements will look somewhat different from their ancestors. Or, maybe not. You never quite know how the DNA recombinates!

Thanks for such a thoughtful and a personal response to my piece!
(no subject) - mamas_minion - Aug. 22nd, 2014 06:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Aug. 22nd, 2014 12:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
eska818
Aug. 21st, 2014 08:00 pm (UTC)
Insightful and well-written. Thank you for sharing this!
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 04:52 am (UTC)
And thanks so very much for reading and commenting.
cheshire23
Aug. 22nd, 2014 12:02 am (UTC)
And this is also how you have, and justify, a school-to-prison pipeline.
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 04:58 am (UTC)
Absolutely. My take on this is a simple one: caring. Does the action taken seem like it is something a person who cares about the other person would do? The answer proves just what the value of that person is to the other.

And again, that's still rooted in the thought that somehow, we aren't all the same. It still all comes back to that single lie, with that fear of a new generation of strong black kids. Better lock them up before they do something.

A couple of hundred years of this. I think that's about enough.
kisha
Aug. 22nd, 2014 12:25 am (UTC)
So much I want to say, but can't quite put into words. So...thank you for writing this :)
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 05:05 am (UTC)
Thanks Kisha! So great to see you here. <3
favoritebean
Aug. 22nd, 2014 12:38 am (UTC)
It is absolutely heartbreaking just how little things have improved. The disparity in basic human rights between whites and any POC is terrible. It needs to change for the better, but I fear things will worsen first.
penpusher
Aug. 22nd, 2014 05:14 am (UTC)
It seems difficult to think that it's going to get much worse than a blatant murder in the street in broad daylight where the murderer hasn't even been removed from his police job, let alone arrested. What would be worse, a ticker tape parade for the shooter?!

But seriously, I'm just seeing that there wasn't even an incident report filed for the death of Michael Brown, which is stunning. They didn't even think enough about this to do their jobs!

How to fix it would be to release that lie. Believe that we are all the same. But that means releasing the power and the "success." People don't understand, there's so much more to gain from a world where this no longer is an issue...
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