I keep wondering if people knew better, would they do better?
Racism is the scourge of this country, its toxicity created by its support and perpetuation of slavery. It was bad, really bad, though too many people in power – or just plain Americans -do not want to and will not admit the horror of slavery and how it has remained the elephant in this country.
Its establishment of the theory that white people are supreme and superior has not remained an isolated American mindset, but one of global proportions. People all over the world have engaged in what author Kris Manjapra called “global Jim Crow” in his book Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation. Though it was the Europeans who began the trading and selling of Black bodies, it feels like it has been the distinct honor of America to have spread the false narrative of the superiority of white people, and the innate inferiority of Black people, created, many posited, to be the doormats for white people even as they were worked literally to death in the quest of building the American economy.
But, people protest, slavery is over! Stop talking about it! But is it over? Is it a fact that, as Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says, “Slavery never ended; it just evolved?” Does America still exist as a plantation-driven economy where not just Black people, but poor people are the new field hands, working to make big business even bigger?
There are so many things that have happened in this country that nobody knows about. How many people in Oklahoma, for example, specifically in Tulsa, never heard about the horror that took place in that city in 1921? It was called the Tulsa Race Riot, but in reality, it was the massacre of Black people and their businesses, churches, and homes by angry white people. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/24/us/tulsa-race-massacre.html) If more people knew, would it matter
Or, how many people know that Black men who served in America’s wars were not granted the same post-war benefits as were their white soldier colleagues? How many people know that Black men could not get housing loans or student loans, and how many people know about the abominable number of Black men who were killed in this country after the wars, many while wearing their uniforms? (https://eji.org/news/remembering-black-veterans-and-racial-terror-lynchings/) Would it make a difference in how they regard Black people if they knew?
Everyone knows about the Emancipation Proclamation, but how many people know that formerly enslaved persons were made to pay for their freedom and that the United States government paid reparations to their former captors? (https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/compensated-emancipation-act/) How many people know that in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation, the people who ran this country found ways to make sure Black people remained chained to their former owners, presumably to pay off debt, but in reality a way for their owners to keep them enslaved? Would it make a difference if they knew?
The country’s most esteemed and respected leaders, including US Supreme Court justices, did little to help create a just world for Black people here. Would it matter to those who complain that Black people “have gotten too much” that judges of the highest court in this country have often made decisions that have kept Black people under the thumb of white supremacist ideas and policies? How many people know about the highest court’s “Insular Cases” (https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/the-most-racist-supreme-court-cases-youve-probably-never-heard-of)
Would it make a difference to people if they knew how Black women were systematically and regularly raped by the men who owned them? Would it make a difference if they knew that angry white people have been the most violent in this country since this slave-labor economy began? Would it make a difference if they knew that these angry white people dropped bombs on the homes of Black people when their anger exploded into violence and were never held accountable? (https://www.history.com/news/1921-tulsa-race-massacre-planes-aerial-attack)
I guess the question I have is “Has belief in white supremacy, and adherence to the privileges one has just because of skin color eroded the capacity of too many white people to see, hear, care, and learn about what this country has done to Black people, yes, but also to other groups whom they deemed as being “less than” in their quest to earn wealth?”
I hear, way too often in the workshops I do, people say, “I didn’t know that.” It is by design that you don’t – that none of us do, but I have to wonder: if people knew better, would they do better? Is there anything that can penetrate the hardened hearts and spirits of people who believe that treating Black people as property is not only correct but has been mandated by God?