Neither Slavery nor Naziism Ended; they Both Evolved and Are Still Evolving

            When the former president began his trek toward the American presidency, his violent and hateful rhetoric was troubling and when I shared with a Facebook friend, a white woman with whom I had had some conversations, I was afraid that what he was saying and doing would result in the end of our democracy, she said, without a pause, “Democracy needs to die.”

            I was shocked and silent. I finally wrote her that I didn’t agree and got off Facebook for the day, and I never talked with her again.

            The fact that there is a move on to end democracy as this country has known it is all the more troubling because there are so many people who adhere to that desire. They say they resent big government – i.e. government that has created policies and programs that help the masses of the people, but they don’t seem to understand that an authoritarian government represents the highest form of big government – where the government controls all aspects of the lives of individual citizens. For some reason, people who are pushing for authoritarianism do not seem to be concerned that some in the government are already stepping on the freedoms Americans have held dear – including being able to teach or read what we want, the right of women to make decisions about their bodies, and even going so far as to intrude on the privacy of young women by asking those who play sports about their menstrual cycles.  Some of our most beloved books have been banned, and more will come. (https://www.nbc4i.com/news/local-news/freedom-to-read-books-on-lgbtq-racism-banned-in-32-states/) (https://www.nbc4i.com/news/local-news/freedom-to-read-books-on-lgbtq-racism-banned-in-32-states/) (https://apnews.com/article/fact-check-desantis-florida-sports-female-athletes-160560972802) (Florida has recently backed away from this plan.)

            Adolph Hitler wanted complete control; he was able to inspire millions of Germans and other Europeans as he blamed Jews for everything that was “wrong,” even if “wrong” was tightly defined by the Germans. As German Jews faced mass murder and sought to come to the United States, this country, sadly, was not as open as we would have believed. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/)

            From the way history was taught to me, the fact that Hitler did not win his war meant that Hitlerism and Naziism had died along with him. As a child and young student, I believed the Nazi threat was gone.

            But it did not die; it has evolved. We see Swastikas appearing, and we hear angry white people shouting  “Jews will not replace us.” They are serious. Naziism appeals to them and they make no secret that they want “white power,” meaning, they want this country to be inhabited and controlled by white people. Many are unafraid to flash the “white power” symbol, something most recently reported as having been done by George Santos as he took his oath of office to be a US Representative. ( https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/01/did-rep-george-santos-flash-the-white-power-symbol-in-the-house-chamber) (https://abcnews.go.com/US/symbols-hate-extremism-display-pro-trump-capitol-siege/story?id=75177671)

            The anti-Semitism that is a core component of Naziism is still very much alive. The former president is said to have slept with a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf at his bedside. (https://abcnews.go.com/US/symbols-hate-extremism-display-pro-trump-capitol-siege/story?id=75177671) Modern-day believers in Naziism are not being subtle about their support of the ideology, much to the chagrin of many.

            But this country decided what it would be at the outset. From our beginning, the primary value was capitalism; enslaving people of African descent had proven to be a cash cow, and the framers were unwilling to let it go. Even after the Emancipation, whites found ways to re-enslave Africans, primarily through the Convict Leasing program, but in later years, through putting Blacks in positions where they could make good money – but make even more money for those owners of football and basketball teams that operate much as plantations did before the Civil War.

            Slavery is yet evolving, as is Naziism. Black and brown people are still working for wages that do not allow them to have quality lives and in essence, be free. We have wanted to believe – and we have touted the narrative that this is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” but it is neither. The “free and the brave” tend to be a very small group of wealthy, white people who also call themselves “Christian” to give their ideology more validation. Still, nothing that Naziism or enslavement stands for has anything to do with what was taught in the Gospel.

            Though it is troubling to see elected officials willing to stomp over and dismantle American freedoms, and in fact dismantle the government, it is not a new thing. Those who have adhered to racism and sexism and are anti-democracy have walked into this country and served in its government from our beginning. They, like my Facebook friend, do not want democracy. They don’t want the masses to have liberty and justice, they don’t want everyone to vote, including Black and Brown people, students, and women.

            This country may never have been a democracy; it feels as though it never was in practice, but only in verbiage. Both slavery and Naziism are still evolving. Patriarchy and sexism are still evolving. Those in power are working to keep the evolution going. We are not “united,” nor were we meant to be.

            That truth works to the detriment of far too many in these dis-United States of America.

A candid observation …

Mourning the Loss of a Democracy That Never Was

If there was one thing I took away from my high school civics class was that America was a democracy, brilliantly constructed by men who were determined that under no circumstances could this country become an autocracy or a monarchy.

The system of checks and balances was perfect in my mind. The three branches of government would check each other to keep the power on the highest level evenly distributed and applied. Given what I had read about monarchies and Nazism and Fascism and about tyrannical rulers, I was comforted. Even though I as an African American had real and specific concerns and complaints about this government, at least it had the blueprint to be fair to all of its people.

But if we define a democracy as a government which is ruled by the people, something has been wrong from the beginning. A formal definition of democracy is “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” A democracy, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “government by the people, especially the rule of the majority.” That’s what I learned in high school; that’s what I thought I was being taught.

And I was …except that it was an erroneous lesson from the beginning. The Founding Fathers didn’t intend for this government to really  be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” They wanted this to be a government where a few people – notably, white, wealthy, male, Protestant landowners, to rule the many. They didn’t include in their formation of this government any intention of ever including everyone. Some people were more worthy of governing and some’s place was to “be governed.”

The right to vote – I thought the right of all Americans to vote – was at the heart of what made this government different. One person, one vote became the ideal for fledgling democracies all over the world. But from the beginning of our existence as a nation, the right to vote has been compromised, messed with and messed over. The recent mid-term elections, with wide-spread voter suppression, is not a new thing – which says to me that while some of us are alarmed at what is going on in our federal government, the cry (my cry, specifically) that our democracy is in danger of failing, is not true.

We have celebrated a “democracy” that never was.

From our beginning, people in power – most specifically white men – have done all they could to keep the masses from voting. Ari Berman, in his excellent book, Give Us the Ballot, describes the brouhaha that developed after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It seems that many white folks were appalled at the notion that black people should have the same right to vote as did white people and they did all they could to keep that from happening – in spite of the VRA. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who pushed for the passage of the VRA in spite of the huge price he paid politically, said that “the vote is the most powerful instrument devised for breaking down injustice.” But if my reading of history is correct, a large contingency of white people in general, and white politicians in particular, had little to no interest in breaking down injustice, and in spite of claiming that they lived in a democracy, and in spite of taking oaths to defend, preserve and protect the United States Constitution, they had no intention of doing so.

I was always appalled at the tricks devised and carried out to keep black people from voting, but as I have learned more about the efforts to keep America’s power in the hands of white people, my anger has only increased. In Berman’s book, he describes black people going to the polls to vote – people who had previously voted – only to be told that they were no longer eligible. There were no more jars with jelly beans to count, and no more literacy tests, but the schemes to keep black people out of the “I am an American and I vote” club were there. In his chapter entitled “The Counterrevolution (II),” Berman recounts several of these instances, including that of one Willie Steen, an African American who was a Navy vet who served in Operation Desert Storm. He took his 10-year-old son with him, but when he got to his polling place to vote, he was told he could not vote because he was a convicted felon.

He was no such thing.

He tried to clear up the confusion to no avail. He left the polling place that day angry and embarrassed, concerned about how he would explain all of this to his son. It turns out that somehow, he had been confused with a convict named “Willie Osteen,” who committed a felony at the same time Willie Steen was serving in the Persian Gulf. Berman says that same type of thing was happening to African American voters throughout the state of Florida.

We all saw what happened in the midterms; we have all heard the charges of voter fraud levied against Democrats by some members of the GOP, in spite of there being no evidence of the same, while at the same time there is massive evidence of voter fraud in several locations, including North Carolina. (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/07/north-carolina-early-voting-midterms-a-diabolical-new-republican-ploy-to-suppress-black-turnout.html)  Those who believe that African Americans and other members of other ethnic groups are not worthy of voting have continued to do all they can to make sure they keep things like they want them – which does not include people of color.

That being said, in a country where all its citizens are not encouraged or even permitted to vote, democracy has to be called a sham.

We have all been duped.

Some kind of way, however, we have to right the wrongs and try to make this country live into the words penned by the Founding Fathers – words which, ironically, not even they intended to apply to everyone.

We are in mourning some of us, for a democracy that never was.

A candid observation …

“Boys Will Be Boys”…

It has occurred to me that only some boys are “allowed” to be boys, according to the common adage.

When I think of what happened to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, what I think is that these were two young men …being boys. Teens tend to do dumb things in general; teen boys, no matter their color or ethnicity, do even more dumb things…It is part of growing up. Some of us get out of our teens safely, meaning we don’t get killed or injured or wind up in “the system,” but many of us, unfortunately, do not.

Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, said on Saturday that “all of us are sinners, and all of us are criminals.” What an incredibly simple yet profound statement. All of us, surely, have done something that puts us in both those categories…yet it seems to be black and brown males who seem to end up in prison or dead for …just doing “dumb boy stuff.”

I remember hearing the story of a young black teen who lived in Chicago, who, with his friends, took up a dare that they could all outrun an oncoming train. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb …but that was the challenge of the day. There were about six boys in the group. All of them made it…except for one, who tripped and fell, and before he could get up, the rambling train had run over his legs, amputating them both.

I hear stories about this all of the time, as I am sure many do, but what bothers me, again, is that black and brown boys don’t really have the luxury of being …boys. And what’s worse, it feels like the white police officers know exactly the mind set they are dealing with. They know what boys will try, what they will smoke or when they will fight …because these police officers have done the same “dumb boy” stuff themselves. They have done what they are chasing down these black and brown boys for r, and have gotten away. Now, they are in positions of power.  It feels like they have never been too fond of black or brown people; it feels like they have totally bought into the opinion that black and brown people are bad, stupid and lazy, and they use their power to reign these young men in for doing exactly as some of these police officers have done in their lives …if not worse.

When it is suggested that police officers take some diversity training, or get some kind of training that will help them deal with the communities in which they immerse themselves, there is pushback; they are miffed, it seems, that anyone would suggest that they need training to deal with …common criminals…and yet, they do need something . These police officers go into black and brown communities armed with guns and misguided and misinformed perceptions. They go in believing that the black and brown people with whom they deal are inherently bad as opposed to being humans who need help and protection like everyone else.

These white officers know that kids use drugs. My son used to tell me that at his high school, a very good high school in the suburbs, was full of drugs. Chances are these police officers have used or are using marijuana …and they know how boys get together and smoke to “have fun,” and yet they round these boys up and herd them into the system. The huge numbers of black and brown people in jail and prison, especially black males, for non-violent drug offenses, supports my observation.

What to do? How do black and brown parents raise their sons? They certainly are not allowed to “be boys” as the white boys are allowed to be. So …what does a parent share? When my son was a teen, I gave him “the talk” on how to act in public, what to say, do, not say and not do, if he were ever stopped by police. He got through…but so many of our boys do not.

When I think of Trayvon and Jordan, I think of boys …being boys …defending their manhood, standing up for themselves, in the wake of being challenged by other men who challenged them …just because they could. I believe Trayvon was frightened by being followed by George Zimmerman and decided to “stand his ground” and protect himself…and I believe Jordan decided that no white man was going to tell him how loud he could play his music and he challenged Michael Dunn’s demand that they turn the music down in their car. Boys. Being boys. The white men against whom they came against took up the challenge. It was a pissing contest … as men will often engage in …but both Trayvon and Jordan …and so many more young black and brown men …lost. I mean they lost the ultimate – their lives.

Yeah, “boys will be boys,” but black and brown boys and youth are highly at risk when they do that. And unfortunately, as the white boys and men whom they confront do the “boy thing” too, it is the black and brown kids who too often end up with the short end of the stick.

A candid observation …