Now that I have outlined my version of what I think we all have in common when it comes to what we think the government’s role in our lives should be, I want to take a look at why even though we know what we want, we can’t seem to get off the dime and make it happen. There are five major issues that dominate American politics. They are:
1. Race relations
3. Accepting homosexuals into mainstream society
4. The ability to own military grade assault weapons
5. Border security.
Of those five issues, the first three are the ones that have had the greatest impact on enabling the power elite of America (i.e. primarily the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry, along with a handful of other multibillionaires), to fragment the electorate to the point of rendering us impotent in electing a government that serves our best interests. This happens by tying the emotions around these very important issues to our sense of patriotism, and then using religion to create an inseparable connection between patriotism and those issues. In this post, I will address the issue of race relations and its role in losing government by the people to the power elite. Initially, I’d planed to discuss this issue from the perspective of black and white Americans together in the same post. However, perhaps because we so seldom speak of this issue in a meaningful way, I can’t do justice to the subject without first discussing it from a black American’s perspective followed by the discussion from white American’s perspective in a subsequent post.
To have a proper discussion on race relations, you must begin with the institution of slavery in the United States. I say this not because I’m black, but because it is the institution that most influences how we think of each other as Americans, whether black, white or in between. It is our failure to discuss it with a measure of objectivity that has our feet nailed to the floor and unable to act in our own best interests as Americans. We immediately become highly defensive and/or highly judgmental if the subject is even mentioned in mixed race company. It is the emotion behind it that makes us vulnerable to politicians and demigods of all variety. Consequently, what I hope to do is start a dialogue beginning with its influence on black Americans and other Americans of color, followed by a discussion of its influence on white Americans.
First of all, as bad and horrific as it was, I don’t believe slavery was as damaging to black Americans as the Jim Crow laws that followed it. Slavery can almost be excused when you consider how Europeans in general thought of all people outside of their own race up until the mid to late 1800s. The early white Americans were men of their time. However I’m not sure Washington and Jefferson would have approved of what happened to people of African decent after their freedom and enfranchisement became the law of the land. The institution of slavery was designed to create an intense degree of self-hatred in the African slave and Jim Crow drove the point home after their emancipation in the most brutal ways imaginable. It is that self-hatred that kept the slave and continues to keep many Americans of African decent under control and beholding to their oppressors. Our great sin as black Americans is our failure to recognize this. That failure to recognize our own self-hating traditions continues to perpetuate the self-hating programing to which we’ve been conditioned for 400 years. I know this sounds harsh to the black reader and implies that I am making black people somehow responsible for not being able to resist the horrors and abuses of Jim Crow. I’m not suggesting that at all. I am offering my interpretation of why it has been so effective against us and what we must do to break the cycle. I want us to be able to detect when our propensity for self-hatred and lack of self-worth is getting the best of us. I also want to give the white reader a sense of how difficult it is for us to discuss Slavery and Jim Crow. They don’t understand the sense of shame we feel about it because we never allow them to see that part of our vulnerability. That’s why we’re always so busy showing how tough and feisty and defiant we are. At some point, we must find peace, and understand the meaning of what Gandhi spoke when he said to Martin Luther King that, “there is no shame in being a slave, only in being a slave owner”.
Rather than elaborate on this idea of the shame and self-hatred as a barrier to the African American’s struggle against racial inequities, I refer any interested reader to a book I wrote in 1988 titled African American Prosperity; You’ll See It When You Believe It. About a quarter of that book went into great detail and provided many historical facts on the subject of slavery and Jim Crow and their effect on the black American’s psyche. I can’t really do Justice to the subject in a short essay. The book has been out of print for several years, but I still have a few copies of my own, which I will be happy to mail C.O.D. just for shipping and handling costs to anyone interested (full disclosure, it was my first attempt at self-publishing and a small amount of the editing is less than desirable). That said I couldn’t end the discussion of this issue without offering at least one example of what I believe to be a manifestation of past self-defeating tendencies of black Americans. Over the years, many of my white friends have expressed the idea that black people lacked patience when it comes to fighting our way into the mainstream. I think what they meant by that was that we were unwilling to follow the usual script for ethnic minorities to enter the mainstream of American life. Traditionally, ethnic minorities came together in neighborhoods of their own ethnicities and eventually through politics took control of their own neighborhoods and were then in a position to provide their children with all the amenities afforded majority Americans. Even though they failed to take into account the determination of Jim Crow advocates to use the law to permanently deny African Americans access to the mainstream, there is an element of truth to what they said. As meager opportunities to enter the mainstream came available to people like myself in the 1960s, we eagerly moved into white communities instead of staying in and developing our own communities. While it may be understandable that we would do this, given our mainstream culture, which emphasizes getting as rich as you can as fast as you can, our abandonment of our own communities cannot be excused. Our history demands we struggle together for our entire lives and be willing to die if necessary for the cause. If that meant staying in our communities fighting to insure that we control the police, fire, food distribution and water, while having to endure the vandals and criminal activity until we got it under control, so be it. It is our unwillingness to do this that white Americans of my generation have resented in us. Their position has been, “what are you doing coming over here with us? Why don’t you stay in your own neighborhoods and get them straight rather than come to our neighborhoods and lecture us on how and why we should be helping your people?” Jim Crow was designed to, in effect, colonize the black the community, to effectively create a system where all the wealth and resources of that community could be extracted for nothing in return. With the passage of the civil rights act, we again had the ability to get bank financing and government support to develop and take control of our own communities. Instead, we moved out and left them to the pimps and drug dealers, which has created the opportunity for the hopelessness and lawlessness that remains in so many areas. For our part, as black Americans, it’s not to late. In fact, it seems every ethnic group other than black Americans are willing and anxious to “gentrify” black inner city neighborhoods. We need to redefine the term and start “gentrifying” our own neighborhoods. However, now that we’re where we are, having fully embraced the integration of America rather than the ethnocentric development of it, we must point out the Jim Crow influence of public policy when we find it (such as the flawed policing policy that allows for the gunning down of mostly unarmed black men), and work with all Americans to stifle it. We must be clear that we are not seeking to eliminate the remnants of Jim Crow out of the desire to make white Americans feel guilty over slavery, but to empower all Americans with the opportunity to contribute to our society.