The latest entries to this blog will consist of analyses of various social issues and challenges facing the United States of America as seen through the jaded eyes of a privileged yet disgruntled American citizen. Topics will encompass a multitude of social, political and ethical situations that have come into the spotlight recently, or are consistent points of contention throughout United States and human history. As a mere blogger these observations and any proposals aimed at resolving these issues are purely matters of speculation based on historical and empirical human context. I also hope to lend a perspective that reflects the overall effect of these issues over time and why they persist as “problems”.
Because the subjects are not predefined this discussion will take place over several installments. Many readers will get the impression that I harbor a vehement dislike for my country and the human race in general. Readers of this blog should recognize that a nihilistic view pervades nearly all of the entries and is not particular to nations or individuals but to the fatalistic nature of humanity itself. I engage this as an exercise in order to exorcize; we all have demons to slay and creativity is often the best method to keep them at bay.
So now, to address the elephant in the room:
America is RACIST(.)(?)
It’s no secret that the institution of slavery was a founding economic principle of the United States and lasted well beyond its European origins of practice. While American history books taught in grade schools largely gloss over the brutal honesty of slavery’s scar on the nation, there’s no shortage of information available that documents the struggle to end this period of history. In the 21st century the debate continues to rage over slavery’s long term effects and how American culture is to approach the lasting legacy that continues to affect society to this very day.
Most recently, attention has been focused on how to portray this history in constructive, healing and honest contexts. Reactions include acceptance and the need for a broader effort to understand the history of slavery and resulting Jim Crow laws that were enacted following the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Black Lives Matter movement is a direct reflection of the perceived need for broader education efforts evidenced by the alarming incidents of continuing violence towards blacks by law enforcement. Another proponent at the center of debate is the matter of teaching critical race theory (CRT) in grade school and higher education systems nationwide.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
And with a sweep of the mighty executive pen, blacks became official American citizens and all was right with the “city on a hill”. Well, not necessarily as only three years later Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment as a means to enforce the 13th.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
States and local jurisdictions (particularly throughout the South) responded with a series of “Jim Crow” laws which essentially enforced segregation of blacks from whites, blocked voting access, and marginalized their participation and representation in society. Along with this, redlining arose as a common practice to control property ownership and residency of minority populations. This does nothing to mention the incidents of lynchings and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan which accounted for hundreds of killings from the end of the 19th century to well past the middle of the 20th century. Black soldiers who served in World Wars I and II returned home to treatment not as war veterans and ticker-tape parades but the same treatment as second-class citizens. They could not find jobs and were not treated with the same respect as their white counterpart war veterans.
Most grievously, segregation affected the black family unit with its deep reaching impact both psychologically and sociologically. The denial of access to equal education not only left the permanent scar of rejection on the minds of young children, but long-term limited their potential to provide for themselves and future generations. Without adequate access to a basic grade-school education then obviously the path to a higher college education would become unreachable. This all culminated in the 1960’s as the United States was increasingly committed to a war in Vietnam. Sit-ins and non-violent social protest had begun to gain momentum as a grassroots movement in the 50’s. Many schools in the South had already seen the practice of enforced integration of students by the federal government. The space race was in full engagement and civil rights leaders had questioned the investment in such endeavors in the face of the inequities still experienced by millions of American citizens. From this era, some of the most influential civil right leaders emerged. These leaders also paid for their commitments with their lives as did the President who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
One would think that after three Constitutional Amendments and innumerable federal and state level measures to ensure voting and legal rights for minorities that the issue of race discrimination would be put to rest by the end of the 20th century. However, race relations present as complex a challenge to American society as any other. The relative youth of the U.S. entails that compared to nations in Europe, Asia and Africa we have not seen the bloodshed or strife that countries on other continents have. We are also unique in that despite our primarily European heritage, our country is attempting to form a mosaic of cultures the world over. We have invited people of all nations to participate in what is essentially an experiment in a democratic, free society. At merely two and a half centuries old, it can hardly be expected that everything will follow even the most carefully laid plans. In many ways it is remarkable that the country has survived and thrived to this point.
So, is America Racist?
Up to this point I have focused primarily on racism aimed towards blacks and the descendants of the slave trade. I have not mentioned race issues directed towards Asians, Latinos or even European descendants themselves. These groups have certainly suffered their own indignities in the course of American history, but as I have mentioned before, African-Americans share suffering on par with only one other group: Native Americans or the indigenous tribes who inhabited North America prior to European colonization. To be honest, it is unfair to compare slavery with genocide. Instead of making a comparison it must be observed that at the same time the colonial founders of the United States of America were importing blacks from Africa to found the country’s industrial economy, they were also engaging in the eradication of native populations in order to clear way for the sweeping vision of “manifest destiny” opported the white man. Where forests and pastures lay untouched, the settlers from the east saw towns, cities and factories. The inhabitants of these lands were merely “savages” and “brutes” to be tamed or removed to make order for economic progress. Centuries of accepted murder, betrayal and assimilation resulted in the decline of an estimated 300 thousand indigenous tribe members to mere pockets of hundreds herded onto desolate and uninhabitable land.
Whether you were a red man or a black man, if you found yourself in North America post-1400’s you were not on friendly ground. Colonialism is one of the scourges of history, repeating a trend of enslavement and dispossession wherever it is practiced. Ironically, the U.S. was founded on the principles of evading just the same injustices practiced by Great Britain during our nation’s infancy. Instead of moving away from the practices the colonies simply borrowed them and improved upon them because they worked, elevating the country to a global industrial power just a century after its founding. By the time of the American Civil War in 1861 it was an established fact that industry, particularly cotton and tobacco production, were almost entirely dependent on slave labor. The western frontier of the growing states was under constant expansion and functioned in a nearly lawless manner much of the time. The tribes who once roamed free in these territories found themselves drawn into war, broken treaties and forced migration. The story of the settling of the country was rapidly being written as that of manifest destiny inherited by the white man to reign over others with darker skin.
The saying goes, “To the victors, go the spoils.”, which has a broad application depending on what type of conflict is being waged. In the matter of historical context and who gets to tell the story, this makes all the difference. American History books are a contradiction of what they should represent. Even the most staunch nationalist supporter will agree that their contents have little substance in regards to their accounts of the struggles of the early colonists, their relationships with the British government and details regarding Africans, indigenous people and immigrants. Currently, the history taught in America’s grammar schools is little more than fairy-tale exposition, reinforcing the concept of manifest destiny and exerting little effort to represent the perspectives of the wide array of experiences that compose the complex and painful accounts of what it took to gain nationhood from colonial settlement. This raises the question concerning the capacity of youth to interpret what they read at such a young age. Should they be expected to understand the ramifications of racism, disownment, segregation, assimilation, betrayal, misogyny, miscegenation? These are social issues that adults often struggle with as evidenced by the current and ongoing arguments for and against Critical Race Theory in schools. So much was done in the 20th century to balance the injustices and correct the legal loopholes through which racism/segregation was still being practiced, yet to have them endure into the 21st century, indicates that these problems are not solved by laws or amendments alone. Racism is a behavior that has been woven into the fabric of the United States itself from the very beginning. It finds its roots in the practices inherited from European colonialism, the view that saw indigenous cultures as “savages” and “brutes” to be tamed or gotten rid of in the name of western progress. This was an excuse for empires to seize property and resources from those they found they could oppress. Access to greater military advancements saw that the colonizers held a distinct advantage over the “locals”.
It could be said that the American colonies were merely following in the footsteps of the legacies that preceded them. Did they know no better? Hardly, as the consequences of colonialism were evident upon the continents where Spain, Britain, France and even the empires before them had set foot: slavery, indigenous cultures torn asunder, revolt, stratified classes by race, resentment. Where it had a chance to choose a different path, a true “manifest destiny”, America took the path most followed owing to its future the same difficulties that plagued societies for centuries. We have inherited the sins of empires past and will pass them to the next great society. This will inevitably result in the unmaking of our own, just as all before them. Not even the poorest account of history can deny the cyclical rise and fall of the civilizations of the world, written in blood.
Revising the Revision
History should be honest, in the least it needs to provide an unbiased and accurate account of the past. This is because the human race utilizes history as a tool to examine itself and improve in the most ideal of situations. The saying about ‘learning from the past or being doomed to repeat it’ does not exist for nothing. Sadly, contemporary examples of this cliched caveat are misappropriated in comparing the U.S. to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Nazi Germany to recent genocidal regimes and mask mandates as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. What I am hoping to illustrate is that exaggerations or deviances from historical accounting neither preserves the integrity of the event or improves interpretation by society in the untold future. History holds its own beauty and ugliness which is a reflection of humanity itself; it is unethical to alter the account or bias it in a manner that would imply a different outcome or favor individuals or particular actions.
Recent media has focused on a hot-button issue in academic circles: Critical Race Theory (CRT). As a result the topic of teaching CRT in public schools and college courses has been a lightning rod for controversy. Arguments against claim that it undermines the establishment of American culture by inflicting guilt on whites who had nothing to do with the centuries of slavery and segregation that occurred. Those in favor of including studies argue that it is instrumental in re-writing the whitewashed history that still pervades the education system and bringing a greater understanding to the current struggles blacks and minorities still face in the country despite decades of efforts to resolve these problems. The fact remains that after years of social movements, state and federal legislation and Constitutional Amendments, glaring disparities do still exist when comparing black communities and lifestyles with white ones. Crime and arrest rates, property ownership, annual earnings, enrollment in higher education and life expectancy statistics all place blacks on the less favorable end of the spectrum. The familiar justification for these inequities are linked to stereotypes of lower intelligence and laziness which are clearly not legitimate claims that can be used. Social scientists point to evidence that in the early 70’s continuing into the 80’s many movements and social programs that had been established to assist blacks in the 60’s faced a steady effort to undermine both funding and influence. These efforts were spearheaded by the new “neoconservative” political philosophy spearheaded by evangelical Christian supporters and a growing conservative number of PACs converging on Washington. Some of the effects of this on overall American society was the view that all of the efforts of the Civil Rights era had succeeded: blacks were now seen and treated as equals in all walks of society.
American citizens can attest that after the summer of 2020 this is certainly not the case. The pressure-cooker that contained all the emotion, frustrations and struggles over the past decades of the illusion of equality finally exploded in riots and protest. Primarily aimed at sensationalized reports of blacks abused at the hand of law enforcement, communities across the country and world expressed their discontent with what is perceived to be institutionalized racism pervading those charged “To serve and protect” our citizens. If any illusions existed that the equality problem had been solved, the outrage expressed brought attention to the fact that American society is not fully healed and there is still much work to be done to educate all of our citizens about the nature of the country’s past and how it has influenced the present as it exists: revisionist history must no longer serve the purpose of narrative.
Until very recently, a historical incident was viewed in a very different way in writings and descriptions. It was seldom spoken of and existed as an anomaly of history, one that had to be concealed to obscure the truth. On May 31, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a tragic and race-charged conflict left 35 city blocks owned by blacks in smoking ruins. The U.S. Army was called to engage the battle, using planes to bomb entire city blocks. Police and white activists, the KKK, rallied to “defend” the city. In the end, hundreds of blacks were killed and the rest herded into camps for containment. A media and news silence nationwide resulted that has lasted almost until this day. In the few accounts that did exist, the matter was called The Tulsa Riots. It was not until the year 2020, a century later, that the truth of this outbreak has finally been paid the attention it deserves and given a name befitting of its horrors: The Tulsa Massacre. The nation, the state of Oklahoma, the city of Tulsa managed to conceal the truth for almost one hundred years, dishonoring the dead victims and bandaging a scar of racism that festered until bleeding truth into the light of day. As with the brutal legacy of slavery, segregation laws, lynchings, racist housing policies, profiling, employment practices and the other challenges that continue to haunt blacks and non-whites in the 21st century, the truth must and will be told. If the United States of America is to hold itself to the standards of the greatest nation on the planet then it cannot ignore its flawed past. No nations have ever been perfect, no one can expect that any will. One of the greatest blights upon society is the continuing conflict of race inequality. Only armed with the true account of our history do we have the means to determine a progressive future.
“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”