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Isn’t it interesting how people tend to come together during a tragedy? Even enemies will relax their grievances and render assistance in times of trouble. I remember when the events of 9/11 occurred my neighbors suddenly introduced themselves to me because on that day we were all “Americans.” They were no longer pulling their curious children away from the unwelcomed Black family that bought the house on the corner. One tragedy had somehow forged a bond albeit ‘temporary’ that somehow changed our status from stranger to “frienemy.”
It would seem that the most intelligent creatures on earth would realize the essential need to at some point come together for the over-all greater good. The truth is we seem to be getting farther away from such a notion and in many respects we seem to be actually going backwards. We are creating a system of segregation far more grievous and intractable than the Jim Crow era of yesterday and fear continues to fuel the whole business. In the past, political figures warned of the eminent dangers of educating people and prohibited certain groups from coming together;
South Carolina passed the first laws prohibiting slave education in 1740. While there were no limitations on reading, (for religious purposes only) it became illegal to teach slaves to write.
The ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders (Albanese 1976). Not only did owners fear the spread of specifically abolitionist materials, they did not want slaves to question their lot; thus, reading and reflection were to be prevented at any cost.
For this reason, the State Assembly enacted the following:
Be it therefore Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all and every Person and Persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any Slave to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a Scribe in any Manner of Writing whatsoever hereafter taught to write, every such offense forfeit the Sum of One Hundred Pounds current Money.
Samuel Thurston was a delegate to the United States Congress from the Oregon Territory. Speaking before Congress in 1850 in defense of the Oregon Territory’s Exclusionary Acts he argued the following:
. . .The negroes associate with the Indians and intermarry, and, if their free ingress is encouraged or allowed, there would a relationship spring up between them and the different tribes, and mixed race would ensue inimical to the whites; and the Indians being led by the Negro who is better acquainted with the customs, language, and manners of the whites, than the Indian, these savages would become much more formidable than they otherwise would, and long and bloody wars would be the fruits of the commingling of the races. It is the principle of self preservation that justifies the action of the Oregon legislature.
The fanatical delusion of superiority that lead to blatant acts of discrimination in the past has been replaced by a more sophisticated and rigorous form today. Attorney, Michelle Alexander in her 2010 book entitled “The New Jim Crow’’ writes:
In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
But aren’t those people of color responsible for all of the crime? Isn’t it ‘the blacks, Mexican illegals, and Asian gangs that are responsible for the drugs and its attending mayhem? (NOT) Again, Michelle Alexander reveals the fallacy of a “post racial America” by exposing the racial dimension of mass incarceration today.
In some states black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates fifty times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. These young men are part of a growing under caste, permanently locked up and out of mainstream society.
These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color.
Then there’s the new Arizona immigration laws:
Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer’s immigration law is said to be the “broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Additionally, a new law has been signed in Tucson to eliminate ethnic studies from the Tucson unified school District which offers specialized courses in African American, Mexican American, and Native American studies.“State Schools Chief Tom Horne, said he believes the Mexican American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people.” Well Duh!
As the material conditions in the world worsen we can expect even more desperate attempts to find scapegoats (usually people of color) to blame for everything from the deteriorating economic plight of the country, drugs and crime, to moral bankruptcy. And we can certainly anticipate the proliferation of elaborate schemes designed to scare the masses into spending their money to protect their shrinking possessions while unwittingly guaranteeing more benefits and advantage for the wealthy and elite few.
The real question is how those who still possess a modicum of integrity move forward in spite of it all. I remember having a conversation with my older brother years ago who told me that women possess unique abilities of intuition and compassion and that one of the most common cons is to try to convince women that they are confused and mistaken when they are not. (I must admit it took me a while to figure that one out!)
Similarly, all of us can sometimes fall prey to media hype and mass hysteria when we are unclear about whom and what we are. I was asked recently by a friend about how I managed stress in my life and I told her that some days are better than others but that mostly, I walk myself through a worst case scenario and sit with it until whatever remnants of my irrational fear subsides and the realization that I can survive it emerges, knowing that like everything else, ‘it too shall pass.’
Holding on to our sanity means being sure about what is most important in our lives, it means reaching out to help others but never forgetting to seek out help for ourselves as well. At the risk of sounding a bit pessimistic, I believe that it is becoming increasingly evident that things are likely to get worse before they get better, but rest assured that like in past ages we will endure, we will be humbled and we will learn to do and be better.
So take a deep breath, you’re gonna’ need it!
“Happy in the Trenches”