Ignorance Can Kill You
Trying to understand race relations (or the conditions ailing the Black community since anyone alive can remember) without understanding slavery is like trying to cure cancer without understanding anatomy. That’s how much slavery matters to what’s happening in protests all over the country today.
We are all historical products and who we are today is largely shaped by the decisions made in the past. We need to sit with that because Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and all of the others are dead today because of the social rules that were put in place to make slavery a profitable social experiment. Dr. Joy Degruy’s seminal work Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome explains this wonderfully. As did President Barack Obama last week, when he said we have “to recognize that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination didn’t suddenly vanish with the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, or the election of Barack Obama.”
History Matters: Slavery Matters
When you go to your doctor’s office one of the first things they need is your medical history. The more doctors know about the intimate details of your medical past (i.e. what sicknesses your father, mother, grandparents and ancestors had), the better equipped they are to help you heal from your current medical issue.
Knowledge about your medical history is key to catching disease early which increases your likelihood of survival.
The same is true for understanding race relations right now. The more we know about how we got into this situation (our racial medical history, if you will), the more we can look to slavery as a blueprint for understanding and curing current the current racial sickness that’s killing us and which prevents #BlackLivesMatter from being a true statement.
If our nation really understood slavery, Black people like Eric Garner, Rakia Boyd and Tamir Rice would likely still be alive.
Slavery matters because without slavery we’re not having the conversations that we’ve been having since cell phone video displayed Black pain on screens everywhere. (And since we’re keeping it 100, without slavery, we’re not having the conversations our elders and ancestors have had since Rodney King, Assata, Rosa, Malcolm, Martin, lynching campaigns, Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson, slavery, or the arrival of the very first slave ships on African shores.)
Slavery matters because slavery birthed White supremacy which did not exist before the enslavement of African people. White supremacy was created so that White people could justify slavery—and the countless ways they’ve used Black people like vampires extracting blood from victims kept stored for such a purpose ever since.
Without slavery and White supremacy, White people would not have created social rules and an economic structure that said they could do absolutely anything they wanted to Black people without consequence in order to benefit themselves. Anything (shoot, kill, maim, torture, sexually abuse, kidnap, sell, etc) with noooo consequences.
Without slavery and White supremacy, White people would not have created a police system based on the same policies used by slave patrols whose sole purpose was to catch Black people who were running towards freedom.
Without slavery and White supremacy, White people would not have created a loophole for slavery in the 13th Amendment that said you could still be enslaved if you were convicted of a crime. They would not have drafted the Black Codes (which were based on the Slave Codes) into law in order to criminalize being a free Black person so that they could arrest us, convict us and then re-enslave us immediately after slavery was declared over.
Without slavery and White supremacy, White people would not continually defend a legal system that was intentionally designed to replace slavery and which continues to produce predictably racist outcomes that devastate our community.
But White people did those things and White people still generally do and accept these things because White American culture is the embodiment of slavery, White privilege and supremacy. As noted by one White author, Robbie Medwed
“The idea that we’re entitled to something simply because we’re white — or that we didn’t get something simply because we’re white — is what lies at the very heart of white supremacy…When we wanted to see the world, we didn’t just explore, we conquered it and colonized it. When we came to America, one of the first things we did was import slaves. When our ability to own slaves was threatened, we literally started a war to keep them. We tore the country apart because of our entitlement. And once we lost the war? We instituted a system of laws designed to ensure white supremacy. We’ve dedicated centuries of action to keeping black people oppressed.”
That’s why slavery matters. Today. Right now. Because slavery set the default framework for how Black and White people would co-exist. And these rules were supposed to last forever. Keep that in mind – there wasn’t supposed to be a point where Black people were not living in a slave like status when compared to White people.
For example, the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln famously said in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate:
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races — that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
When You Have to Heal On Your Own
Even our greatest White “defenders” and “allies” had no intention of ever seeing Black people ever truly be free from the slave caste. Slavery set the tone and even the one president who was willing to go to war to technically “end” slavery—The Great Emancipator Himself—had absolutely no intention of every living next to us, sharing schools with us, or hiring us for fair pay. That makes understanding how slavery worked a vital key to figuring out how to analyze and heal from the oppression Black people are facing today.
It also means that we should be clear that appealing to our White brothers and sisters for mercy, compassion, empathy, or just the balls to face the truth about the diabolical evil of White supremacy is likely a lost cause.
I love my White friends. But I am clear that based on the history of our society and our current reality, any “solution” to Black suffering that requires even the best White people to agree, consent, co-sign, support, advocate for, or (most importantly) fund initiatives for Black freedom or equality is a non-starter.
Black people, we didn’t create this situation—They did. It’s important that we know that and acknowledge it. Because once we’re clear about that we can also accept that They are too sick with notions of their own supremacy to help us get out of this situation. They can’t solve this for us and we have to finally accept that we can’t solve this with them.
A rape victim has to find healing on her own, regardless of whether or not her rapist ever apologizes, acknowledges or is punished for what he did.
If the rape victim ties her personal healing to whether or not the rapist is punished or feels shame, she may never heal and may likely be stunted in her own development and liberation. Like the rape victim, Black people have to create our healing on our own terms. We have to create solutions that don’t require White people’s involvement, support or money. Because slavery teaches us that They may simply be incapable of getting to the promised land at the same time we do.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available here for e-book download! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, or Instagram “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest Youtube videos! Opinions are those of AfroStateOfMind(tm) only and do not represent those of any other institution.