Let me say right off that I am forever sickened by the historical realization of those many millions of unfortunate human beings who were forced to endure the centuries-long institution of slavery in Europe and America. Of course, slavery itself was nothing new. There were slaves during Greek, Roman and Egyptian times, as well as certain Asian cultures. I have heard news reports that slavery still exists even today in certain parts of the world, and my sympathies lie with all those enslaved as well, but my discussion here deals with the slavery of Negroes.
Similar to my feelings about subjected castration for the sake of music art, only much worse, I just can’t fathom how something so utterly and morally wrong could have been perpetuated and tolerated for 443 years (from 1420 to 1863). This is what my research uncovered. Other historians, however, have put 1619 as the beginning of American slavery, making 2019 the 400th anniversary instead of the now 600th. It would have to have been earlier than they say, however, because Columbus was known to have owned slaves during the 1480s.
It doesn’t even matter now how the whole thing got started or who were originally responsible, although the Portuguese are accredited with being the first European slave traders. I find it totally inexcusable that such a thing would be allowed to occur at all, let alone for that long a time. In my mind there is simply no acceptable justification whatsoever for it, I’m sorry. Forced slavery is the prime epitome of racial supremacy, that any one group of people, by the mere fact of their imagined superiority, would willfully exercise the right to subject another human being to such malicious cruelty and abject indignity.
The sickness of it all was that most of them thought that they were not doing anything wrong. When the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, at least they were regarded as real people. Negroes are not even people, you see. They don’t feel pain or sorrow like your good white folks. They’re even too simple-minded to realize what’s being done to them. The irony of that absurd philosophy is that whites, as a race, consider themselves the more intelligent. Well, we blacks certainly know better than to believe such a notion about anybody, so then, who’s the smarter? Of course, the whites knew better, too, in their hearts. They maintained that way of thinking only to justify their actions and allay some of their guilt.
They used religious justification as well. Most Europeans considered themselves Christian, and since the Africans were not and considered to be savage heathens, therefore conducive to subservient status. They seemed not to want to acknowledge the fact that only a few centuries earlier Christians themselves were the victims of persecution and genocide by the polytheists who were the ones in control at the time. The abolitionists were hated and considered criminals, sinners and traitors to the cause. After all, it was God who set up slavery in the first place, you see, and any anti-slavery sentiments were going against God’s will. Yeah, such brilliant minds all right!
The fact that the slaves were always talking and singing about being free and always trying to escape were indications right there that they knew their lot in life was not a normal or natural situation for humans to be in. Actually, it was this feigned underestimation, on white people’s part, of the Negroes’ intelligence that worked in their favor, with regard to their survival and escape attempts. Just because someone is illiterate, it does not negate their intelligence. Reading and writing are learned skills, while thought processes are inherent.
While the whites were under the common impression that slaves were naturally stupid and feeble-minded, as well as deliriously happy with their station in life, therefore did not need to be watched so closely, the slaves would be out in their shacks plotting and planning and even executing their escape from their captors. Even on the slave ships during the Middle Passage, the African captives were trying to communicate in their various tongues to plan some kind of revolt, and the ship’s crewmen accounted their unintelligible discourse to be “that African mumbo-jumbo. They don’t have a real language, just a lot of grunts and groans.” As with animal sounds, if you yourself don’t understand it, then it must not mean anything, right?
There was one controversy that had a positive outcome, and that was the Amistad incident of 1839, when the 53 West African abductees on the Spanish schooner, La Amistad, bound for the U.S., actually rebelled against their captors, then were later brought up on charges of multiple murder and insurrection. Oh, so it’s the abducted captives who are the criminals, huh? Can they stop? Amistad means “amity,” by the way—friendly relations between nations. As if! The local New Haven newspaper reported this headline (from the side of the slaves’ culpability): “Massacre at Sea,” while the abolitionist publication, The Emancipator, read, “Freedom Fight at Sea.” So you see, it all goes to biased point of view. Black people had (and still don’t, in most cases) no right to raise their hand to a white person, regardless of the circumstances. They can do anything they want to us, and we are supposed just to stand there and take it; we dare not strike back. The much-honored action of self-defense, constantly utilized by whites, apparently does not apply to us (I can personally attest to that).
In addition, everybody was trying to claim this particular group of blacks as their own property. Queen Isabella II of Spain thought they were hers, as did both the Portuguese and Cuban ship captains, as well as stateside slave traders. But the court (presided over by John Quincy Adams) justifiably ruled that those captives did not belong to anybody, having been obtained and detained illegally, as slave trading had been outlawed by that time. So the captives were subsequently set free and allowed to return to their homelands. This event is effectively realized in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 docudrama Amistad. The leader of the rebellion, Joseph Cinque, is played by Djimon Hounsou and Sir Anthony Hopkins brilliantly portrays J.Q. Adams.
I found it interesting that the subtext of the Planet of the Apes film series (1968-1973) revealed that the futuristic situation on earth of simian domination over humans is the result of a slave revolt. We finally learn in the third film of the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and further explained in the following installment, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), that a worldwide plague had wiped out all the dogs and cats on earth. And due to people’s need for a household pet, they started to adopt chimpanzees to fill that need. Since primates are infinitely more intelligent as well as more dexterous than a mere dog or cat, the chimps were taught to do household chores, even to cook and clean and do the marketing. They soon became responsible for all the required manual labor, and of course, since they were only animals, their owners didn’t have to pay them anything for their constant hard work. One scene even shows some apes being bought and sold on the auction block!
But as the apes evolved mentally, they eventually became aware of their slave status and began to protest. And it was one particular ape that ultimately took a rebellious stand. When he was ordered by his master to do something one day, instead of their usual non-verbal grunts of disapproval, this time the animal uttered a single word that changed everything forever after. He said, “No!”
The recent update of the series, beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), has a different origin story, but there is a resultant simian revolt nonetheless. This story has allegorical significance as well. The fact that novelist Pierre Boulle made apes the protagonists in his story says something, in that black people have always been likened and referred to by some as monkeys or “jungle bunnies.”
I have often wondered how I would have fared during slavery times. Maybe as a product of the condition, I would be a lot different, but knowing how I am, I don’t think I would have made it as a slave myself. As one who regularly defies authority, I can’t see myself submitting to such indignity and humiliation that was afforded a slave. I am that rebellious chimp from the movie. “Fuck you, Massa! You can’t tell me what to do!” I would probably be killed for my haughty audacity and smart mouth. Either that or I would take the Kunta Kinte approach–display initial stubborn defiance, but eventually I would give in. If you want to change my name, I don’t care. What’s in a name anyway? I know who I am. You can call me anything you want, just don’t hit me. I don’t have to like it, but I would learn to assimilate.
I don’t guess I need to tell you about the terrible conditions of slavery and the mistreatment that slaves received. Watch Roots and read Uncle Tom’s Cabin for some of the inside scoop. There is a Slave Museum in Philadelphia (but there are other locales as well) that has on display the instruments of punishment and torture that were used on insubordinate slaves. There are shackles and restraints and muzzles and whips and all sorts of harmful implements. But a more disturbing, to me, aspect of this industry is that, since we know that the whites of that period didn’t do anything that involved any kind of serious work or manual labor, most likely these implements were manufactured, maybe even designed, by other slaves! “Hey, Massa! Try dis new gadget on ‘im. Ah’ll bet he’ll bayhave den!”
With exception, however, all slaves were not mistreated. There were many slave owners who regarded their slaves as part of the family. They may have inherited them from their parents, perhaps, and maybe were raised by them as well. The house slaves were basically servants who ran the household. They did all the cooking and cleaning and sewing and anything that needed to be done. The only difference was that they were not paid for their services and labors. Otherwise, this wasn’t a bad situation. They had free room and board, and with no formal education, being let free was not an issue with a lot of them. Where would they go and what would they do with their freedom? They were confronted with that very reality when they were eventually set free.
The masters and traders did realize that slavery was wrong, but that is just the way things were, and they were just a product of their time. They didn’t start it. What could they do about it? Well, here’s an idea. They could have ended the slavery aspect of the situation by just paying the people a decent salary. I am sure they wouldn’t have minded the work if they were getting paid and allowed to come and go as they pleased, own land and property and maintain their own families. I have even heard them say (in the movies, of course), “The niggers are just plain lazy. They don’t want to work.” No, they don’t want to work for no pay. If you paid them, that might create some incentive. And what exactly are you doing, by the way–you who just made that comment?
The plantation owners had the money. For what they paid the traders for the slaves themselves, they could have used that money to pay the blacks directly. The whites who supported slavery did so to rationalize their own laziness, selfishness and greed. Rich plantation owners thought that if they had to pay people to work for them, it would cost them more to produce their rum, tobacco, cotton and other goods.
This is what I would have told them. ‘Well, if you don’t want to pay anybody, why don’t you and your pampered wives and children get out there in the field and do all that work yourselves? Did you ever consider that?’ There is a scene in Gone With the Wind (1939), when their home plantation, Tara, has been virtually destroyed by the War, and the O’Hara family are trying to restore it to its former glory. Scarlett’s two sisters are out in the field in the hot sun picking cotton and complaining about the heat and their bleeding hands. One says to the other, “I just hate this. We’re being treated just like the…” But before she can get out the word, she is interrupted by Scarlett. Well, duh! Now you know how it feels, don’t you?
It’s just like the idle rich white people, since slavery times, who employ housekeepers and other servants (usually black but not always) to run the household for them, while they sit on their butts all day and never lift a finger to do anything, as if cooking, cleaning and other housework is so beneath them. But at least they are paying them this time. And even some of your modern, hypocritical bigots have the nerve to call black people inherently lazy! How dare they! After 500 years of back-breaking work, I think that we deserve a little rest, don’t you?
The English merchants, too, were against the abolition of slavery because they feared financial ruin for the Triangle Trade and the loss of all their profits. What was more, how could they do without their tobacco and rum and their sugary sweets?! Even during the Great Migration after the turn of the 20th century, when many blacks left the South to go North, with the hope of a better life, it distressed the whites greatly to have to fend for themselves for the first time. “Lawsie, mercy, who is going to cook and clean for us and do all this field work?” Figure it out for yourselves, y‘all. It’s no longer our problem. Frankly, my dears, we don’t give a damn. We are out of there!
The common myth held by most whites that the slaves were content with their life’s situation and too servile and stupid to do anything about it was mere wishful thinking on their part. There were always those who resisted, and runaways were a constant common occurrence. This reality was further exemplified by activist Nat Turner’s brief reign of terror in the South. Turner was born a slave in Virginia and was taught to read and write by one of his master’s children. He became fascinated by religion and eventually became a preacher, known as “The Prophet.”
In August 1831 Turner managed to organize a band of 75 renegade slaves, and with firearms and courageous determination they went from farm to farm murdering every white person they encountered. They apparently ignored that Bible passage about “Thou shall not kill.” By the time the militia had been called in, Turner’s gang had killed 60 people, hardly a reciprocal amount, in my opinion. Of course, I don’t condone killing by anybody, but I can appreciate their desire finally to take a stand against their oppressors.
Turner and his cohorts all were eventually captured and disposed of, but it sent a message to those Southern whites that the slaves weren’t as complacent and non-threatening as they had once thought. The incident did inspire stricter pro-slavery laws with regard to education and public assembly of blacks, which stayed in effect until the Civil War thirty years later. You know, they even tried to blame that on us, as if they had nothing to do with it. “If it hadn’t been for that ol’ Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of the slaves, there wouldn’t have been a Civil War. If those blacks had only stayed in their place!” Well, it wasn’t any of us who drew up the Proclamation or even requested it. Lincoln did. How is the resulting War our fault, like we have so much political power and whatever we request in life is willingly given to us without question or protest?
They never want to take responsibility for their own actions. Racism is perpetuated by a carefully-calculated campaign of operation. Let me illustrate for you how the System works. For the most part, whites create the situations, then they blame the rest of us for the negative results of their actions. Remember, on the slave ship in the first episode of Roots (1977), the African captives were shackled together and forced to lie around for weeks, packed like sardines, in the hold of the ship. The white crew members are complaining to the captain, “Boy, they stink something fierce!” Well, they are not allowed to take toilet or bathing breaks for days on end, so what do you expect? Of course, they stink! But it’s not the slaves’ fault that they stink, as if they like to go indefinitely without bathing. If you don’t like the way they smell, then clean them up! But then they wouldn’t have the need to complain.
This is how they justified the slave trade. “We’re doing them all a favor by bringing them to a civilized country where they can learn Christianity and rid themselves of their heathenism. Plus, we have to tame their savageness. They’re all a bunch of cannibals, you know.” Hunh?! Even if that were true, what business is it of theirs? As long as they are not feasting on you personally, why should you care what or who they eat?
Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Southern Negroes were forbidden by law, on pena la morte, to learn how to read and write, in fact, denied any educational opportunities whatsoever. In spite of the restriction, however, many slaves did learn to read, but had to keep it on the down-low for fear of harmful disciplinary action. So later on, when the freed slaves were trying to establish a new way of life for themselves, like when they wanted to register to vote, those white oppressors berated and ridiculed them with, “How do you expect to vote, you dumb nigger?! Why, you can’t even read!”—again, as if their illiteracy were entirely their own fault.
The TV series “Picket Fences” did a storyline about forced busing and school integration, which I’m sure was a reflection of the Little Rock, Arkansas experience of 1957. The series takes place in Wisconsin, by the way. The opposing whites warned that there would be trouble if they let blacks into the all-white high school. They were right, but the whites were the ones who made all the trouble, demonstrating outside the school, harassing the black students, picking fights and causing riots. Then these same rabble-rousing hate-mongers complained, “See there? I told you that those coloreds would cause trouble if you let them in!”
The institution of racism operates in pretty much the same way even today. White people still do their best to keep our people down, especially if they are poor and uneducated (and even if they’re not), and then will turn right around and criticize us for being in the situation that they themselves have put us in. They don’t want us to have or to accomplish any more than they do and will try to destroy or take away what little we already have.
With the actual Little Rock incident itself, even before the chosen nine black students attended Central High School for the first time, they were given a briefing by the School Board about their special restrictions, what to expect and what was expected of them. The only thing they were allowed to do, according to the Board, was attend daily classes. They could not participate in any extracurricular activities and clubs, no sports teams, no band or glee club, no drama club, no dances or social events, nothing. “Of course, if these conditions are not agreeable to any of you,” they opted, “You can always stay at your old school.” Yeah, that’s just what you would prefer, isn’t it?
Even the parents of the black kids warned them to keep to themselves and stay away from the white students. So how is it integration if the blacks and whites are not allowed to associate with each other? That’s supposed to be the whole point of the thing. How are they supposed to learn how to get along if they are kept apart? “Well, we had to let them in by court order, but they can’t make us go along with the program.” Laws don’t change people’s closed minds.
Speaking of Roots again, when David Wolper and the other producers were trying to sell the idea to the networks, many of the white, racist executives complained that the project would “glorify” black people. So what’s wrong with that? The miniseries turned out to be only the most-watched, highest-rated event in TV history. And I’ll bet you that those same pooh-pooh naysayers certainly appreciated the monetary profits that those glorified blacks earned for them!
There was one aspect of slave life that their owners could not control or quell, and that is our culture. The blacks managed to retain and pass down many past traditions and customs and created new ones as well. This is reflected in our cuisine, music and dance, among other things. Many, maybe not all, of the spirituals and other folk songs that the slaves made up and sang around the plantations, and that their masters regarded as mere entertainment for them and a sure indication of the slaves’ contentment, were loaded with multiple meanings and coded messages for each other. And like the American Indians, they used the secret language of drums to communicate with one another.
(# …Steal away home; I ain’t got long to stay here. #) That could mean that they are planning to escape when the time is right. (# …He calls me by the thunder… #)—referring to the beckoning drums, perhaps? (# Wade in the water, God is gonna trouble the water… #) This served as an escape instruction to the runaway slaves, that they find a river or some other body of water to throw off their scent to the hound dogs in pursuit. Did you notice that God is “dog” in reverse? Get it?
(# Deep river, my home is over Jordan…that Promised Land where all is peace… #)
(# …And go home to my Lord and be free. #)
Many of their songs made reference to the River Jordan and the Promised Land as Home, which were metaphors for the Northern states and Canada, in this life, or Heaven, in the afterlife. In either case, they symbolized a place where they would at last be free. (# …Git on board, li’l chil’ren, there’s room for plenty-a more… #) That most likely refers to the Underground Railroad “train.”
(# Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home… #)
The chariot is a Biblical reference used as another means of conveyance to Heavenly refuge. (# …Follow the Drinking Gourd… #) They even had some comprehension of astronomy and of the constellations. The “Drinking Gourd” is a disguise for the Big Dipper, of which the North Star is a part—to wit, the way to Freedom. Many of the slaves took strongly to the Christian faith. Religion was an important aspect of their lives. It gave them a sense of hope and purpose. They could relate to Jesus Christ as someone else who was mistreated and was made to endure great suffering.
(# There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole…to heal the sin-sick soul. #)
Being not able to read themselves, the slaves must have paid close attention to the Scriptures when they were read to them. The “balm of Gilead” is mentioned only a few times in the Bible. The slaves not only somehow grasped the meaning of this resinous tree extract used as a general medicament, antiseptic and counter-irritant, they actually wrote a song about it!
They even made the Old Testament Bible stories that they had learned from their masters into songs, like “Didn‘t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho“ and “Little David, Play on Yo’ Harp,” to name a few. (# …Tell ol‘ Pharaoh to let my people go. #) “Go Down, Moses” is a direct correlation to the account of Israel in Egypt, which apparently did not escape these slaves’ recognition of their own plight. Just substitute the U.S. President for Pharaoh.
Now consider what went into creating all those spirituals. The beautiful, as well as diverse, melodies, the quite-profound lyrics, and usually with a message, including the ability to rhyme and scan, the rhythmic complexities, the well-organized arrangements of the songs, complete with harmonies and chord progressions, and the ensemble of their performance, are a sure indication of the slaves’ talent and musicianship. They even seemed to understand the concepts of form and tonality in the way that certain songs were composed. There were call-and-response ditties and those made up with verses and refrains. Happy, optimistic sentiments were set in major keys and the sadder-themed ones in minor.
Even the seemingly-innocent activity of quilt-making provided another means of relaying secret messages. Among the intricate patterns and designs on their quilts were signs and symbols that pointed directions and indicated who were participants on the Underground Railroad. So while tens of thousands of these “moronic” slaves made their way to Northern freedom, by their own ingenuity, the “superior-minded” white folks didn’t have a clue as to what was going on right under their noses.
Consider, too, the slaves’ creative acumen in terms of material things. As there were no shopping malls or general stores, everything that they needed they had to make themselves–tools, furniture, appliances, wearing apparel, medicinal items, their meals, everything. Who taught them how? Certainly not their masters, who didn’t know much themselves. And they couldn’t consult any instruction manuals to find out how to put something together. They had to figure it out for themselves. So again, who were smarter?
During these times, it became common practice for some slave owners to employ healthy, strapping black bucks, or “breeders,” to mate with the young, fertile female slaves, in order to produce more slaves. It was what they do with dogs and other animals. And of course, it was all right for white men to have sex with their black “wenches.” But they were not allowed to marry them, even if they actually loved each other. You know, it was “You can screw ’em all you want, just don’t get emotionally involved.”
Thomas Jefferson apparently had very strong feelings for his young slave mistress, Sally Hemings, since he had seven children by her (by some reports), two of them while they were living in the White House! The relationship began after Jefferson’s wife Martha died and before he became President, and lasted 38 years, until Jefferson’s death in 1826. Although they tried to keep their affair secret, it was pretty much common knowledge, and they did create quite a scandal. After all, they were living together as husband and wife although they were not married. Why didn’t he just say to hell with everybody and marry Sally for real? Oh, interracial marriage was against the law, you say? Well, he was the President. Change the law! What good are they if they don’t even make the attempt to right certain wrongs?
He was all adamant about the institution of slavery being a human abomination when he wrote the Declaration of Independence but was vehemently vetoed. It even caused a rift between the Southern and Northern delegates. A scene in 1776 (1972) shows the members of the Continental Congress arguing about the question of slavery. Jefferson is trying to convince the delegation that in order for America truly to be a free country, all of its citizens have to be free as well. Someone pointed out that Tom himself was a “practitioner,” and Jefferson assured him then that he had resolved to free all his slaves. But when, Tom? Fifty years from now, after you die? Talk is cheap, you fucking hypocrite!
Of course, Jefferson wasn’t the only one. Most of the signers of the Declaration were slave owners. There were those who fought in the Revolutionary War, which was supposed to be about freeing Americans from British tyranny. Then those same fighters turned right around and became tyrants themselves! So now as President, Jefferson had the power at least to propose abolition, like Lincoln did later on, but he never did. He kept his 187 slaves, including Sally and his own children! He didn’t even acknowledge his children with Sally as his own, although they looked just like him. They all instead took the Hemings surname. Now Sally is living in the White House with Jefferson, so who could those kids’ fathers be, any old Tom, excuse me, Dick or Harry that just happened to pass through there? The two oldest were let go when they reached the age of 21, but rather than officially declare them as free, Jefferson recorded them as “runaways.” Sally and her other children were freed only when he died.
Of course, people had to blame all the family’s woes on Sally. She caused the scandal and the disgrace. She, a mere slave, seduced Jefferson and forced him to have sex with her repeatedly, right? Tom was completely innocent of any complicity. He just couldn’t help himself, poor man! Can’t white people ever take responsibility for their actions? In spite of Jefferson’s genius and great accomplishments, I refuse to excuse, justify or forgive his stubborn hypocrisy.
To thicken the plot, Sally was actually Jefferson’s sister-in-law! She was the bastard child of Martha’s father, John Wayles, therefore her own half-sister. With our present-day strict, conservative standards about “family values” and political figures always having to maintain unblemished, personal backgrounds (consider what they put Bill Clinton through when news of his adultery while in office became public), there is no way that Jefferson would even be considered for U.S. President today. Blatant cohabitation with a Negress, no less! Forget that she’s his teenage sister-in-law. Tom, don’t you even think about running!
I do so admire and appreciate Abraham Lincoln for his Put-myself-in-the-other-person’s-position philosophy. He considered, “Just as I would not be a slave, I would not be a master either.“ It’s too bad that everybody did not think that way. Fortunately, we did have some passionate, good white men whose concerted efforts to help abolish slavery eventually paid off, among them being Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Garrett, Lord Mansfield, John Newton (who wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace,”), Granville Sharp, Josiah Wedgwood and William Wilberforce, as well as religious groups like the Quakers and the Evangelicals. It was English economist Adam Smith who pointed out that it cost more to feed and house a slave than to hire and pay a free man to do the work, and people eventually began to realize that they could afford to do without slavery. Although Britain did abolish the African slave trade in 1807, it didn’t abolish slavery until 1833, and it took another 30 years and a bloody Civil War in this country before we gave it up completely.
How is this for disloyalty and treason? In addition to the African tribal leaders who sold their own people to the marauding slave traders, during the 1830s there were actually free black men in Northern as well as the Southern states, who owned slaves themselves for a time! Not just a few either. According to the 1830 U.S. Census records, 3,775 free blacks owned a total of 12,760 slaves. So what if most of them eventually relinquished their slaves when offered money for them, I think it’s a shame that they would involve themselves with such a thing in the first place.
Some of the reasons they did it were for commercial profit, prestige or to protect their relatives and friends. There were black men who bought their own freedom and then kept their wives and children as slaves, because if they freed them, they could be kidnapped and sold right back into slavery! And some did purchase slaves in order to be able later to free them. I suppose that is commendable. But there was a double standard, however, because no one, white or black, could make other whites be slaves, no matter how poor they were. They could hire whites to work for them, but they had to pay them something.
And don’t think for a moment that New York City, of all places, has always been a slave-free community. At the time of the Revolution there were more enslaved Africans in New York than in any other city, except Charleston, South Carolina. 40% of New York City’s households owned slaves. They accounted for 20% of the population of the City, compared to 6% in Philadelphia and 2% in Boston. Among the City’s landmarks built by enslaved labor, are Battery Park, the first City Hall, the historic Fraunces Tavern (once frequented by George Washington and his cronies; it’s now a museum) and Trinity Church. They also built the Wall along Wall Street and cut the road that became Broadway. In Washington, DC, too, the White House as well as other city structures were built by slave labor, and ironically and hypocritically, the statue that adorns the top of the dome of the Capitol Building and represents Freedom, was cast by a slave!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Oh, really?! What idealistic hogwash that is! We all are certainly not created equal, but our differences and worth are not divided along racial lines but by individual factors. I know that I am better than a lot of people in many respects, including and especially some whites. But be that as it may. You should know that laws cannot change the way people think, so that’s why 140 years later, although supposedly free, American blacks—and in the South especially—were still struggling for our basic civil rights, which we were already supposed to have, according to the U.S. Constitution. But therein lay much of the problem, because all references to human rights apparently did not apply to People-of-Color, and especially not to blacks, who were considered non-human entities. “A Negro is not a man” was a common sentiment of the day.
Unfortunately, even today (after 600 years) there are certain whites who would prefer that we were all still slaves to them. We still don’t get equal respect, and they act like they own us. Although our life’s situation had changed, white people’s opinions and attitudes about us did not. “Just because I don’t own you anymore, you are still the same person (or rather ‘non-person‘) that you were before.“ So even when slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, blacks were not really free. It’s utterly shameful that 100 years after the abolition of slavery in this country, American blacks, living in the South, still were not allowed to vote. The reason was, of course, if black people voted, they would have a say about how their community is run, the whites thus relinquishing some of their power and control of civic matters. Well, duh!
Now that most of us could read and write, they came up with other obstacles to disqualify the blacks from voting. “Recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. You do know what a preamble is, don’t you?” When they did that successfully, then he would ask, “How many county judges are there in Alabama?” “67.” “Name them.” They would keep presenting challenges until they eventually stumped them, then would stamp their application form, “Denied.” I’ll bet that no white voter was ever subjected to the same criteria, and they most likely would not know any of the answers either.
(# …First, it’s 40 acres and a mule, then they want to swim in our swimming pool; pretty soon they’ll be wanting to go to school… #)
Well, duh! So after slavery was abolished in the South and the whites could not legally own us anymore, it didn’t really end there. They just modified it a little. They came up with a devious, though ingenious, plan that still gave the illusion of slavery without calling it that. President Andrew Johnson had no use for Negroes. When meeting Frederick Douglass for the first time, he refused to shake the man’s hand. Johnson subsequently established a system of “black codes,” which required blacks to sign special labor contracts. If they refused to sign, they could be arrested, jailed and imposed a steep fine that they could not possibly pay, so they would have to work off their debt, which most never did. Then they went a step further by taking the children of these indentured blacks to care for them and provide a loving, nurturing home for them, you see. But what they would do is train these kids in farming and housekeeping skills and then put them to work…for no pay! So nothing had changed. They still had their slave labor on which to depend. Yeah, it was right to impeach his sorry ass! See how whites manage to get around everything, without breaking any laws, so that they can have their way?
In addition, with white men still in charge, they imposed new laws that applied only to blacks. Human actions that once were only minor misdemeanors (if even that) and indiscretions were now major felonies, punishable by imprisonment. A black person was not allowed to walk alongside a railroad track (what?!), and he couldn’t raise his voice in the presence of a white women, for example. They would find any excuse to arrest somebody, then incarcerate them without a trial. Those who did not get the chain gang were sent to work at factories, in the mines and in the cotton fields. And since they were now prisoners, they didn’t have to pay them. So, they are still slaves; nothing had changed.
Their next new plan of action was segregation, by which they could still control us, but from a safe distance, if you will. And although the country had this imposed law of “separate but equal” on the books, which is merely a hypocritical euphemism for segregation, many state administrations did not even honor that principle. The phrase is a bullshit oxymoron anyway. What’s equal about racial discrimination and social ostracism, especially in terms of educational facilities, which, for blacks, were most inadequate?
In some places, not only were black children made to attend school in backwoods rural areas in rundown, uncomfortable classrooms with raggedy, outdated textbooks, they had to walk to get there. Some trekked as many as five miles each way every day, because the white school board would not provide buses for them. The poor little kids would get to school exhausted. There were as many as 30 buses for the white children, but, to let them tell it, they just could not spare a single one for the blacks. You see, by cutting these youths off from the rest of society, denying them basic school supplies and thwarting their transportation besides, it was hoped that they all would get discouraged and perhaps stop going altogether. Many of them did just that. This would in turn prevent them from learning anything and bettering themselves for their future. Furthermore, this situation taught the children that they were not worth any better and should not expect better for their lives. You know, keep them ignorant and blissful and in their place.
Even at this present day things are not yet equal in regard to educational allotments. There are public schools right here in the South Bronx which get only $8,000 a year for supplies and facilities, whereas schools in your better, or whiter, neighborhoods are awarded $18,000. It wasn’t until August 1965 that the Voting Rights Law for all Americans was finally put into effect by President Lyndon Johnson. Why in hell did it take so long?!
During the 2007 season of the TV talent show, “American Idol,” they held a telethon one night to raise money for African children’s relief. But one of the appeals was for the poor and uneducated whites of the Appalachian regions of this country. They couldn’t let us have our own thing without them trying to get a little something for themselves as well. They showed adults who can’t read and their youngsters who somehow were unable to attend school for some reason, therefore were ignorant and illiterate. (Awww!) We viewers were implored to donate money to help these PWTs (poor white trash) get educational opportunities and enough to live on. I’m sorry, but in this day and age there is no valid excuse for anyone to be uneducated, especially anybody white. They have all the advantages of the world at their disposal. Why wasn’t there a telethon (or rather, public appeal), for those poor, American black children when they were struggling to obtain some learning but were being denied?
The United States military situation was subject to more separatism and inequality in the early days. This is from a U.S. Army War Study report from 1925: “Blacks are mentally inferior, by nature subservient, and coward in the face of danger. They are, therefore, unfit for combat.” Isn’t it amazing how well they know us and how we think? Oh, blacks were allowed to serve all right. There were freed slaves who fought for the Union in the Civil War, but as they were hated and feared by both sides, it became a convenient way to dispose of them in the guise of battle. If any of them were overtaken, the white troops didn’t allow them to surrender or held as prisoners-of-war. They just killed them then and there. By the time the War ended, 40,000 black soldiers had been dispatched. When blacks were drafted to fight in the first World War, they were made to serve together in all-black platoons and regiments, which were always commanded by white officers. They’re all doing the same thing, they are just doing it separately, you see. So when the soldiers got killed, they at least died among their own people.
For the most part, these black troops proved to be quite capable and dedicated soldiers, but they never received the honor and respect from their white associates as they deserved. They would be sent into combat situations with faulty and outdated equipment, denied supplies and backup support, then when the mission failed, they would be blamed and accused of being inadequate and inefficient. They went in believing that they were defending our country against foreign enemies, but when they got overseas and found the German and French and Italian people treating them with non-prejudice and respect, they began to wonder if they were fighting for the right side. They certainly never got this kind of treatment at home.
(# How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? #)
Many even decided to stay in Europe after the War ended, but those who did return to the States came back with a new attitude, which was not lost on the Southern bigots especially. They knew that it would be difficult to return these young men to their previous subservient station in life after having been subjected to respectful European hospitality.
Unfortunately, not all Europeans followed a non-racist philosophy. Having heard a lecture about it during my world cruise on the Prinsendam, and then visiting the country in 2005, I now know more about the former Apartheid situation in South Africa. White political control began in 1948 and endured until 1994. My not being there when it all began, I can’t understand how the non-whites in the country would without sufficient protest allow those white men to take over the government and exert complete control over the people and for such a long time. Not only were these European despots not native to South Africa, they were not even in the majority. At any one time there were 19 million black people to only 4.5 million whites. During American slavery times, too, the enslaved blacks greatly outnumbered their white captors. Yet, the whites were always the ones calling all the shots.
The situation in America, particularly in the South, was a form of Apartheid, too. They didn’t call it that—that’s a Dutch word—but our System operated pretty much in the same way. We had Jim Crow, segregation and the denial of certain rights to our black citizens. All blacks had to carry “traveling passes” with them any time they were outside the confines of their home, for example, lest they be taken for a runaway. This longtime compliance rather confirms the fact, for me at least, that blacks, by nature, tend to be of a more peace-loving, pacifist kind of people than your aggressive, constantly warmongering whites. Initially, we tend to submit to and accept a situation that we don’t agree with, rather than resort to defensive retaliation. But then after a while, enough is enough and we finally decide that we won’t tolerate it anymore. Just like those movie apes, even a docile dog, if you keep kicking it, will eventually turn on you.
One of my greatest inspirational heroes is the late Nelson Mandela, the African anti-Apartheid activist, who, in 1962, was convicted of sabotage and treason, which warranted the death penalty. The charge at his arrest was, “conspiring to overthrow the Government using violence,” which was a lie in itself, as Mandela always condoned non-violence, and it was the whites who came in and took over the country, killing a lot of people in the process, anyone who made any kind of protest. So then, why are you all still alive? What hypocrites! They think that if you want to change the way things are, you are trying to overthrow the Government. No, we just want to reform it is all.
The judge at his trial, after he was found guilty, told Mandela that he would temper justice with mercy. So instead of executing him, he sentenced him to life imprisonment! No, we won’t kill you right away. We’ll just let you linger to death in captivity, however long it takes. Wasn’t that white of him? Mandela spent the next 27 years (!) in prison on Robben Island, was finally released in 1990, and four years later was elected President of South Africa. I suppose one can’t get a better public apology than that! Similar activist Steven Biko was not so lucky. When he was arrested in August 1977, he was beaten so badly by the police and was dead by the time he reached the prison.
During Apartheid American black celebrities were encouraged not to have anything to do with the country, and when tennis great, Arthur Ashe, was invited to participate in the South African Open, he initially refused. But then it was suggested to him that he should attend if only to show the people there that there are blacks who excel in a “white man’s sport.” It would give hope and pride to many. When he and his entourage arrived, however, they were given permits that designated them as “honorary whites.” They refused to accept that. They insisted that they be admitted on their own terms or not at all. Good for them!
There is one African nation, however, that did not put up with the foreign tyranny for too long. The Kikuyu tribe of Kenya did not welcome or accept this unwelcome infiltration. It is so typical for those lazy, greedy British marauders to take over these people’s land by force and then expect the natives to farm it and maintain it while they just sit back and reap the rewards.
In 1952 these tribesmen formed a secret organization which became to be known as the Mau Mau, whose goal was to destroy the white invaders. It is uncertain where the name Mau Mau came from, but somebody came up with a “backronym” for it: “Mzungu Aende Ulaya–Mwafrika Apate Uhuru,” which is Swahili for “Let the white man go back to Europe; let the African attain freedom.”
Part of the notoriety that the Mau Mau received from the public was when they learned about the rituals they performed to become a member. It is said that the men took an oath by drinking a mixture of blood, soil and fecal matter from a goat’s intestines. Then they actually had to fuck a goat!
Although this so-called rebellion went on for only eight years, ending in 1960, the whites got the upper hand yet again. Just like it was with Nat Turner’s futile attempt, the Mau Mau did not get to finish their goal either. They managed to kill only 32 whites before they in turn began to kill the blacks in retaliation. The casualty count for the blacks during the eight-year insurrection is over 300,000, 26,000 being children under the age of ten! You know, get rid of them while they’re young, lest they grow up to be threatening rebels themselves. And they didn’t just kill them in normal ways, but had to use torture and degrading methods, like sticking broken bottles and gun barrels up the men’s rectums and the women’s vaginas. Of course, the whites managed to justify their actions, as they always do. “Well, we can’t just let them go around killing good white folks, can we?” But it’s all right for you to kill us, of course.
This story is related somewhat in the 1957 drama Something of Value, based on a novel by Robert Ruark, directed by Richard Brooks and starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as childhood friends who grow up to turn against each other, just as Judah and Messala did in Ben-Hur (1959). Sidney plays one of the leaders of the Mau Mau. I won’t tell you how it turns out, in case you haven’t seen it. I am amazed at how they managed to film on location in Kenya while the conflict was still going on!
Another bit of little-known history involves the most famous scientist in the world, Albert Einstein, and that he was an anti-racism activist. When Einstein fled Nazi Germany in 1930, he came to America and settled in Princeton, NJ. It wasn’t long before he noticed how the black people in the community were being treated, much like the Jews were in Germany. This is New Jersey, and he was appalled to find that life in town was very much like the pre-Civil War South. He found that stores, restaurants, public facilities, many jobs and most schools were off-limits to blacks well into the 1940s.
He started visiting and hanging out in the black neighborhoods and got to know the denizens there. He became friends with W.E.B. Dubois for one, and once when a segregated Princeton hotel would not accommodate Marian Anderson, Einstein let her stay at his home. His friendship and association with Paul Robeson has pretty much been erased from history, including Robeson‘s name being omitted from articles, exhibitions and documentaries. As a result, there is a surprising number of students at Harvard and other prestigious colleges, as well as smart, educated thirty to forty-year-olds who have never even heard of him. Being that Robeson was an outspoken civil-rights advocate, his public and historical exclusion was all too deliberate and intentional.
Einstein was quoted to have said, “The taboo, the ’let’s-not-talk-about-it,’ must be broken. It must be pointed out time and again that racism is America’s worst disease. Segregation is a disease not of colored people but of white people, and I do not intend to be silent about it. The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Having learned this about him, I now have a new appreciation and respect for Albert Einstein.
Now don’t think for a moment that it’s only blacks who get fucked over by white people. You know the number that they did, and are still doing, on the American Indians. Whereas black people, in general, have managed to overcome a lot of the indignity that white people have afforded us over the decades and even centuries, the whites still hold our Indian citizens in very low esteem.
In every “Cowboys and Indians” scenario, the Indians are always depicted and regarded as the “bad guys.” But who did what to whom first, huh? Generally, Indians are gregarious, peace-loving people. But what should their reaction be when someone, without any provocation whatsoever, storms their villages and tribal communities and proceed to annihilate their entire families? Were they supposed just to sit there and say, “Oh, well!” and accept it all? Although I certainly do not condone any kind of warfare, whether it be retaliatory or not, I still hold little sympathy for the pioneers when their wagon caravans and trains are attacked by marauding Indians. So a few of their women and children are killed during the raids, but it’s simply a matter of “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Even if they had lived, it is likely that those women and children would have become Indian killers themselves to avenge the deaths of their husbands and fathers.
I imagine that part of the early settlers’ resentment of our American Indian brothers is that they did not readily comply and submit to the white man’s desire and aggressive efforts to make them into slaves, too, like they had done the African blacks. They probably remember or were told the history of when in the 1500s the Spanish conquistadors did succeed in making some American Indians into slaves for a while. But they treated them so cruelly and brutally beat them, that thousands of them died of starvation and overwork. Those Spanish fortune-hunters didn’t seem to understand that they couldn’t maintain slaves by killing them all off.
I suppose that subsequently the Indians began to resist capture and retaliate, not wanting to repeat the plight of their ancestors. Just because they refused to be bullied and fought back against their aggressors, does not make them all villainous savages. Even if the later white settlers had been able to control and manipulate the Indians, they still wouldn’t respect them, just as they didn’t the blacks.
I recently learned about the Osage Indians massacre by resentful whites. During the 1920s the Osage tribe claimed a large section of land in Oklahoma, which was discovered to be rich in oil. This made this group of settlers the richest people in the country at the time. When certain whites got wind of that, of course, they would not stand for it. Soon members of the head family of the Osage as well as others started turning up dead. Bombs were set off in their homes and some were poisoned. This coincided with the notorious massacre of the black citizens of Tulsa in 1921, which has also been swept under the rug until just recently.
By 1925 60 wealthy Osage men and women had been killed and their land inherited or deeded off to local white lawyers and businessmen. The FBI, in its early days, but already headed by J. Edgar Hoover, were put on the case to investigate the murders, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they themselves had something to do with it. I don’t put anything past Hoover! There were a few convictions for the media’s sake, but most of the murders have yet gone unsolved.
I don’t blame the Indians either for protesting the use of their tribal and cultural references by White America. Why should they feel honored or flattered to be depicted as college mascots, automobiles and sports teams? The whiteys don’t seem to have any qualms about using the terms “Cherokee” and “Redskins,” but they wouldn’t dare name a car Jeep “Hassid” or a team the Washington “Palefaces.” The disrespect of it all is that I’m sure that these marketers, ball club owners and college sports administrators did not ask anyone’s permission to use these terms. Indians, too, are non-people and their opinions and feelings don’t matter anyway. Moreover, unless the Atlanta Braves, the Boston and Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Chiefs are made up entirely of Indians (which, of course, they are not) and those are the names that they gave themselves, what gives these team bosses the right to use such names? That’s like if someone were to name an all-white basketball team the “Watusis.”
I am not so agreeable with referring to any and all American Indians as the only “Native Americans.” Several past generations of my family were born right here, so by rights I could be considered a Native American as well. Native also means “an original or indigenous inhabitant,” but we don’t know for sure that those people have always been here. Some believe that human life began in Africa or at least in Asia. I believe that everybody living in North and South America now came from somewhere else prior. Members of the many tribes who we refer to as Indians are classified as Mongoloids and are believed to have migrated to this continent from Mongolia, hence the name, via the Bering Strait.
But were they really the very first people ever to settle the land here? What about the ancient continental civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans? Or were they all just different tribes of the same people? It’s just like the eastern settlers who expanded to the West until they hit the Pacific Ocean. Some of these Asian immigrants chose to remain in the northernmost regions of the Arctic and became Eskimos, while those who desired your warmer climes made their expansion southward as far as Mexico, Central America and ultimately, to the southern tip of South America. Still others claimed for their new homes all of the many offshore islands they encountered along the way.
Let me give you the T on “squaw.” Most of the non-Indian, general public think that squaw is simply the term for an American Indian woman or wife. But that meaning of the word has only been perpetuated by the French settlers who introduced it. By some later accounts, squaw is actually an Algonquian word, roughly translated as “cunt.” It is not at all surprising to me that these racist, misogynists would refer to the women with that term. “Hey, squaw (cunt), bring your butt over here!” What happened, unfortunately, is that the term caught on as the word to which to refer to any and all American Indian women, and it has endured until this day. So just remember the next time you use the word or hear someone else use it, how disrespectful you or they are being to women in general. You may say that people are not being disrespectful intentionally, since they probably don’t know what the word really means. But I have always been told that ignorance is no excuse. So now you do know better.
There are some cultural linguists, however, who debunk that derogatory designation of the word and consider it non-offensive, but are still willing to concede to the other camp that the word’s use be in general disfavor. I have since learned that an effort has been made to change all American locales that have “Squaw” in their names. Phoenix, Arizona’s popular Squaw Peak, for example, which I had the occasion to climb when I was there in the summer of 1994, has been renamed Piestewa Peak, in honor of Iraq War casualty PFC Lori Piestewa, the first American Indian woman to die in combat for the U.S.
The poor American Japanese people, too, certainly suffered a raw deal during World War II, at the hands of bigoted, paranoid, white folks in this country. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, it sent much of White America into a panic. Innocent, upstanding, law-abiding, Japanese-American citizens by the thousands were arrested, driven from their homes and relegated to concentration camps, where they remained for the duration of the War. Actor George Takei was a child when he and his parents were victims of this senseless injustice. The white man’s irrational fear was that every person of Japanese descent would choose sides by renouncing their American citizenship and joining the enemy against us, even though most of them had been living here for several generations and were as American as anyone else. Isn’t that absurd? You know, again it’s any excuse they can find to perpetuate their unfair prejudice against nonwhites. They were classified by the Government as “enemy non-aliens.“ What does even mean? But if they were non-aliens, that would make them citizens, right?
At the same time we were enemies with the Germans and Italians, too, but you’ll notice that they didn’t put away any of their American counterparts or accuse them of being Nazis and Mussolini sympathizers. But why not, I ask rhetorically? At least these stateside POWs weren’t all killed, like they did the European Jews. I suppose that the difference was, the Japanese-Americans were a rather docile people who kept a low profile and many of them worked in a servile capacity, so they were no real political threat. Whereas Jews, being white in appearance, owned property, ran their own businesses and had a considerable amount of economic power, therefore more of a social threat, so they had to be eliminated entirely, you see. Of course, later on even the Japanese people’s benignancy didn’t matter when our Government chose to drop two atomic bombs on their former homeland. “That’ll teach ’em to fuck with us!”
So, fifty years later, instead of retaliating with more aggressive warfare, Japan has taken the peaceful approach of attacking our pocketbooks, by buying up the United States bit by bit via our top businesses and corporations. And of course, we are playing right into their hands! So now, who is fucking over whom? And now, too, we seem to be practicing mutual forgiveness on both our parts. Japan is quite open to and greatly welcomes American tourism and vice versa. And just recently with the casualties caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on their island, we Americans have been very generous with financial aid and sympathetic support, when only 70 years ago most didn’t bat an eye when the country was destroyed by atomic bomb. Perhaps it’s just remorse.
So, during the ’40s it was the American Japanese people who were persecuted and reviled. Today, it’s any and every person of the Muslim faith. Don’t wait around until one of them does something bad. Keep them out and ostracize them before they get the chance to commit an act of terrorism. We all know that the only reason they want to come here is to take over and destroy our country. That has been the goal of every immigrant for the last 500 years or so. Why should these people be any different? All that nonsense about wanting a better life is merely a ploy to get here and infiltrate us innocent, law-abiding citizens. Of course, I am being sarcastic, although I am not the first and only one who has said that.
President Trump was doing a press conference with the Vice-President at his side.
President Trump: “The less immigrants, the better.”
VP Pence: “The fewer.”
Trump: “Shh, don’t call me that in public…just yet.”
[Related articles: Black History, Part 1–Did You Know?; Black History, Part 3–Racism via Show Business; Black History, Part 4–Criminal Injustice; Black History, Part 5–Biased Concerns; Color Issues; Some Racial Observations; Stereotyping and Profiling, Racial and Otherwise; Walt Disney, a Racist?–Who’d’ve Thunk It?]