Monday, December 22, 2014

Why #BlackLivesMatter

George Washington and his slaves in Mount Vernon (courtesy of Britannica)
As people share the slogan and hashtag "#BlackLivesMatter" some feel led to give the response "Don't all lives matter?" A question which is true, well- intentioned and misses the point entirely. The statement "Black Lives Matter" addresses a fundamental flaw within the roots and fabric of American society. Built into the social and legal foundation of the nation, upon gaining it's independence is the legal definitions of race as well as the social and political standing in society. "Negroes" who were primarily "chattel" were on the bottom rung. Also noteworthy is the invention of the word "Negro" as a racial designation, comes from the Spanish word for black, which comes from the Greek word "necro" which means death or dead. The application of this word with a capital letter, turned it into a noun. The word was applied to those who were sold into slavery from Africa and deemed the living dead. The denial of Black humanity in America begins with this: "Once you label me, you negate me."- Soren Kierkegaard. Fundamentally, the notion that "Black Lives Matter" needs to be a mantra that installs this concept back into the consciousness of those of us who have been indoctrinated with the very American notion that Black people are worthless. 

When my son was in fifth grade, he had an assignment about George Washington as a hero and patriot. In my son's version of the report (being my son), he argued that George Washington owned slaves, and when he became president and had to live in Philadelphia, he would swap his servants between Virginia and Philly every five months because of the laws in Pennsylvania, where if you resided with a slave for six months, you had to set them free. He called Washington a "hypocrite". Mrs B, his teacher, saw this as a good point and raised it as a point of discussion in class, and a highly valid point of view.

Set back the clock to the late 1970's and we have my fourth grade experience. My teacher gave us an
assignment to write about freedom fighters in American history. Many students chose the
Revolutionary War, and some picked World War I and II; and one even wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr.. I wrote my report on Nat Turner and his rebellion. My teacher was quite upset that I was able to draw parallels in my essay between Nat Turner's group and the Continental Congress, fighting for freedom and that slaves freeing themselves is in line with the precepts of the Declaration of Independence. "It's not the same thing," Mrs K tried to reason with me. "What Nat Turner did was misguided and violent." 
"Isn't war violent? Wasn't slavery wrong?" I asked.
"Yes, but it was something to ended by the powers that be. Like Abraham Lincoln." She replied.
"Didn't he just free the slaves as a war tactic?" I asked
Mrs K's eyes grew big and her face became angry, that kind of angry look that her face got when she yelled at us in the school yard. "The point is, you need to pick another subject for your essay!" she yelled as she shoved my papers back at me. At the time, I didn't know about David Walker and his book, Walker's APPEAL, which probably would have made me a candidate for expulsion.

In the wake of sudden awareness to police brutality against males of color, largely thanks to social media, the image of America as a racist country has once again become global. Law enforcements brutality against people of color is an unfortunately long-standing legacy in this country. One of many early examples, in the mid 1800's, ships with Black sailors aboard, when reaching ports in Louisiana and South Carolina had to be placed in the local jail until the ships were ready to leave port; especially following the publication and distribution of David Walker's "Appeal", calling for enslaved Blacks to free themselves by any means necessary, and for free Black people to assist in this liberation by any way that they can. Walker's text was seen as an atrocity, even by many abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who believed that reason and non-violent means would be the way to emancipate enslaved Africans.

A proclamation went out throughout many southern states that any "Negro" found with Walker's book in their possession would be immediately put to death. Walker's text was among the items found on Nat Turner's person when he was eventually captured, tried and executed. In reviewing the writings of several leading abolitionists, including Garrison and the well-intentioned efforts of Harriet Beecher Stowe, one could easily conclude that the abolish ion of slavery was a cause similar to the prevention of cruelty to animals, and movements to save endangered species of plants and animal: recognition of the actual humanity of their subjects was noticeably absent. 

Lynching Victim, Georgia, circa 1930's
I was very happy to see, in my son's case, that Mrs B's viewpoint was considerably more enlightened than Mrs K. The sad fact is that there are many more elementary teachers out there like Mrs K than Mrs B. When we look at what maintains racism and troubled race relations in America is the constant indoctrination of a foundation concept of white supremacy and the sub humanity of other ethno-cultural groups. One thing that we have to understand is that from the beginning, as an agricultural society with slave-based labor, loosely modeled after the feudal periods in Europe, the colonies and subsequent commonwealths and states became a ripe laboratory for cultivating a "master race" by putting various theories to be put into practice. For example, the adoption of Blumenbach's theories on race, especially the "Caucasian" dominant/ master race concept; whereby colonists of European origins began referring to themselves as Caucasians in Boston in the late 18th Century and the term rapidly spread. Although the mainstream concept of history has revised this fact out of discussion, remember, the Nazi party and other "white supremacists" nations and movements were allies of the United States until American corporate access to resources was threatened.

Yes, we need to embrace and remind ourselves that Black Lives Matter every time the excuse of
Frederick J Carter, Lynched in Mississippi, 2010
Black-on-Black violence is thrown into a discussion about racist violence. Black people in America have been told so long that we have no value, that some of us believe it, and believe that they don't matter; therefor other Black people don't matter and become an easy target for misplaced rage. If you observe any encampment of hostages, you will see the exact same behavior of intra-communal crime.  We call it the ghetto and the ghetto is a form of encampment. In the United States, why this phenomenon is almost unique to the lower socio-economic levels of the Black community, is that the American "Negro" had the paradoxical existence of being an ethos without an ethos. How is that possible, you might ask? Easy: several hundred years of Black people being told that we don't matter. 

How does it manifest? Try telling an eastern Native American that they look Black... then run for your life. Do the  same thing to somebody who originates from Sicily... and run. Take note of the fact that many in both groups use the 'N-word' and other cute albeit derogatory terms for Black people more than your stereotypical southern bigot, simply because it has been indoctrinated into the American psyche  of all ethno-cultural groups, across the globe that the American "Negro" is the lowest form of humanity and it is not by accident that one of the first efforts of any group coming into the United States is to disassociate themselves from American Blacks. 

Consider these grossly fallacious points that have been imbedded and engrained in the American psyche, culture and indoctrination, and you will especially understand why it's important to understand, embrace and accept that "Black Lives Matter". 

To be continued...

Works Consulted:
Bhopal R (December 2007). "The beautiful skull and Blumenbach's errors: the birth of the scientific concept of race". dpi: BMJ 335 (7633): 1308–9. 
Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History, Princeton University Press (2002)
Moore, Richard B, The Name "Negro", It's Origin and Evil Use; Black Classic: 1997, New York

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