America has had race problems since enslaved people were first brought to Florida in 1565. Spaniards first brought enslaved Africans to Saint Augustine that year. In 1619, the Portuguese landed in Jamestown, VA, selling captured Angolans to English colonists.
There have been issues of class as well since Europeans arrived in what would become the United States. The first colonists pledged allegiance to the Kings of European nations. When America gained its independence, the vote and, therefore, power, was limited to white male landowners. The wealthy have always controlled what happens in America, and it is no different now than it was then.
Racism has always been a fixture in America, and I would be the last to suggest that it isn’t a present-day menace to society. I submit that racism has never been eliminated because a race war threat is far preferable to what would happen if a class war erupted. Not that America hasn’t been fearful of race-related revolts, shock waves were felt by plantation owners when Haitians conducted a successful revolution, liberating enslaved people from the French in Sant-Domingue beginning in 1791. Throw in Gabriel Prosser’s failed revolt in 1800 and Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, along with countless other less publicized acts of resistance.
Those in power have always been concerned with race-based revolt but felt that they could control through mandatory participation in slave patrols, the runaway slave laws, and well-regulated militias whose primary mission was to control enslaved people. The powerful were concerned about race-based uprisings and property destruction, but there was another thing that concerned them even more.
The event in history that provoked the greatest fear was Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion in 1676. Bacon formed a coalition of primarily enslaved people and white and Black indentured servants, raising the prospect that the poor and disenfranchised could combine forces to bring down the powers that be. Before that rebellion, there wasn’t a legal distinction between Black and white people in Virginia, where the revolt took place.
Upskilling the American Labor Force During a Time of Duress | Data Driven Investor
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. One of the startling…
Indentured service came to a halt soon after Bacon’s revolt; white indentured servants were elevated to a higher class of people than those they once worked alongside. Black indentured servants were eliminated as well, with enslavement being the only recognized form of forced labor. Literacy laws became more widespread to keep Blacks from organizing. The mere thought of Black and white laborers rising together sparked a revolution of a different kind. The wealthy endeavored to create a permanent underclass that would do the work while enabling them to maintain their riches.
Since Bacon’s Rebellion, political parties have come and gone, some forever like the Whigs or Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson and the other Founder’s knew all the words associated with equality and freedom for all people. Thomas Jefferson included them in the Declaration of Independence he penned in 1776.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their Creator endows them with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The same Jefferson that wrote that all men were created equal carried out what was put into motion in Article One, Section Nine: Clause One of the United States Constitution by eliminating the International Slave Trade in favor of domestic slavery. The additional domestic slaves required were not from “natural increase,” as many historians have put forth but often the product of forced breeding and rape. Additionally, laws were changed to perpetuate people’s enslavement by abandoning children’s tradition following the father’s bloodline and in their place laws requiring children to follow the mother’s. Every child of a female slave was automatically a slave and the fathers, many of them white men, bore no responsibility.
The Republican Party was formed from anti-slavery Whigs’ remnants in 1854 with eliminating slavery as their primary goal. The Civil War was fought, and technically enslavement ended in 1865 though the Black Codes immediately replaced it, then Jim Crow, and later mass incarceration. The Thirteenth Amendment didn’t end slavery for prisoners, so the end of enslavement created laws creating more prisoners. Cotton production actually increased after the end of the Civil War, and someone had to pick it. The freedmen’s temporary gains ended when Republicans cut a deal with Democrats after the disputed presidential election of 1876. Republicans got the White House, and Democrats removed federal troops in the south, effectively ending reconstruction. They’ve since completed their 180-degree turn and become the party of caging children, making corporations people and voter suppression.
Democrats had their beginnings from what remained of the Democratic-Republican Party and described charitably, fought against Black people’s civil and political rights. They were the home to the Ku Klux Klan and White Councils and gave us literacy tests, poll taxes, and far too often terrorist acts supporting their political agenda. The Democrats also changed; they are now a coalition that includes most non-white America though they tend to address the party’s squeaky wheels and often overlook their most ardent supporters.
Though each party has had their turn allegedly championing the cause of equality, there has been remarkably little change when it comes to eliminating racism. While changing Americans’ hearts and minds may be a daunting task, changing the laws to eliminate systemic racism by willing parties was doable, had that been the goal. There are three branches in our government system, and all of them are ultimately dictated to by money. A president must raise hundreds of millions of dollars to campaign, helped immensely by anonymous corporate donors. Congressional runs, for the most part, are determined by money raised, although gerrymandering and redistricting have allowed representation without real power, so the pretense of democracy is preserved. The arbiter of what is constitutional is the Supreme Court; that body may be the most tainted of all, having to make tacit promises to the President’s that appoint them and the Senators that confirm them, all under the influence of dark money.
Outbreaks of race-related violence have been preferable to real change as long as minorities were destroying their own neighborhoods. Minor concessions like reducing the disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine (primarily Black and brown people) vs. powdered cocaine (primarily white people) from 100:1 to 18:1 were promoted by Democratic and Republican politicians as real reform while not eliminating mass incarceration. Voter suppression is found constitutional as long as those that promote it claim it’s merely partisan and not race-based. The media promotes a narrative that white working people decide elections, and it is their needs that must be catered to. The current environment calls for blaming people for their circumstances and never addressing the underlying causes. Meanwhile, there are more guns than people in America, some preparing for and others attempting to start a race war like Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina.
There was a moment of hope after the video of a police officer planting his knee on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and forty-six seconds was released. Black and white people took to the streets across the nation as if they saw for the first time what America has always been like. Much like when Nathaniel Bacon organized white and Black indentured servants and enslaved Black people. A threat that could undo the power held by the wealthy and enforced by police forces that had evolved from slave patrols had arisen. There was an appearance of concessions until they were able to control the message. White people were attacking other white people, yet the blame was dumped on Black Lives Matter. A teenaged vigilante from Illinois drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and killed two people and was hailed as a hero in some circles. It remains to be seen whether any substantial change will take place but left to politicians and the Supreme Court, the likelihood is slight.
What will have to happen is a new type of revolution. It will take the combined forces of the Black and white people that the country has tried to keep at odds with each other. There needs to be a realization that the middle-class and underclasses combined voting strength can force any change. The most audited county in America is rural Humphries County in Mississippi. What if the IRS resources were instead focused on Westchester County in New York or Palm Beach County in Florida? Suppose our tax codes were fair, and the rich and corporations paid their fair share?
America’s race problems are real, but they’re also a diversion to keep from addressing the class problem that keeps making the rich richer and the poor poorer. While the current President may be the divider-in-chief, he follows a long tradition of those keeping progressive change at bay. It’s time for a change!
This post was previously published on medium.com.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info?
Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com