Our Past Has Led To Our Present
by Kai EL’ Zabar
Growing up Black in America is certainly interesting, especially going to school learning history and noting that you are conspicuously absent throughout, except for the role of slave.
Slavery is usually described as an amoral, but cheap labor system. That description, however, leaves out all the gore and horrific details of the physical, emotional and psychological abuse that has led to the continuous terror attacks upon Blacks that are not recorded in traditional American history books.
The Civil War is held in high regard because it announced America’s return to sanity with the abolishment of slavery. After that, rare sprinkles of Blacks show up throughout the history books, but even then, their contribution is reduced.
The total disregard for Black life and unashamed racist acts against Blacks and the impact upon them are barely discussed and dismissed as having any real significance in relations to the current state of African-American affairs.
The Black experience is treated as a series of events rather than a pathology endured. This is of significant importance. To understand what exactly it is that we are dealing with today demands a look at the impact of slavery upon us at every level.
Generations and generations of The Race have survived seeking to advance and transform our circumstances. To do so, education is held high. First, because it was denied to slaves and therefore recognized as an asset of extreme value.
There was a reason slave masters forbade Blacks from learning to read and write, the same as there was in forbidding Blacks to vote. It is necessary to recognize and make the connection. Education included possessing a skill.
Second, education took into account land ownership, thus the importance of the 40 acres that were promised to freed slaves, yet never awarded. Third, education represented freedom.
Education/knowledge, skills and land are the foundations of a strong nation and the longer Blacks lived in the new world, the more they understood the value of each.
The Total Control Of Slavery
There is a tendency to think of slavery as an economically backward and inefficient institution. Not true. It is a misconception to think that slave labor was mostly unskilled work lacking the use of intellect. The cultivation of cotton, tobacco, rice and sugar required careful, painstaking effort and knowledge to yield bountiful crops.
On larger plantations, masters relied on slave carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tanners, tailors, butchers, masons, cabinetmakers, metal workers, and silversmiths.
By 1850, there were 1.2 million slaves living in the South, where they worked in textile mills, iron works, tobacco factories, laundries and shipyards. Other slaves labored as lumberjacks, as deckhands on riverboats, and in sawmills, gristmills, and quarries. Many slaves were engaged in the construction of roads and railroads.
So there was nothing backward about it except the inhumane treatment of those who slaved, as the young, old, healthy, and physically impaired, and children as young as three or four, were forced to work 15 to 16 hours days.
In fact, sugar and cotton plantations were the most innovative economic units of their time in terms of labor management and organization. They foreshadowed the assembly line and the factory system in their reliance on close supervision and division of tasks.
Between the ages of seven and 12, Black children were forced into intensive fieldwork. Older or physically handicapped slaves were put to work in cloth houses, spinning cotton, weaving cloth, and making clothes. The point is, every slave was used to serve the master’s needs. And since there was no direct economic benefit to the slaves to work hard, slave masters combined harsh penalties with some positive reinforcements.
Chains and shackles were widely used to control runaways. Whipping was a key part of plantation discipline. Still, physical pain alone was not enough to elicit hard work. So some masters gave slaves small garden plots and permitted them to sell their produce, etc. Tricks were given, but there were no treats, no matter how it looked.
Disruption Of The Family
Slave marriages and family ties were not recognized by American law. Any owner was free to sell husbands from wives, parents from children, and brothers from sisters. Many slaveholders had numerous plantations and frequently shifted slaves, purposely splitting families in the process.
The most conservative estimates indicate that at least 10 to 20 percent of slave marriages were destroyed by sale. The sale of children from parents was even more common. As a result of the sale or death of a father or mother, over a third of all slave children grew up in households from which one or both parents were absent. And if you don’t think that this has affected The Race, you’d best think again.
All this is said to address the lack of knowledge in context to why we are the way we are now. It’s complex. And there’s so much more. It’s necessary to realize that when we look at what’s going on now and when our children ask, why?
The Generation Xer’s really thought that it was all about money, that race played no role, no part in the game of life. And yet today on December 16, 2015, we find ourselves faced with the question of why we see so many cases of White police officers killing unarmed Black men and getting away with it.
Why? The answers are in the protest banners of truth, “Black Lives Matter.” If it’s necessary to say it, then apparently to some, Black lives do not matter.
Terrorized From Then Until Now
One of the primary reasons the Civil War was fought was over the slavery issue. The South remained a
predominantly agrarian economy while the North became an industrialized economy. Different cultures and political beliefs evolved and developed. This led to political and ethical differences.
Though President Abraham Lincoln is credited with freeing the slaves with the signing of his Emancipation Proclamation, this was possible thanks to the writings, demonstrations and work of many abolitionists.
Frederick Douglass, a Black man, was perhaps the most recognized abolitionist of the antebellum period. In meetings Douglass had with Lincoln, he made it clear to the President that, “as long as the South had slaves, the North would have a problem because (the South) had free labor and therefore greater wealth.”
Let’s be clear that the emancipation of slaves was not done for Lincoln’s love of people or his great sense of humanity; rather it was for the economic success of a united States of America.
Had Lincoln really wanted to make a change, he would have corrected the Constitution where it read that each slave was counted as 3/5th of a man. He would have changed it to each Black is a fully measured man.
To tie this directly to now – Blacks were an immensely skilled group of people whether they were formally
educated or not; literate or not they had valuable skills before and following the Civil War.
Blacks were not lazy, as the myths indicate. They worked hard and thirsted for knowledge. Black men are not monsters. Blacks were denied equal opportunities. They were terrorized from the moment they were transported by ship to America as slaves until today as the terror continues in 2016.
Blacks live in constant fear of their lives. You want to really know why the Black police have not spoken up? They know that out of their uniform they can be victimized just like the next Black man, and they have been.
Ask any Black man what runs through his mind when pulled over by the police on a dark night. Ask Black youths why the police kill people that look like them. And when they tell you because he or she ain’t sh–, then you will get that they don’t think their lives matter. It’s been programmed into the psyche.
Living under terror is oppressive, suppressive and emotionally and psychologically damaging to a people. The Race has lived under such since 1619 in America and though much has changed in appearance, much has
remained the same.
But know this, we have accomplished much given the circumstances from which we have come. Our circumstances are comparable to any American mass shootings or bombings that cause post-traumatic stress and call for immediate response from clergy, therapists, councilors, psychologists etc., Those one-time instances are hardly as traumatic as forever being Black in America.
To be told all your life that when you complain of racism you are “playing the race card,” is the worst offense. It denies your reality.
So the next time a White police officer shoots an unarmed Black man and says he feared for his life, understand that he’s playing the “feared for his life card,” and that it is accepted.