What Slavery Did and What We Still Do

Yes, that slavery.  I know... I can feel the collective chest tightening as you get a little scared for me, a white girl, trying to talk about this topic.  She's going to put her foot in her mouth!  What's going to happen!  What makes me qualified to talk about this?  I live in the USA and I have access to our history.  Mostly, though... I WANT to.  I'm tired of feeling like we're separate.  I am done being quiet.  We need some honesty and some introspection.  I am so so so tired of this racism and silence and I realize I'm part of the problem if I keep my views to myself.  "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" - MLK

Disclaimer :: I KNOW this won't apply to all people.  I'm talking about the general separation that we keep between us, black and white. Where did it come from?  Why is it so regional? I speak from my own personal experience.  If you don't have this experience I am honestly very happy for you! 

I am approaching this from a more science based factual evidence type standpoint.  This is what happened and it lead to this and this.  These are my observations.

OK so let's do some math.  You can read for yourselves here.  First of all we have the white colonists who fled their homelands and came to the new world for a better life.  Slavs (eastern Europeans) were indentured servants who eventually worked off their debt and then were given their own piece of land.  The first African slaves landed in Virginia in 1619 and were much cheaper than the indentured servants from eastern Europe so they kept them coming until the slave trade was outlawed in 1808, but it went on within the USA regardless because we needed the labor force for farming in the south.  Between 1774-1804 all the northern states had abolished slavery.  The North didn't have an economic need for slavery and they felt a little hypocritical since they fought for freedom from British rule.  The official "freeing" of slaves didn't happen until 1865 when we adopted the 13th amendment.  That's about 250 years or 10 generations of slave culture in the south, about 200 years in the north.  It wasn't until another 100 years or 4 generations later that we had the civil rights movement in 1965.  That is a total 346 years of African people in America being considered less than by law while the overwhelming majority of white people allowed it to happen or perpetrated the crimes.  Societal change happens in generations, not in individuals, but it's our job as individuals to be the drops of water that make up the sea... we sculpt the rules of our generation that will be passed down.  There it is again: small parts that make up big parts.  So far we've been "recovering" from slavery for 150 years.  Maybe it will take another full 150 years to completely undo the damage of slave culture... which would be 2165... it's not as long as you think, just 6 generations.

I'm from Ohio, which was a free state.  So why the racial divide in the bigger northern cities even though they were free states?  I think it's because of the combination of the Underground Railroad and Fugitive Slave Acts.  The Underground Railroad had safe havens in these larger northern cities, but once these Acts were passed in 1793 it set the stage for some serious mistrust between blacks and whites, even in the free states.  If a slave from the south made it north and was not captured and returned, everyone involved would be severely punished.  They also passed laws limiting their freedoms so it was basically just a change of scenery.

It wasn't until 1864 (2 generations later) that those laws were repealed, which didn't mean the abuses stopped.  By then the damage had been done and a culture had been formed.  Blacks didn't trust whites, especially law enforcement, and whites ignored the plight of blacks out of fear or were the cause of their suffering.  And don't forget the 100 more years of forced segregation all over the country.  No wonder.  NO WONDER!

Freeing slaves wasn't as great a favor as it sounds.  Where were they supposed to go?  What were they supposed to do?  Very few bothered helping them integrate into what was considered "American society".  Few slaves were provided an education.  Basically, they were turned out on their ears and then hunted down by disgruntled confederates.  Freedom indeed!  They were not allowed in hospitals or schools.  They were still segregated from the white population and that's how things went on for 100 years.  ONE HUNDRED YEARS we were divided by laws.  Once integration bills were signed we were no longer required to remain separated, but by that time we had all been raised that way.  Generations had to die off, others had to adapt, some didn't.  This is why we're still coming out of this.  We have separation ingrained in our divided cultures.  We haven't been with each other for such a long time that it has become our natural behavior and if we truly want to stop racism, we need to recognize our roles in it and do what we can to get over it.

I don't think anyone needs to specifically target one incident or another to justify their belief that there is a problem in this country between black and white people.  We have been segregated for so long that we don't really know each other.  The only cure is to reach out and integrate our lives.  It should not be a black community and white community anymore.  We young people are going to be the ones that pass our ideals on to the next generation.  Our kids see it in our actions.  They see us not make eye contact or not greet each other.  They notice.  They see who comes to our houses for dinner.  They see who we spend time with.  They see us not sit next to each other in classrooms, on buses, in subways, on park benches.  We need to step out of our comfort zones to start healing these wounds that have been left open for centuries.  It's going to take little steps.  It's going to take ACTIONS and words.  It's going to take discomfort in our communities and our individual lives to start going against our current cultural norms.  It's going to take all of us embracing each other and allowing us to share and make mistakes.  We have to learn to be together together.  You can't interact if you're not with each other.  All this takes time and effort.

I see every attitude and action as a culmination of history and learned behaviors that we shall overcome some day... I do take responsibility for them, but I am not ashamed because I am trying and I'm open.  I hope you take time to examine your own views and actions and do your own research.  Be honest with yourselves and look with unbiased eyes at this history.  It's really that simple (and difficult).  This isn't about blame, it's about finding the source so we can move forward.  Most of the "most dangerous cities" everyone likes to tout as a justification for racism had very strict laws against blacks, especially black men, from working in skilled jobs or voting or even going to church or school, assuring they would not become productive members of society.  White people were taught that black people are small minded, violent, uncivilized, aggressive, dirty, even less evolved.  Let's own our history.  Let's learn it.  Let's not be afraid it will separate us even more.  It is our shared history and our kids will understand it was the past.  It's the only way to truly understand our present.

Why do we really do what we do?  What motivates our actions: love or fear?  We can't rewrite history, but we own the present and we're responsible for the future.  It's our job as a nation to help pull these people out of this gigantic pit we dug for them and forced them into.  It wasn't our generation that was responsible, but it's our generations that suffer.  We have to take these people in and care for them without all this disdain and anger... heal this wound.  Let's do something.  Let's start with love.  Let's start with compassion.  Let's start with honesty.  The majority of what goes on in our country is positive.  Keep it up.  Share those moments and make some for yourself.  Stand up for what's right, even when you're only with "your own kind".  This is where we are, but where do we want to be?  Let's figure that out and make sure our actions reflect the changes we plan to accomplish.

I personally would like to see one gigantic cross-cultural party on June 19th next year and every year following to celebrate the end of slavery.  It is something to celebrate.  It's something to acknowledge.  It's a party just dying to happen!  This issue needs to be infused with positivity and love... the only cure for hate.
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