Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1681 - The breadth, depth, and reach of 400 years of oppression is still alive today

  Four hundred years. 400 years of struggle. 400 years being held down, being held back, being discriminated against, and being considered less than. 400 years of continuous oppression in North America. 400 years of struggle in this place that became the United States of America. 400 years is a long, long time.

  It was late August in 1619 when the pirate ship White Lion put down its anchor at the mouth of the James River in a place called Point Comfort near Jamestown, Virginia. There were 20 or more enslaved Africans aboard. They had been robbed from Africa and placed on a Portuguese ship now referred to as the San Juan Bautista. Subsequently, the captains and the crews of two British pirate ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, robbed the Portuguese ship of about 50 of its enslaved Africans who had been robbed from what is now Angalo, West Africa. That was the inception of this enslavement in what is now the United States of America.

  I recently visited Jamestown with about 70 others. It was a powerful experience even though there is nothing in Jamestown now except a tourist center and ferry. The ferry ride was a powerful experience which took our bus and cars across this body of water. I was reminded of the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean.

  Slavery has been around for thousands and thousands of years. However, there has been no slavery that comes close to the profoundly oppressive slavery established in what is now the United States of America. Millions of human beings were forcefully taken from Africa and carried thousands of miles on ships under horrific conditions though the Middle Passage. This slavery lasted 246 years, but its roots were so deep and its impact so pervasive that it continues to profoundly impact African Americans in particular and this country in general. 400 years is a long, long time.

  This slavery evolved into a form of slavery that claimed another group of humans was subhuman; not just lesser than but a lesser species. The enslaved Africans could not name their children or themselves. They could not choose their religion. They could not speak their own language. They could not voice their own history. They could not own anything. They could not protect themselves or their children and loved ones from rape and violence. It was a crime to learn to read or write. It was even against the law in places to grow their own food. They could not testify against those who harmed them and so forth. And this slavery was never-ending because it incorporated every child from birth. It was chattel slavery.

  Because people of African descent were considered subhuman, even after slavery ended it was against the law to eat in the same restaurants, stay in the same hotels/motels, use the same restrooms, drink from the same water fountain, marry; attend social events with whites; etc.

  It took overwhelming violence to maintain such oppressive slavery. Every element of society, including religion, worked to implement and maintain this oppressive system of enslavement. Extreme violence was a way of life. 400 years is a long, long time.

  The American Revolutionary War came and went but slavery persisted. These beautiful words of the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal," did not matter because people of African descent were not considered men or human. Slavery was embedded in the Constitution of the United States of America in various provisions. Instead of a society with slavery, the USA became a slave society. Slavery was foundational to the birth and growth of the United States of America.

  Slavery withstood the Abolition Movement. Slavery withstood the Underground Railroad. Slavery withstood the Nat Turner Rebellion and other rebellions. It took a Civil War in this country, which claimed more than six hundred thousand lives, and three constitutional amendments to bring an end to formal slavery.

  Even after slavery officially ended in the mid-1860s, it refused to die. After less than a decade of Reconstruction, slavery morphed into segregation and Jim Crow. This was a social, political, religious, and economic system of enforced oppression. It was enforced by laws, law enforcement, societal institutions, pervasive violence, and domestic terrorism such as lynching. The central element of slavery, White supremacy, continued in the South and beyond. The formal end to segregation and Jim Crow occurred in the mid-1960s with the enactment of civil rights and voting rights laws. But the spirit of slavery continued.

  The formal end of slavery and segregation did not end White supremacy, which bred and nourished these oppressive conditions. Some of these conditions include racial discrimination in the following: employment, education, criminal justice, civil justice, law enforcement, politics, wealth, voting, and so forth. White supremacy just manifested itself in other ways.

  The 400-year ordeal resulted in the following present-day conditions for African Americans: shorter life spans; more pervasive illnesses; mass incarceration; mass miseducation; police brutality; inequality of wealth; greater violence in communities; gun violence; etc. What started in 1619 is still with us today in different forms. Four hundred years is a long long time, and that time is still growing.

EPILOGUE – Someone illustrated the power of slavery, segregation, and oppression of people of African descent by stating: If racism were wiped out today, it would take 200 years for people of Africans descent to catch up economically, educationally, politically, etc. That’s the breadth, depth, and reach of these 400 years of oppression.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

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