Thought for the Day: Racism
“[I]n 1860 only around ‘5 percent of the Southern population owned even one slave, and a significantly smaller percentage owned more than twenty.’ . . .
Millions of human beings were held in bondage. It’s mind-boggling to me [says author Camille T. Dungy] that such a small number of people controlled so much of the wealth back then — and much of that wealth was accrued through the bodies of other human beings. A black human being was a commodity, an object, not particularly different in value from a piece of jewelry, a few head of livestock, or several bolts of fabric. My point is that most white people didn’t have the kind of wealth that the institution of slavery was protecting, just like most people today don’t have the kind of wealth protected by tax codes that allow a billionaire to write off a private jet but don’t allow schoolteachers to write off $250 worth of school supplies. . . .
America would not be the wealthy country it is without slave labor. We would not have our power or wealth if we had not, for a very long time, depended on the unpaid labor of millions of human beings . . . Cotton wasn’t king just in the South. Many of the most productive cotton mills were in the North, as were the insurance companies and other industries that profited off those mills. Without a lot of unpaid labor, those profits would have been significantly less. And we are still depending on the unpaid or underpaid labor of millions of human beings — from prison workers to immigrants to foreign labor. The question of slavery is still with us [my emphasis]. America has a legacy of harming other human beings and justifying that harm by glorifying the wealth it brings to a few. Thankfully America also has a legacy of resisting that impulse. . . .
It’s sometimes difficult to accept the fact that whole portions of our society were built up–are still built up– to support the wealth of just a few. Why don’t more people object to that? Perhaps because so many Americans think maybe one day they will be the billionaire with access to the unchecked power to acquire wealth at the expense of other human beings. When the focus is on the glorification of wealth rather than on an honest examination of how that wealth might have been accrued, we routinely ignore brutalities visited upon our fellow human beings (7). . . .
“Racism – and resistance to racism – is part of the fabric of this country. When our twenty-dollar bill celebrates a man who is connected to the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of black people, I can’t see how I can say, ‘Let’s just focus on this one area.’ We are part of an ecosystem. We can’t just worry about the whales, so to speak. We need to address what’s happening to our oceans.
But, as individuals, I know we sometimes have to choose the battles that matter most to us” (9).
There is much to do to make our world more just and equitable for all. Let’s get working.
From: “Poetic Justice: Camille T. Dungy on Racism, Writing, and Radical Empathy” by Airica Parker – The Sun, June 2018, p. 4-12.
Banner photo: Andrew Jackson – Popular General in the United States Army and from 1829 to 1837, seventh President of the United States.