They say that history repeats itself. They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If there is one thing America at which America excels, it is not learning. Throughout American history it has become a pattern that in our greatest moments of advancement, there always seems to arise a great opposition, fueled by extremism, that will seek to resist progress in favor of the comfort of what was. It doesn’t seem to matter that what was is wrong, unethical or immoral. These individuals fear the unknown. And so doing fear the future.
The future is nothing if not uncertain. The greatest achievements; the greatest advancements; the greatest accomplishments are built on a willingness to face the unknown and the courage to deal with what comes. America has done this time and time again. It is one of the reasons that a handful of colonists were able to establish one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world. It is one of the reasons that America came to be the respected world leader that it has been. It is the falling away from this that has paved way for the degradation of America and all that it had come to be.
After 245 years of slavery, America had decided that the economic model of accumulating wealth and positioning superiority at the cost of humanity was no longer worth it. I have no delusions about Emancipation. I am completely aware that Abraham Lincoln’s decision to abolish slavery had nothing to do with a moral imperative. It was the decision of a politician leading a country that was always going to be divided because of one thing: slavery. I imagine that Lincoln weighed it out and given the International distaste that had grown regarding slavery, he knew that it was America’s time to let that model go. However southern America, who had built their wealth and prestige off of the holocaust of slavery, were not willing to let it go so easily. Therein was the foundation of the Civil War.
We know how the war ended. We know that more liberal ideas prevailed. But we don’t acknowledge the fact that this argument did not end there. We know that it took 2 and a half years after January 1, 1863, where Lincoln had freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, for the south to surrender their practice. And often we don’t talk about what ensued immediately thereafter.
Because Lincoln’s goals for the emancipation of slaves was not rooted in ethics or morality. Because it was not made from a belief that all men are created equal, he had no plan for what should come next. As he began to ponder the concept- to the point of suggesting that the newly freed slaves should be given the right to vote…he was assassinated. What happened thereafter was a backlash to what Lincoln had started. Andrew Johnson took office and he allowed America to regress. He allowed the southern states to enact black codes that restricted the new found ‘freedom’ of the formerly enslaved.
When we look at the present time, we know that America is undergoing a reconstruction. With the advent of our first Black president, Barack Obama, and it is also a part of American history that in our greatest moments of advancement, there will always be a segment of our population that will resist this change.
To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
– James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew
The uncertainty of what it means for Black people to be moving from the place where we have been imprisoned for so long is jarring, it attacks the American sensibility that silently presumes that White is always superior. On an almost subconscious level, White people feel that shift happening and the fear is that they will be left in the place where people of color have existed. They fear a reversal of the American sensibility: one that will leave them as the villain, the miscreant, the despised and the discarded. For that no one can blame them but what we, as people of color know, is that we are fundamentally unlike White people for the very reason behind what we have endured. It is not in our cultural make up to dominate, colonize and destroy. So our moving out of the place of oppression actually poses no threat to them. By the majority we have no interest in dominating another culture, we have no need to validate ourselves in a violent contrast to another culture. What we want is to be American. We want to be acknowledged as being capable of the same evil, treachery, goodness and greatness that White people imagine for themselves. We want a sincere acknowledgement that we, as a country, allowed the degradation and oppression of certain people and we have evolved enough to know it was not okay and it IS not okay. And for America that will most certainly set the sun to shivering and the stars aflame but let’s burn them together in the pursuit of equality and justice for all. That will most certainly not resign White people to the places of fear, horror and tragedy that WE have endured. That’s okay because we aren’t looking for retribution. We are looking for restitution. We are looking for reconstruction. None of us can be certain what is at the end of that journey but we know it is a journey that must be taken.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man