Monday, October 5, 2020

What kind of a people are we?


The institution of slavery was, for a quarter millennium, the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones, who could be mortgaged, bred, won in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to cover an owner’s debt or to spite a rival or to settle an estate. They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people who owned them. Some were castrated or endured other tortures too grisly for these pages, tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil.

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 45). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Wilkerson doesn’t mince her words like my history teachers did and movies like Gone With The Wind smoothed over. The story of American virtue and exceptionalism doesn’t hold up to the reality of how the economic power of our country was built and upon which it depends even to current times.

African Americans are still on the bottom rungs of the economic system which Americans, especially its presidents, like to brag about. The current President, Donald J. Trump, and his family’s wealth was built on discrimination against African Americans in their real estate leasing practices and in their labor and contracting practices.

Even when people didn’t own slaves such as in the northern states, they still processed cloth and clothing from cotton which was produced cheaply with slave labor, and northerners were primary investors in the capture and transport of slaves from Africa.

The idea that Africans were subhuman and property was enshrined in early versions of the American constitution and this assumption, the bedrock of America's economic system has continued to our present day and is a major factor in what we call “systemic racism.”

  1. How have you and your family benefited from the economic system based on slavery?
  2. What are the subtle ways that you have unknowingly participated in this system?
  3. To what extent do you believe in an economic system based on white supremacy?
  4. Have you read Thomas DeWolf’s book Inheriting The Trade about his family’s role in the slave trade in Rhode Island?

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