Black History Matters, Black Lives Matter, Black Votes Matter

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Requiring that people have photo ids to register to vote and then closing all the state offices that issue photo ids in black communities; having “history” books that refer to slaves as “workers”; being outraged at your “inconvenience” when Black Lives Matter take to the streets to demand justice when Black men and women are being gunned down on the street or end up “mysteriously” dead after a routine traffic stop; challenging affirmative action laws on the grounds that they “discriminate” against whites – these are just some of tactics and reactions of politicians, publishers, white people and police when trying to whitewash the legacy of slavery and discrimination that pervades our country.

Photo by Dread Scott, Flickr

Our country was founded on and built upon the backs of African American slaves, Native Americans, Chinese and other people of color as well as white indentured servants. When the founders of our country were drafting the Constitution they ensured that only white, male property owners would have a say in the shaping of our country. All the people who worked to build this country were excluded from voting, holding office or participating in the building of the democracy in which we reside today. So it is no great surprise that the needs of those excluded were not at the forefront of their minds and thus not included. To ensure that Southern States would have a larger representation in the House of Representatives, they fought to have slaves counted as 3/5 a person. In this way, Southern States would have a more equal voice in the House of Representatives even though those with the voice (white men) represented actually a much smaller proportion of the population of the country, thereby essentially giving the Southern States a disproportionate voice and power in the shaping of our country than they actually represented.
The Civil Rights movement began to challenge, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act began to dismantle this history of disenfranchisement. But in recent times, those opposed to these laws have been undermined and disassembled the gains made in the past, once again disenfranchising thousands of African Americans and ensuring that Southern Whites win election by gerrymandering voting districts, and passing laws that severely restrict people’s ability to vote (under the guise of “voting rights”). And now, McGraw-Hill has published a high school history book that whitewashes slavery by stating that the “Atlantic Slave Trade between 1500-1800 brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations” and claims that giving teachers stickers to cover over the offensive text along with a educational toolkit to use this as a teaching opportunity toschools that request it is an adequate way to address this egregious wrong. When our history and education books not only fail to accurately reflect the history of slavery, discrimination and disenfranchisement but actually paint an entirely different and inaccurate picture of what happened and when laws subtlety yet powerfully buttress this discrimination, together they undermine the voices of Black Lives Matter today. When people do not know this history or understand just how insidious racism is in our country, then the righteous outrage and call for justice by the Black Lives Matter movement can seem misplaced or an over-reaction.
The insidiousness and hidden nature of racism in our country is a festering wound that needs to be lanced and cleaned. We owe it to ourselves, to our Black brothers and sisters, and to future generations to ensure that our history books and our laws are cleaned out – accurately reflecting and repairing the history of slavery, discrimination and disenfranchisement. This means that school books need to be written by historians and activists who have a deep understanding and knowledge of the full history of how wealthy, white property owners formed the categories of race, pitted working class and poor whites against Blacks, and created laws and policies that explicitly and subtlety discriminate against Blacks and how these policies, practices and laws laid the foundation for the ongoing violence, discrimination and injustice perpetuated against Black people today. Instead of the current outrage of the Black Lives Matter movement being seen as merely a reaction to police or vigilante violence against their community, people need to understand that the movement is built upon and is a challenge to the legacy and history of slavery, racism and discrimination that is hundreds of years in the making.
In addition to ensuring that our history books accurately reflect this legacy, our laws also need to do so. This means that we need to push for greater (not less) affirmative action, for reparations, for changes in our criminal justice laws, and for changes in how our media portrays Black people. We also all have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the history of racism and discrimination and to recognize that none of us are free from internalized racism because it is so steeply entrenched in our psyche. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about this but we do need to look in the mirror and educate ourselves. The racist discourse and social portrayal of Black people permeates each and everyone of us – regardless of our race.
The next time you are uncomfortable with the tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement or inconvenienced by their protests, ask yourself what you would do if your people were enslaved for hundreds of years and then 500 years later such slaves was benignly referred to as “workers” in history books; if your people (that is your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends and loved ones) were being unlawfully stopped, beaten, harassed, arrested and killed simply because of an unidentified, unspecified fear or internalized hatred of your people; if your people were not allowed to vote to change the laws and policies of your community or country because people with power and money have rigged the voting system to ensure either that you cannot vote or that your vote does not count; if your people were denied housing and jobs because of what you look like. The list goes on and on because race permeates and impacts all areas of our lives and either provides privileges or disadvantages simply depending on the color of your skin.
Enough is Enough. It is time for a change and for all of us to demand that change.