Monday, December 16, 2013

The stain on America’s history that has not been cleaned


   The American history most of us would like to remember is one of stalwart founding fathers setting forth on this continent a template of perfection. One need only read Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis (Vintage books, 2000), see the movie 12 Years a Slave, or pay close attention to what we say to each other. The vestiges of racial prejudice are still with us.

  Slaves had been an integral part of the colonies almost from the beginning. Southern states though it their right to maintain their “property” if there were to be a Union. In February, 1790, two Quaker delegations, one from New York and the other from Pennsylvania, petitioned the House of Representatives to end the import of slaves. They were ignored. Ellis refers to the founders as a group of greatly gifted, but deeply flawed individuals. The men selected to write the Constitution compromised their principles to assemble the rules of governing the new nation at the expense of the Blacks. Even among the abolitionists, many did not see Blacks as their equals. In the 1790 census, only two states had no slaves: Maine and Massachusetts. Of 3.9 million people in American, over 694 thousand were slaves.

  If you have not seen the movie, 12 Years a Slave, I urge you to do so. Yes, it is a fictionalized version of the life of Solomon Northrop, kidnapped and brutally enslaved in the 1850s, but it is based on sufficient evidence of the harsh treatment of human beings by hateful, uncaring “masters.” It took a Civil War followed by decades of Jim Crow laws before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 provided a structure of law protecting Blacks.

  That did not end discrimination or racial prejudice. It goes on today, it goes on here. Some of our locals have a deep-seated intolerance for Native Americans. They resent the monthly payouts to members of the Anishinabe people. They do not understand the culture and ways of these Native Americans. They never knew the Somicks who led the tribe in the 1970s. They do not know the artists, such as Smokey Joe Jackson, Shirley Broucker, or Norman Nayome. The tribe has internal problems and is trying to deal with them, but do not judge a people by the acts of the few.

  I have never understood “the white race.” If white is so great why are there so many tanning salons? Europeans excelled because of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution, not the color of their skin. Nations with skins of other hews have adopted the principles of capitalism and democracy, with varying degrees of success. Education and skill are among the attributes of achievement.

  In fact, “race” is a murky term. Archeologists have found that those who emerged from Africa changed skin tone after long periods of staying in a specific climate that granted them increased survivability. These groups, however, wandered back and forth across the Euro-Asian land mass and cohabitated early and often. This includes the people who travelled to the New World more than 12,000 years ago.

  You received half your genes from your mother, half from you father. Each of them had two parents. Go back ten generations and 1024 people had to be in the right place at the right time for you to be here now. That’s only 200 years. Since everyone along the way was a bit different, you are the result of the genes of 2047 individuals. Can you account for the whereabouts of those 2047 during their lifetime?

  During this holiday season, resolve to rid yourself of prejudice. Hatred is based on fear and ignorance. We are born with only a few fears, such as falling or loud noises. The rest are learned. What we learn we can unlearn. Understanding through education dissolves ignorance. Not all, but some.

  The United States has changed culturally, ethnically, and acceptance. Each of us must adjust to the new reality. Hostility now divides us. Much of this hostility is based on prejudice. We must become more tolerant, or those who are screaming for civil war will get it.

  Soon half our population will live below the poverty level. While the economy is making headway — the stock market and unemployment figures are encouraging, top level managers, who generate no goods or services, are paid 200 times that of those who do. Such inequity breeds hatred. I hope you have a merry Christmas, and don’t forget your resolution.



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