America Must Come to Terms with Its Racist History
Aya Fubara Eneli, MA, JD
As I sit to write this, my mind is flooded with words and pictures and stories that many will consider too politically incorrect to share. The truth is that racism has been an essential part of the fabric of our nation.
See, when we are faced with issues that may have racial undertones in this nation, we talk around and about race, but it is much more difficult to talk about the origins of and the long lasting impact of racism in this great nation, the United States of America. I have many non- Black friends who pontificate on race and Black people and what “those people” should do to better their lives, but very rarely have any asked me about my experiences or been open to hear about how racism really impacts the day to day choices of most Black and Brown people in our country.
Before we all get defensive and focus merely on how to discredit my words and experiences, I say, listen. Listen with an open heart. Listen to first understand. Listen without pointing fingers back at me as though that negates the truth of these facts.
There is nothing pretty or humane about the African Holocaust, commonly called the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Men and women, boys and girls were stolen, kidnapped, bought and shackled in ships headed to American shores to provide free labor. African communities were decimated, families destroyed, women and girls raped and millions killed in order to build this nation. A column of this length will not permit a scholarly take on the atrocities carried out on the ships as they sailed nor even of the enslavement of the Africans once they got here, but if you care enough, you can start by reading Lerone Bennet Jr.’s Before the Mayflower.
The history of race and Black people in this nation includes laws that established and supported the enslavement of Africans and all their offspring, for all it took to be Black was one-drop of African blood. Slave masters routinely raped the enslaved women, broke up families, viciously killed those who dared to dream of freedom and our laws said that was just fine. Our Civil War was fought over racism and the economics of free Black labor. I often ask my friends who are quick to tell me to forget slavery and the injustice of it all, if they are willing to trace the wealth that was created and accumulated as a result of all that free labor and equitably divide it?
Our laws sanctioned Jim Crowism, the Slave Codes, the Black Codes, segregation, and in Three-fifths Compromise of 1787 even declared a Black person would count as only three-fifths of a white person. In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permitting slavery in all of the country’s territories. Taney — a staunch supporter of slavery wrote that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” Do you know it was once illegal and punishable by death to teach a Black person how to read and write in this country? How long does it take to overcome these kinds of systemic discrimination and disenfranchisement?
Today, we are not so obvious in our racial politics, but it plays out in how we fund education, housing laws, the lack of transparency in many hiring decisions where nepotism and good ol’ boy systems are still the norm. We see it in sentencing guidelines. We over target certain communities and therefore the jails are disproportionately filled with Black people. How many of you will honestly admit that you have done things for which you too could have been imprisoned, but you are not because someone gave you another chance? We fail to appreciate how we have benefited from mentors and having access to power. We enjoy land and assets that were accumulated in a time when it would have been virtually impossible for a Black person to compete for that same opportunity or asset.
When you see people upset and agitated about certain decisions and rulings that come down in this nation, I want you to think of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It isn’t really about the straw is it? It is the accumulation of the burden on the camel. Read up also on Black Wall Street in Oklahoma. How many more success stories would we have if the playing field wasn’t so stacked against Blacks for so long?
The Ferguson decision and the distrust of the American legal system by many informed people of African descent should not shock you, it’s just another straw added to centuries of straws that reinforce the message, Black lives are expendable.
When we denounce violence, let’s denounce it everywhere. Today, Zimmerman is a millionaire because my fellow American citizens chose to reward him for chasing after, initiating an altercation and killing an unarmed Black boy. From lynchings to rapes, murder to unfair sentencing, racial profiling, underfunded schools, to the warehousing of people in projects, there is plenty of sanctioned violence in our country. Before you tell me racism is a figment of my imagination or borne out of my sense of entitlement, show me your Emmet Till, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Medger Evers, Trayvon Martin to mention but a few.
A nation divided cannot stand. It is time to have honest conversations about the conditions that have led us to this juncture in history even as we preach and teach personal responsibility for the future. The well-being of our nation depends on it.
Aya Fubara Eneli is the CEO of Aya Eneli International, a best-selling author and a sought after speaker. She, her husband and their five children reside in Central Texas. Follow her on Twitter @ayaeneli, like her at facebook.com/ayaeneli or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.