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Category Archives: Politics

“To Everything There is a Season…,” Including Partisan Political Reasoning?

BackstreetDjeli2015By William “Duke” Smither

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (From Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 King James Version)

By no means had I planned to invoke the divine words of wisdom found within certain religious texts, like the Holy Bible. Besides, I’m hardly qualified.

In fact, I was prepared to address the recent, praiseworthy release and excellent chronicalization of slave auction dynamics by Anne C. Bailey (“The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History,” Cambridge University Press, October 9, 2017). This professor of History and Africana Studies, at New York’s Binghamton University, provides a compelling review of the harsh realities of plantation slavery in the Georgia Sea Islands which ought to be mandatory reading in classroom history books across America. And, now is never too late. Perhaps, I can revisit the reasons why, later.

But, for now, I should explain the detour from my initial plans to review more of Professor Bailey’s remarkable work within “Weeping Time.…” The nagging, recent events within our nation’s bizarre sociopolitical climate, including questionable behavior on the landscape of partisan political reasoning, has certainly given rise to at least pushing the pause button for where these once-United States of America now seems to be.

March of the Pea-brains?

The curious resurgence of die-hard racist, anti-Semitic, anti-American and other reactionary groups is astonishing, but somewhat predictable, based on the newfound wedges of deep division being driven between racial, ethnic and cultural groups in America. The recent resurrection of 2016 election-era conspiracies is concerning and baffling, namely the “Access Hollywood tape was fake news…” report (Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2017) and the claim that “President Trump reportedly revives birther claims against Obama” (Jessica Chia, New York Daily News, Nov. 29, 2017). Yet, it’s not at all too surprising, considering the sobering realties looming on the nation’s political landscape. And, the disrespect to the WWII, Marine Corp’s Navajo “Code Talkers,” at the White House ceremony on November 27, 2017, merely punctuates the wave of recent events.

History itself has been hijacked. The Pre-Columbian history of the Native American in his own lands has been twisted and distorted the most, but in a vicious manner similar to that of African-, Asian- or Middle Eastern-Americans, as well as those of Hispanic or Latino ethnic origins. Is it because of the recent U.S. Census Bureau projection that whites will become a so-called “minority” in 2044, replaced by black and brown people? (See: https://www.commerce.gov/news/blog/2015/03/new-census-bureau-report-analyzes-us-population-projections-nation-expected-become) Is there a new season of reason that’s now upon us? What exactly is the message within the Nazi-chanting, white nationalist’s “tiki-torch march”  on the University of Virginia campus, in Charlottesville, during August 2017? For me, growing up in the racially segregated, Jim Crow South, it was remindful of the pea-brained, Ku Klux Klan marches of the 1950’s and 60’s to denounce or intimidate immigrants, African-Americans, Catholics, Jews, and organized labor; they were often a prelude of things to come, like the cowardly bombing of black schools and churches and selected violence against American citizens, black and white.

As a Viet Nam Era veteran of this nation’s proud and prized armed forces, there are many times I no longer recognize the social or political landscaping of the country I once proudly served. While the cultural and racial divide in America has sunk to new lows, the bumpy political landscape seems even worse! Incredulously, some will argue that it’s because of our former president, #44, Barack Obama. Others passionately claim that the root cause of our national dysfunctions stems directly from the profound lack of leadership of the current president, #45, Donald John Trump. But, there’s one thing I’m sure of: Simply talking tough and donning a brown military-bomber-jacket and cap trimmed with “scrambled eggs” does not automatically give one the kind of decision-making skills required to lead our diverse and exceptional military forces.

Clearly, something is wrong in Washington. And, I am beginning to worry. Either, political polling seems to have become a lost art, or the populations being polled are simply lying through their teeth—not to mention the almost daily obfuscation, falsification and/or misrepresentation of material facts, seemingly put forth to consider or resolve within the political status quo. This is interesting, since many important issues now seem to be addressed from the presidential palace, based on public-opinion polls. Has statesmanship and leadership been replaced by daily, political party “talking-point” memorandums?

Logical reasoning, once the hallmark of good government, or at least practical in the short-run, now seems elusive and slippery as the Mediterranean eel. And, the ongoing investigation into the suspicious influence of ‘Russian meddling’, before and after the recent presidential electioneering is worrisome. Political-related headlines loudly proclaim the assaulting waves of “sexual harassment allegations” now slamming Washington D.C.’s political playground. Yet, the widening scope of similar allegations is creeping across the nation and all sorts of heretofore taboo nooks-and-crannies. And, the ongoing exodus of officials, and decades of experience, at all levels of the U.S. State Department is hurtful in addressing newly surfacing crises in foreign or international relations.

But, We’re All Connected!

Whom can you believe, these days? Whom do you really trust? Faith and trust among our allies remains an important concept. But, political leaders knowingly and amazingly peer into the wide, politicized spectrum of news camera lenses and confidently claim what’s obviously false to be the absolute truth. Apparently, fear of retribution or concern for their extreme lack of accountability or liability in the matter is non-existent, as the next question of the day is remindful of the 16th Century prose from Poet John Donne’s words which proposed: “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.” 

I recall these particular words from English Literature many years ago which suggested that we were all connected to each other, our flaws and failures, as well as our fruitions or fulfillments. “Perchance,” the reason for the state of flux we seem to have been in since before November 8, 2016 is unclear. However, as a child of the 50s and 60s, and U.S. Navy veteran- with haunting memories of the Cold War years and many weeks of up close up and personal involvement in the Cuban Blockade– I am very concerned for the current administration’s propensity for cozying up to Russia, at the embarrassing expense of proven allies around the world. And, the international tension we experienced during the run up to the 1962 Cuban Crisis now seems to have returned with the unfiltered development of a more nuclear North Korea.

This is not normal. It’s bizarre. It flies in the face of our once collective efforts or fight against anyone or any nation seeking to undermine the efforts of the United States to create or promote a more secure and prosperous international community, based on our fundamental beliefs about our freedoms being best protected “by ensuring that others are free.”

At least, it’s what I recall from how I was raised, in spite of the Jim Crow-based socioeconomic contradictions swirling around us. The profound care and guidance of strong black teachers and preachers gave my community hope that this nation would someday realize the value of our obvious interconnectivity. I was raised within the beliefs that we, as human beings, are all some part cousin and related along the way, whether we like it or not. And, honestly, yes, there were times when I didn’t like it at all!

But, I’m now more than just concerned for how the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is being interpreted these days, especially as it concerns infringement on the “freedom of the press,” not to mention the 2nd Amendment and gun control rights. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012) should have shocked us all back to our senses… but, it did not! Ask yourself: Why? Where was logic and reason back then? Don’t get it twisted. It’s got nothing to do with race or the color of one’s skin. But, it certainly was a time to weep… and we dropped the ball on that!

Where, oh where has reason gone? And, where oh where are we, today?

1859 Slave Auction

Well, I guess that brings me back to about where I started– I mean, back to revisiting the reasons why the harsh realities of plantation slavery in the Georgia Sea Islands and Anne C. Bailey’s “The Weeping Time…” ought to be required reading for American history classrooms. Many of the reasons I had planned to mention stem from personal observations while visiting the Gullah/ Geechee culture in the Low-Country regions of Georgia and South Carolina. It’s a vibrant culture chock-full of the African influences which contribute heavily to the American way of life.

Yet, while I chose to focus on what seems to be current social dysfunctions within our nation, in a very profound and very much American way, revisiting the harshness of history’s yesteryear can still tell you a lot about “…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…”– especially in times like these, just as Anne C. Bailey’s newly published book (“The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History”) reminds us all of our interconnectivity. At minimum, it reveals many things about where the character of our nation comes from and the uncomfortable past that ties us all together– but, now walking on eggshells, within the rather clumsy collective pursuits of happiness and freedom.

The holiday season is approaching; but, perhaps, it’s also the season for our nation to push the pause button in partisan political reasoning, too. After all, “now” is never too late. The painful strands of our connective history shows us why.

 

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Political Discourse: Sowing the Seeds of Distrust and Discord

"Backstreet Djeli"

“Backstreet Djeli”

by William “Duke” Smither

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”  (Thurgood Marshall, Great-Grandson of Slaves and 96th Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court)

 

The older I become, the more appreciative I am of the lessons learned from my grandparents. Surely, parents are necessary for optimal child development. But,  grandparents are equipped with unique nuggets of personal and historical perspectives, especially during those critical formative years, before grandkids evolve into little arrogant tadpoles or pint-size and humble trainees for the ripened years of adulthood, like limited-scope apprenticeships, for the slices and dices of life- perhaps, the ones which parents never tasted, or were selectively screened from experiencing.

Clumsy Bigotry

For me, the regressive socioeconomic and political environs of those transitional ‘Jim Crow’-to-Civil Rights years first comes to mind. They’re lumped together with the power dynamics of bigotry and racism. And, the recent fiasco and fuss, within the wake of crass and clumsy political views, flowing from the lips of our nation’s current presidential candidates, is certainly no different.

Clearly, the recent competing news conferences (nationally televised August 25, 2019), for presidential hopefuls, Mr. Donald John Trump and Mrs. Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, took presidential campaigning to new levels of rhetoric and mudslinging, further sowing the seeds of cultural distrust and hostility, not heard since the unfolding drama of the Civil War (1861-1865), in my opinion, of course.

But, never mind the obvious- that the water’s edge of presidential politics has expanded to include obscene and questionable campaign funding methodology, as well as contentious and mysterious musings of purportedly flawed and irrational minds- society’s toilet bowl overflow, already brimming with the muck and mire of hate-filled speeches, dog-whistle racism and confusion, now teeters on the edge of implosion.

These Friday afternoon news conferences, in particular, seemed to have launched the ideological fringes of partisan politics to crucial heights, beyond the once elastic points of no return.

It’s times like these which make me grateful for the lessons, wisdom and experience shared by my parents. More than ever, I see and understand their dogged determination and quests for peace and harmony, within and with others, which now resides in me, as within our own kids. But, my grandparents provided additional perspectives, along with painstaking research and study, of those post-Civil War and Reconstruction Era years (1865-1877) when slavery, supposedly flowing in the wake of our nation’s tears, remained a manifest reality, physical and perceived, in the dark shadows of geopolitical flesh-dealings, voodoo diplomacy and illicit, even treasonous, activities of notoriously racist politicians and capitalists.

Voodoo Diplomacy

Today’s hoopla, following the aforementioned news conferences, is remindful of the ideological arguments and shenanigans which existed in those dark political shadows, in the run up to the Civil War (1861-1865) and beyond, noticeably absent from classroom history books. That’s when Southern extremists in those states soon to be secessionists- and, certain elements of the so-called Confederate States of America (CSA)- within the encroaching crackdowns on a still flourishing slave trade with spiraling prices and increased traffic of  slave ships from Africa, began to formulate long-term strategies.

These were game plans drawn to protect the Southern way of life by scheming with shadowy politicians and businessmen in Colonial Brazil to bring in cheaper slaves, even after slavery was abolished (1865 in the U.S. and 1888 in Brazil), from Angola and Mozambique to ports in Brazil and Cuba, on foreign and/or privately owned merchant ships- illegally carrying the American flag- and surreptitiously outfitted to carry slaves. It was a complex scheme fraught with secret treaties and dangerous covert, high seas shipping runs to evade the “African Squadrons,” international anti-slavery naval patrols, as well as to escape capture and prosecution. It further included “deportation” of Africans and African-Americans, slave and free, from certain states in the Dixie South to Brazil, for work in the Amazon jungles and on sugar cane and coffee plantations, geared to a new Southern way of living.

After the Civil War, this “Dixie refugee”search for a “white paradise,” coupled with a fear that Southern States were on the verge of “war with races,” arguably, led between some 10 to 20 thousand CSA expatriates to Brazil. Some came with their own slaves; others made a bee line for the slave markets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to purchase slaves on arrival, like tourists, bartering for trinkets, souvenirs and sex. Interestingly, some of the ‘logic’ used for procuring “Negroes” included the white supremacist idea that “it is only in the early morning and late in the afternoon that white men can labour in the open air; but, where a white would inevitably receive a sun-stroke, a Negro labours with uncovered head without injury or exhaustion. The one has capacity to direct and the other the ability to perform….”; thus, the ensuing phrase, “…a co-operation of the two races.” (Gerald Horne, The Deepest South: The United States, Brazil, and The African Slave Trade, New York University Press: New York and London, 2007) 

New “Chickens” in Town…?

The 2016 Olympics, hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Aug 5 to Aug 21), with preparations initially damned by projections of being one of the “worse ever,” was a superb display of national and international cooperation and amazingly gifted athletes which all unfolded on the stage of Brazilian pride and multicultural cooperation- perhaps, one of the best Olympic games ever.

Yet, during the televised opening ceremonies and tributes to Brazil’s unique multiracial history, I couldn’t help but recall our own multiracial legacy, as well as my past college studies and independent research in black history and the march of international players, on the world’s stage of Colonialism. Moreover, I was again reminded of the dark geopolitical shadows of the illicit dealings in black flesh, “Black Gold,” as one historian put it. And, I thought about some of the beautiful, sandy beaches I saw within Brazil’s pre-Olympic marketing of tourist advertisements and travel brochures. One beach in particular- Porto de Galinhas– stood out. It’s about a half-hour drive south from Recife, in Northeast Brazil.

Now promoted for its famous beaches, natural pools and ecological trails, history’s archives record that it was formally known as Porto Rico, in Colonial Brazil. But, some 15 years before slavery was officially outlawed in the United States, and some 38 years before slavery ended in Brazil, it was a seaport town where slaves were secretly traded to work in the spiraling growth of profitable sugar cane plantations.

When slavery was halted in the U.S., it became one of the places where slave ships avoided the “African Squadrons,” to trade in the illicit traffic of slaves. Its name stemmed from the Portuguese phrase, “Tem galinha nova no porto,” meaning “There are new chickens in the port,” code words to advise those dealing in the trading of human flesh that special ships- passed off as merchant ships, some illegally flying the U.S. flag, secretly packed with “guinea fowl” and slaves from Africa- were in port and ready for business. (See:  Porto de GalinhasBiosfera Brasil).

It was also part of the paradox of slavery, in Brazil. History’s archives reveal that all slaves “of foreign origin,” were declared “forever free,” in Brazil, in 1831 (“Law of 7,” November 1831). In 1871, all “children of slave mothers” were declared to be “free” (Rio Branco Law, “Law of Free Birth”). By 1883, all “slaves of Ceará” (the 8th largest Brazilian state, by population, located in Northeast Brazil) were “freed.” In 1884, an “emancipation proclamation” was inked in the Amazonas province (the largest Brazilian state, by area, in Northwest Brazil, said to be larger than combined areas of France, Greece, Spain and Sweden). In 1885, another law provided for the freedom of all slaves “reaching the age of sixty years” (“Sexagenarians Law,” the “Saraiva-Cotegipe Act“), And, on May 13, 1888, Brazil enacted its Lei Áurea (“Golden Law”), emancipating its “700,000 remaining slaves.” (John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., publisher: 1980.)

Southern Strategy Redux?

Fast forwarding, past America’s Reconstruction Era, on past the “Black Codes,” skipping the many years of segregation, the desegregation years, and the Civil Rights years, perhaps today’s dog-whistle politic, “wink-wink” communications and behind-the-curtain campaign dealings which might be some part-cousin (as we all are to each other) to the Antebellum South’s racialized strategies.

Clearly, this so-called Southern Strategy, passed down through the ages, simply despised the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that “…one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” In fact, it’s laughable to me that Dr. King is so often quoted by those who still long for states rights, nullification and secession, even today. Personally, I’ve always felt these were the ideals folk were referring to within past campaign and ‘dog-whistle’ slogans of “take our country back.” Back to what! A “Dixie paradise”?

Perhaps, a whiter shade of white, maybe? But, how white can that be…? Maybe a paler, softer shade of white, instead? Even the U. S. Census Bureau forms have further confused this issue. Perhaps, the blended skin pigmentation issues which were evident when the Dixie South’s search for a “white paradise” eventually backfired, fizzled and faded from view, at least from transparency. Sadly, racism stems from ignorance; it’s what nonsense looks like, when the skin of racism and white supremacy is peeled back for a closer inspection, even today. The face of racism today runs deeper, much deeper, easily hidden in plain sight, by those who are not even aware they’re racist, as well as the ones that wear it as a ‘badge’, without understanding how their brand was even made. Think about it.

You didn’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to understand that the Southern Strategy was alive and well when the kindly gentleman and U.S. State Senator from Illinois- Barack Hussein Obama, born in the U.S. state of Hawaii (the 50th state to join these United States of America, in 1959), was elected by “we the people,” in 2008, becoming the 44th President of the United States of America.

But, certain politicians felt differently. And, through their dark colored lens, this Harvard Law School graduate, and University of Chicago Constitutional Law professor, loved by “…the people,” but loathed by specific politicians from the day he took office, was undermined and road blocked in most everything he tried to accomplish, by the scheming shenanigans and voodoo politics- cousin to the Antebellum South’s Southern Strategy- and, a nation still at war with itself.

The current back and forth of the presidential campaign might eventually turn on the public’s pending verdict for both, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. But, the jury is still out, and will likely remain so, until the forces still holding the election hostage, with the drip-drip of scandalizing controversies, all the way to November. Is “swiftboating” again on the horizon? What will these circling storm clouds now bring? Who knows what will happen.  The up again, down again daily polls suggest that many may go to the voting booths this time, holding their noses and closing their eyes to cast a vote, if they go at all.

Our system of government, though not yet broke, seems on the way to perdition, unless we change directions, of course. But, what worries me is not the election. What worries me is what we become the next day, after the presidential election. Surely, we can’t take another eight years of congressional gridlock and the results of what happens in the vacuum of statesmanship, the dangerous pandering to the far-flung fringe of reasoning, when politicians abdicate their responsibilities to their constituencies, as well as the world.

Making America Great Again? 

For many reasons, I’ve never been comfortable with Mr. Trump’s take or campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” nor his veiled appeals to the far right fringes and patronizing solutions to socioeconomic, political and military issues. His on again-off again mumbo jumbo, as it relates to foreign relations and NATO forces, whom we held many joint military operations with, while I was stationed overseas. His brand of leadership is not yet something I’m willing to risk our nation with. Yet, I do agree that significant changes are in order. First and foremost is a changing of the electoral college system of elections and seemingly ‘permanent campaigning’ we have in place today, from the eve of one election, to the dawning of the next! Surely there’s enough good minds on America’s soil to make this happen, when we finally do decide to sit together at the table of brotherhood, to reason as adults- for the overall good of the nation.

I suggest that we even consider going back to the military draft, with opportunity for some to opt out for voluntary or paid national services, akin to proven agencies like the U.S. Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. While our current volunteer military has performed admirably in recent years, it is evident that 1 or 2 % of the nation’s demographics cannot support 100% of our military mission challenges, foreign and domestic. America needs more ‘skin in the game’, before it can become the world leader we know it can be, again.

Even going against the grain of court decisions on prayers in school and pledge of allegiance constraints, as well as the declining number of Americans who even identify with any religion- or the country for that matter- as far as I’m concerned, if we fail to even examine new ways of fostering some sense of patriotism in the United States- besides waiting for the next national crisis or tragedy- America will never achieve its greatness again. On the other hand, we also need to avoid falling into the trap of arrogant isolationism and the fallacy of self-sufficiency. As a nation, we should always reach out to others, in time of need. Besides, at times- like “9-11-2001”- we too become the ‘needy’.

When I chat with former military folk or veterans like myself (Viet Nam Era and Cuban Crisis), I always come away with an appreciation for the bonds established during my own service, even during those awkward years of racial integration with so many people and cultures different from my own, but honed for the same ‘tip of the spear’ in service of my country. That’s the kind of ‘taking our country back’ that I can relate to- united  in spirit by the mission, not by hate.

This seemingly new game of presidential candidates trying to differentiate American military members, based on religion and race is a silly, self-defeating relic of the past. I’ve grown weary of seeing politicians trot on stage with military props, from soldiers to  mothballed battleships, for campaign speeches and so-called townhall meetings. I’m just as tired of seeing certain politicians visit African-American churches, only when they’re running for office.

Dead Patriots Still Speak

I suggest they also visit the long, symmetrical rows, rolling hills and manicured lawns of our nation’s military cemeteries, first. My wife and I do it every year, to honor fallen patriots and family members. The experience is eerily serene and comforting, yet reverent and reawakening for the better sense of purpose it instills, for the tasks that still lie ahead for the living.

Yes, true patriots will always ‘speak’ from the grave, wherever they lay. This includes stretching around the world from France, Belgium, England, Italy and North Africa, to Manila, Mexico and Panama. And, the United States’ vast network of national cemeteries, crisscrossing the nation in every direction, including Kentucky’s Camp Nelson National Cemetery Kentucky, where members of my own family are buried, and east again to the Richmond National Cemetery, where my wife’s dad is interred, then north to the D. C. area and the hallowed grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery and nearby Quantico, where several of my friends are entombed.

I still see potential benefits of some form of universal military or civilian service within our own three kids, including one son, now a teacher, following extensive deployments in the U.S. Marine Corps, a daughter now teaching after a stint in missions-related work, in Honduras, following college, as well as another son who, on graduating from college, chose to plunge headlong into entrepreneurship, which better prepared him for helping others in the public works he now performs for a local county government, the one where his siblings also teach.

During my recent, long-term illness and hospitalizations, I was blessed to see how each of them, including my my wife, stepped up to the batter’s box and took turns swinging at the myriad of chores I, nor my wife, could no longer perform. Along with the prayers and help of many friends, family members and health professionals, it restored my faith in American-styled humanity.

While I’m equally proud of our kid’s accomplishments, I’m most proud of their independence of thought and sincere contributions in helping others. I’m also proud of the life lessons they now share with others, as well as their own children, in various ways.

Frankly, I’m no longer sure where we’re heading as a nation. But, I don’t believe it’s for greatness, if we  keep harboring the same ‘voodoo politics’ of the past, having only a smidgen mentioned, above.

As Thurgood Marshall, another patriot and the first African-American Supreme Court justice, once pointed out, “Racism separates, but it never liberates. Hatred generates fear, and fear once given a foothold; binds, consumes and imprisons. Nothing is gained from prejudice. No one benefits from racism.”

Certainly not the seemingly elusive eminence of America, the prestige that ‘we the people’, still seek. But, one thing is for certain- another lesson I’ve learned over the years- while our skin coloring might be different, the blood we all bleed is red.

Think about that, too.

 

 

 

MANIFEST RACISM OR CULTURAL IGNORANCE: America’s Indisputable Legacy and Suspended Dreams

Backstreet Djeli 5“When white Americans frankly peel back the layers of our commingled pasts, we are all marked by it. Whether a company or an individual, we are marred either by our connections to the specific crimes and injuries of our fathers and their fathers. Or we are tainted by the failures of our fathers to fulfill our national credos when their courage was most needed. We are formed in molds twisted by the gifts we received at the expense of others. It is not our “fault.” But it is undeniably our inheritance.”  (Douglas A. Blackmon, “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II”)

When I retired a few years ago, I imagined myself easily returning to the pre-working-career, post-family-raising dreams of someday documenting my life experiences in a “hyphenated America” from the waning years of Old Jim Crow, and those awkward school desegregation years, to the Black Power-vs.-Integration paradoxes that African-Americans faced in those pre- and post-Civil Rights struggles, victories and discouragements.

I didn’t realize, until the spring-and-summer of my life, that those years of growing up and working mostly in the South, before and after an enlightening overseas military stint, were probably unique, compared to others in my forever-changing multiracial group of peers, including athletics and business. However, various issues within life’s daily challenges seem to have quenched my thirst or impeded the environs for writing the way I once envisioned. Yet, it’s still amazing how my childhood observations and life-long experiences with racism and cultural ignorance seem not so different from what I see around me, today, in the fall-and-winter of my years, six grandkids later..

Statutory Bigotry on Parade

Frankly, I feel that you would have to travel back in time, before you could even begin to understand the inherent racism and/or bigoted racial bias associated with today’s judicial system in the United States; perhaps, as far back as 1857 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Dred Scott Decision” (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393). Historians say it ruled that African-Americans had no standing to sue in federal courts. Back track even further and you’ll find the so-called “Three-Fifth’s Compromise,” from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, which divvied up slaves within the backroom politics of “proportional representation” and allocations of political power, according to other historians.

But, in my opinion, even the Emancipation Proclamation, several years in the wake of the “Dred Scott Decision,” did not resolve the issue of slavery, the way our history books like to brag.   The way I see it, slavery did not end. It was just redefined, as in “re-enslavement.”  And, the long parade of injustices, still evident within our legal system, simply fell in behind the band.

It’s a parade that marched in support of various forms of structural racism, like plantation slavery, “Slave Codes,” prison farm industries, “Black Codes,” Jim Crow-ism, racial segregation and some fanciful notions of “white privilege” in a nation of dwindling white demographics, and the creeping cancer of “white supremacy.”

More recent, still, take the outrageous outcome of Florida’s recent Seminole County Case, State of Florida v George Zimmerman, coupled with the presumed-guilt of an unarmed, African-American, hoodie-wearing teen.  In my opinion, systemic racial and cultural bias was not the only factor contributing to how our tarnished system of justice failed young Trayvon Martin.  Plain ol’ common sense seemed to be playing hooky, as well as a seasoned prosecution team, the day that Mr. Zimmerman was found “not guilty” in this murder. Furthermore,  the defense team audaciously argued that Zimmerman was “justified” in killing young Trayvon because he had somehow “armed himself with the concrete sidewalk” they were said to be scuffling on. Tragic stuff.

Even the simple legal concept of proximate or direct cause (a cause which produces an event) seemed to be conveniently on “vacation,” too, as this gun-toting neighborhood night-watchman and mixed-martial arts novice (who reportedly fancied a career in law enforcement) opened his car door in hot pursuit of his own imagination.   

From jump, half-baked opinions, stereotypical assumptions and knee-jerk reactions to this case spiraled. The potential for counterproductive, racial violence once again raised its ugly head. But, the lessons of our repugnant judicial history seemed to quell the angry voices and hot-heads across the land.  In some ways, it seemed to kick-start new efforts for prudent legal, social and political change, more conscious of the growing needs and changing demographics of our nation.

However, I don’t believe that racial and cultural bias will ever fully go away, without major shifts in the way we think. But, hopefully, neither should common-sense and common decency within the quest for equitable justice and fairness for all of our nation’s citizens. Yet, we remain a pathologically sick nation due to the relentless drip of systemic racism associated with our ugly past and national sin- the sin of stealing this land- by hook or crook and broken treaties– from the Native American Indian tribes. And, various hypocritical, situational interpretations of the Bible only contributed to theological contradictions, in my humble opinion.

We don’t seem to be able to come to grips with our past, let alone our future.  And, the way our government functions- or doesn’t function– these days, only seems to exacerbate lingering racial tensions, contributing to even more racially lopsided opinion poll results, as the probability for a so-called, much-needed “conversation on race” fizzles and burns, much like the gunpowder that ignited old muzzle-loading rifles, long before the Civil War.

Shameful Social Decay

From growing up and playing high school sports in the South, during the early years of school desegregation, I’ve experienced how quickly those angry, loud voices of ignorance and hate can turn to brutal and bloody exchanges of fear and vile attacks on each other’s imagined realities. Afterwards, like little children caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, I’ve seen faces aglow with unabashed guilt and shame, as all parties involved retreated to their own tiny corners of shame and faulty justifications. 

In the process, I also learned some bizarre lessons about racial harmony and group trust when white football-and-track teammates began to stand up and help us fight a few racial skirmishes, while being ostracized, themselves. The way I was beginning to see it, there probably wasn’t much difference between defending the honor of one’s school colors, team colors or, whatever race or belief system one ascribes to or is assigned at birth.  

Similar lessons were later learned, while stationed in the Mediterranean Basin, playing soccer (and, eight-man flag football) with other “hyphenated American” teammates, like Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, French-Americans, Hispanic- or Puerto Rican-Americans, etc. Interestingly, many opposing teams (military, university and industrial-league soccer clubs) were seeing an African-American for the first time in their lives. But, after traveling among, and competing within various progressive European and African environs, in the Mediterranean Basin, I’ve come to truly despise the racial silliness that increasingly saps our energy and thwarts our ability to become the great nation we tend to preach and teach about. Yet, these were lessons which helped shape my view of America’s true potential, as well as my own brand of patriotism, for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, we seem readily able to construct critical thinking and social analysis on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egyptian Civilization, while being completely oblivious to the symptoms of social decay and moral decline swirling all around us. Meanwhile, a proper analysis and dissemination of facts for the rise and fall of great Ancient Ethiopian and African Empires, not to mention the lost contributions and hushed genius of the Australian Aborigine, remain strategically scanty and bleak. Even the fading of Western Hemispheric civilizations, like the Ancient Mayans and the cliff-dwelling Ancient Pueblo Indians, are still calculatingly mystifying, at best.

And, here, in modern-day America, our nation has yet to come to grips with the idea that an American-born citizen, President Barack Obama, of African and European ancestry, can rise from humble beginnings to become the 44th and current president of these United States of America. Judging from the whiny rhetoric of Tea Party Republicans, you’d think that his election was a slap in the face, rather than electoral enlightenment and ray of hope that many in the rest of the world saw it.

To put it bluntly, borrowing a phrase from one of my heroes in the Civil Rights Movement- Ms. Fannie Lou Hammer– perhaps like most decent-thinking Americans, today, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired…” of how President Barack Obama, popularly elected to the most powerful office on earth, is constantly treated by the dueling political factions and right-wing race mongers.  The lack of respect in many circles for our First Lady, Michelle Obama, is equally atrocious. This right-wing, mealy-mouthed spewing of negativity and trash-mouth, race-baiting flies in the face of our national conscience and goes against the true spirit of freedom in America.

I’m also disappointed at what we, as a nation, now seem to be teaching our children about morality and ethics, and a somewhat pompous classroom history view of times past, within the pluralistic society we profess to be. It’s become nauseating to see politicians, and various caucuses on both sides of the aisle, trotting out behind public podiums for press conferences in front of logo-filled backdrops, flanked by political flunkies, to spout off groupthink rhetoric rather than bipartisan reasoning. This includes all political theater and other nonsense designed to appease the frivolities of wealthy campaign contributors and/or extreme-leaning special interest groups, rather than the electoral majority which elected them. 

Miscalculated Fury

Since his 2008 inauguration, the Republican/ GOP brand has constantly snapped at the heels of our president, undermining everything he attempts, sabotaging any policies he puts forth and torpedoing significant judicial nominees and appointments.  Then, unbelievingly, they flip the scrip to blame the president for being unable to get anything accomplished.  But, the way I see it, it’s likely their own pea-brain stupidity and short-sighted inability to sit down at the table of reason, like real grownups, for decision-making discourse and dialogue which is to blame. Instead, they seem more apt in dedicating themselves to further stuffing the pockets of, or running point for, an obscenely wealthy elite, often as well as themselves.

Similar to the way Southern politicians use to miscalculate the seething rage and political will of the American populace, black and white, during the Civil Rights Movement, I feel the Republican Party and their Tea Party cohorts have greatly miscalculated the deep-seated anger and resolve of the American public. This seems evident within the mounting wrath against surreptitiously slick attempts by Republicans to destroy the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down certain provisions of this heralded civil-rights legislation.

Right now, our economic and judicial systems appear rigged for the status quo power elite. But, in my opinion, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a growing percentage of the American electorate, a more racially and ethnically diverse voting public, has increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with various economic and legal inequalities, as well as archaic notions of white privilege. Besides, the days of yore for a majority-white America will soon fizzle and fade and time is nigh for folk to get beyond the transition. Of course, there are counterproductive, romantic die-hards who think otherwise.

But, like the miscalculations of America’s will, during the Civil Rights Movement, the 2014 mid-term election and 2016 presidential election outcomes might come from the unintended functions of the wrath of different, but more fair-minded, progressive coalitions within the voting process. Besides, the very definition of the term, “conservative” (i.e., reluctant to or against change, etc.), is oxymoronic to the ideal of growing “a more perfect union,” in my opinion. The forgotten lessons of the Civil Rights Movement suggest that increasing the level of difficulty to vote, for minorities, merely flames the anger and intensifies the will to “get out the vote,” stimulating an unintended backlash against voter suppression.

Of the People, By the People, For the People

The upcoming elections just may be the opportunity to sweep many of the self-serving, dysfunctional politicians out of office. Behind it, perhaps the long-awaited push for more realistic term limits in Congress can begin in earnest, via bipartisan legislation of individuals more representative of our changing demographics and more cognizant of our nation’s changing social and economic needs.

That’s the real power of the vote, no matter what structural barriers, real or perceived, are rigged against it. The way I see it, the future of racial gerrymandering in political districts might eventually be undermined by a more diverse, multicultural society, where racial coalitions and political alliances along similar agenda might become more profoundly effective than racially or ethnically polarized voting districts. It’s possible that it could usher in a period when the silliness of racial gerrymandering might become moot and academic.  Just a thought, a noteworthy rationale for the next national conversation on race, perhaps…

In any case, a more prudent-minded Congress and a more judicious, far-sighted electorate is a thought worthy of our nation’s commitment to our children and grandchildren. And, my experience with the positive aspects of multiculturalism, and lessons associated with racism and cultural ignorance, makes me feel that it’s the only way America can stem the apparent tide of declining leadership in the world.  

It’s also the way that this land in which I was born-and-bred can “…rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed,” so eloquently stated within the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, some 50 years ago this month. His dream is my dream, too, just a tad suspended.

Backstreet Djeli  w.d.s.

 

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GUN SANITY LESSONS LEARNED, OR UNLEARNED? From Australia’s Newtown Community to Newtown, Connecticut

 Backstreet Djeli 5“As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions…”  (President Barack Obama, At Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Newtown, Conn on December 16, 2012)

 

Despite mankind’s painfully long proclivity for violence and barbaric thirst for war, there seems to always be an occasional hallmark of civilization, along the way, which shakes up our realities, forever impacting us all, no matter your views on race, religion or politics. It seems to me that the recent slaughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School’s 20 children and six staff members, in Newtown, Conn, just 10 days before Christmas (2012), was one of those symbolic times.

Australia’s Nightmare

While the jury is still out on exactly what this avowed “civilized” nation will do in response, it’s interesting to note that some insight might be gained from the aftermath of yet another carnage, some 10,000 miles away, about 20 hours as the crow flies, from an ugly tourist site incident, some 17 years earlier- in Australia.

According to Australian news accounts (The Daily Telegraph, 05/01/1996), this was the “Port Arthur Massacre” and took place at the historic Port Arthur Prison Colony in Tasmania, Australia, in the morning and afternoon hours of April 28, 1996. Archives describe this incident as a “killing spree,” perhaps “one of the deadliest shootings worldwide,” which left 35 dead and 23 wounded, ranging in age from 3 to 72.

Reportedly, this nightmarish bloodbath took place at the Broad Arrow Café, in Port Arthur Bay, after 28-year-old Martin Bryant of Newtown, a suburb of Hobart, finished his meal and returned his tray, then whipped out a “Colt-AR 15” rifle, with an attached scope and 30-round magazine, and began firing from the hip. News archives say that within 15 seconds, he had killed 12 people and wounded 10. It was later learned that he had just earlier killed a couple who owned the nearby “Seascape,” a bed-and-breakfast resort property that his father once attempted to purchase. 

His next stop was the gift shop area where many people, on hearing the earlier shots and commotion, had begun hiding, trapped under tables and shop displays. In less than 2 minutes, Bryant had fired off another 29 rounds. The number killed climbed to 20. Those injured stood at 12. Some escaped through the kitchen, scattering to where cars and tourist buses were parked and began warning others. But, confusion further complicated the chaos with some individuals, thinking it was all connected to an historical reenactment, started moving toward the gunfire, as others ran to hide around buses and cars. By that time, four more were added to the kill.  Six more were injured.

Bryant moved on to the nearby toll booth and a service station, shooting and killing women and children along the way, before returning to the bed-and-breakfast property he had started from. The two police officers, normally stationed nearby, were away responding to a false emergency report. But, a special group of officers arrived later in the evening where an 18-hour standoff took place, since a hostage had been taken.  The next morning, Bryant had started a fire which ignited ammunition explosions. With his clothes on fire, he came running out of the property and was arrested by police. The hostage had been killed.   

During the trial that followed, Bryant was seen laughing hysterically as the judge recited the charges. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 35 life-imprisonment terms, plus 1,035 years for the slaughter- never to be released- without possibility of parole. His mental capacity and “intellectual disabilities” were widely debated, yet, he was assessed as fit to stand trial as a “mentally competent adult.” 

On January 16, 2013, in a New York Times Op-Ed (The Opinion Pages, “I Went After Guns… Obama Can, Too,” by John Howard, a contributing writer), John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia, presiding during the “Port Arthur Massacre,” pointed out that beefing up their gun control laws, coupled with installing an intense federally-financed gun buy-back scheme, cut firearm suicides by 74% and reversed gun massacres following the 1996 incident. He said that in the 18 years before the incident, there were 18 massacres (each with more than 4 victims) with 102 deaths. After the incident, following legislation and a ban on “military-style” assault weapons, “There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996,” according to Howard.

America’s Political Realities

No doubt, there are significant differences between the operational, constitutional and political constraints of Australia’s response to this gun violence and America’s dilly-dallying with the issue.  But, disregarding the trumped up hype and politicized distortions of proposed bans on military style assault weapons, coupled with deliberate misinterpretations of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment (Bill of Rights section, protecting “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”), it seems that President Obama’s recent proposal (The White House Fact Sheet, January 16, 2013, “Now Is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities…”) is merely another clarion call for a return to reasonable debate, reinforced with his inking of 23 related executive actions. Such debates would hopefully take place within the resurrection of a once-respected, congressional decision making process- snail paced by design- in order to better minimize the likelihood of mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Tucson, Arizona, as well as reducing gun violence overall.

According to the White House’s plan, essential elements of the proposal included: (1) closing background check loopholes, (2) banning “military-style” assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, (3) making schools safer and (4) increasing access to mental health services.  It does not include plans, like the fake NRA and GOP claims that they’re out “to take your guns” away. The apparent GOP rush to block everything attempted by this nation’s purportedly first African-American president seems to have backed them into another legislative corner, leading to even more rigid distortions of 2nd Amendment Rights.

Regardless of your preference for owning or not owning guns, you would probably think that these proposals were a prudent starting point for debate, given the recent carnage involving many innocent lives, children and adults. Yet, even in the wake of these horrific bloodbaths, it’s the illogical knee-jerk reactions, childish congressional whining and greedy turf-protection antics that seem to hog the political headlines, rather than common-sense collective approaches to solving national dilemmas.

Aloof  Politicians?

Meanwhile, the President of the United States has to darn near beg the American public to take some action to get their elected representatives to get off of their pathetic hindquarters and do something positive about reducing gun violence. But, consistent with crass political greed around the world, our own congressional “bourgeoisie” appear to worry more about protecting their own economic self-interests or stuffing their own pockets, widely tethered to various special interest groups.  They appear to have become increasingly unattached from the realities of America’s hard-working poor and their dwindling “middle class” cousins, while bent on creating mini “fiefdoms” and personal profit-maximization strategies, rather than acting within the fiduciary capacity they’ve been entrusted by the electorate.

And, judging from recent discoveries of the GOP’s surreptitious scampering to rig the Electoral College and the 2016 presidential elections in their favor (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 01/25/2013, “GOP scheme aims to rig presidential elections,”  by Michael Paul Williams), their seemingly phobic-panic disorder and detachment from reality now seems certified, as well as oblivious of this nation’s new demographics, in my opinion.  According to 2010 U.S. Census summary reports, “More than half of the growth in the total population of the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Hispanic population.” 

Yet, recent national polling data are consistent in suggesting that the GOP seriously needs to find a way to expand their base beyond their white male core of support, otherwise, as GOP strategist, Ed Rollins, even put it, the Republican Party will still be just as “a bunch of old white guys” (“Ed Rollins: GOP Needs To Be Less Old, White And Fat,” The Huffington Post, Melissa Jeltsen, 07/10/2012). You would think that the flip-flopped  electorate demographics between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, during the 2012 presidential election, would provide a hint of things to come, if they don’t get serious about a sincere means of expanding their base.  

Or, Elusive Reasoning?

But, the more pressing issue of the day seems to be how we address the national gun sanity (insanity?) lessons, learned or unlearned, in a manner which fosters responsible debate on both sides of the issue. However, the lack of a seasoned statesman, GOP arrogance, congressional grid-lock and other barriers to consensus decision-making seems to have sapped our nation’s political will, now withering on the vine. But, the way I see it, President Obama and other prudent gun control advocates has merely been suggesting that simple reasoning should dictate our direction on this issue, not more obstruction politics.

If members of congress could humble themselves to applying the simple decision-making tools of the “Reasonable Person” standard (or “Prudent Person” Rule), we just might benefit from the lessons learned within recent mass shooting tragedies. It’s a common law guideline which stems from a community judgment composite for how someone should act, or not act, in situations that pose a threat of harm to the public.  Simply put, the standard says that a duty is owed to act as a “reasonable person” would act under the same or similar circumstances.  

According to Congressional Research data, of the 535 members in the 112th Congress (435 U.S. Representatives, 100 Senators), attorneys make up the largest voting bloc (37% of the House, 60% of the Senate).  Surely, if that many lawyers, already familiar with this “reasonable person” tool, are acting in such a fiduciary capacity for the nation, shouldn’t Congressional productivity (processing and passing bills, etc.), currently zapped by grid-locking activities, be more reasonably vigorous when applied to major issues facing America, today? 

Ask yourself: In the aftermath of the horrific Newtown, Connecticut bloodbath which snuffed out the lives of so many innocent children, is that really such a hard question to answer?

“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

 

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SHADES OF A RAINBOW: America’s Slippery Slope of the “One-Drop Rule” and the “First Black President”

“The United States is the only country in the world in which a white woman can give birth to a black baby but a black woman cannot give birth to a white baby.”  (Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop Research Professor of History at Harvard University)

First, it began with the kitchen-table whispers of adults in various homes of friends and family.  Then, the hushed insinuations became more discernible within the visions of my mind, even names- but, not the faces- you recognized within their flights of fantasy about who must have slept with whom, and when, as well as how, among the racial muck and mire of the upper part of the Deep South.

Later, I began to understand that it must have been the way that race horses were bred in the Antebellum South, in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, as well as black women captured or duped within the Atlantic Slave Trade- like “thoroughbreds” of an abominable racial pedigree, from the ancient wombs of Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Timbuktu, defiled and contaminated within the perverted lust for the power of the gun and a twisted Eurocentric belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority.

As a child, growing up in the waning years of Old Jim Crow, by the time you were in the 5th grade, the vicious school-house recess rumors were full-blown episodes of black families with white grandparents, “high yellow” cousins and fair-skinned stepbrothers and sisters on the other side of the river, or proverbial railroad tracks. These were the accepted, and often rejected, by-products of a peculiar hybrid manifestation of racism- the problem of race and color in America, somewhere along the continuum of being Colored, Negro and Black and now African-American or, on occasion, even Mixed Race.

Some journey… But, frankly, those were the thoughts that loomed in my mind when all the hoopla began about mixed-race heritage and the “first black president,” during Barack Obama’s first run for the White House Oval Office, in 2008. For me, being an African-American with truncated roots in Africa, America AND Europe, the whole idea behind some sort of racial purity in the United States has always been a colossal joke, something the mongrelized, pea-brain racial purists and pragmatic realist will probably quibble about forever. It’s also why I felt that pinning a racial label on the president would be tricky and precarious, at best, given the complexities of our nation’s racial past. 

But, I’ll leave all that for the geneticist and pseudo-pedigree peddlers to argue, since I truly believe that we’re all some part-50th cousin to everybody else in the world. And, the kalideoscope of colors and skin-tones in America, alone, suggest that many folk have been in denial and “whistling dixie” for ages. In fact, I used to gauge where some white co-workers’ heads were at, by calling them “cousin,” at times, sort of a workplace barometer to test various mindsets and sensitivities. Depending on their response, I knew they were probably accepting of reality or simply “whistling dixie” within the limited social and business interactions we experienced.

Silly Conjecture? 

It’s also why the idea of President Barack Hussein Obama being the “first black president” of these United States is laughable to me, especially considering the facts and research surrounding the arguably five or six “black presidents,” tinted by the “One-Drop Rule,” which preceded him. His being the “first” infers that the premise is a foregone conclusion in a society chock-full of debatable ancestry.

I’m not trying to shake up anyone’s pedigree chart or other illusions about where they came from, or who they really are, but let me explain where I’m coming from.

At a time in which America seems to be teetering on the edge of politicized economic extinction, it’s becoming clearer that race and ethnicity seem to be our nation’s number one problem, still, if you read between the lines of the political pundits and nut-ball critics of the current president’s administration. And, the issue seems systemic to our mongrelized bloodlines. Yes, “mongrelized,” pure and simple. Of course the so-called “blue blood” families of our society would beg to differ on this idea.

The “One-Drop Rule,” alone is enough to drive a sane person crazy, let alone the hushed idea and experiments with eugenics (the pseudo-science of improving the human species), coupled with convoluted laws against miscegenation (race mixing) in America, spun into existence within the colonies of the Antebellum South.

Oh, I nearly forgot, we don’t speak this way in our modern-day, multi-cultural society.  I mean, we don’t speak this way, anymore.  It’s blasphemous. But, trailing in the wake of our nation’s various “Black Code Laws” (1860’s), when “Jim Crow” was alive and flourishing- between the period after the Civil War (1880’s) and the Civil Rights Movement (1960’s), such profane community speak was commonplace or common thought, perhaps even somewhat sacred, among the lingering Antebellum Era diehards.  It was also popular in confederated slave states bent on secessionism and profit maximization on the backs of slave labor, according to my review of history.

According to my research and additional insights passed on through my ancestors and certain professors, the “One-Drop Rule” was once used in America, incredibly, to pigeon-hole a person, supposedly with “one drop of black or African blood,” in order to advance the cause of white supremacy and to assign children of mixed-race sexual unions to a socio-economic group of lesser status than society’s prevailing status quo. But, its effect is still felt, today.

As a child, I still recall the silly little ditty we sang among ourselves: “If you white, you’re alright, if you brown, stick around, if you black, get back… get back, get back, man!” And, we always cracked up behind it. Shucks, at ages 8, 9 and 10, little did we understand the dynamics behind the power of suggestion, especially as it applied to improving the lives of a white supremacist status quo, during the days and reign of ole Jim Crow.

Delusional Pedigree

Now, I realize I’m probably shaking up the pedigree-illusion world of many Americans, black, white or otherwise. But, we don’t seem to be able to, or simply won’t, talk to each other in serious tones regarding race.  It’s probably why we’ve wound up on the brink of politicized economic extinction, or suicide.

After all, what other expected outcomes were there,as we approach the re-election of our nation’s so-called “first black president,” on the heels of an unprecedented, GOP-led sabotage of America’s economic recovery and everything our president has attempted! The brink and the re-election must be devastating to the fearful, lingering Antebellum Era mindset, which is apparently hovering over the horribly failed 112th Congress. It is quantifiably the least productive, most divisive Congress, passing the fewest laws of any previous congressional session, to date.

Yet, here’s the funny part.  From what I recall, the “One-Drop Rule” claimed that anyone having at least one-eighth black blood or African ancestry was labeled as legally black. I guess that meant anyone with less than one-eighth African ancestry was legally white. But, how in the heck was this all measured within a society which, back then, was known to have serious flaws in keeping records of birth, death and marriage.  I recall that Florida once claimed to have the oldest records of vital statistics, only going back to 1865. And, between 1790 and 1840, when the U.S. Census Office was established (forerunner of the U.S. Census Bureau), the census was taken by a decentralized system of regional representatives or marshals which missed a lot of folk. 

We honor Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492.  However, historical documentation exists for expeditionary visits to these shores, by others, many years earlier. But, we did in-fact declare our independence from Great Britain, on July 4, 1776, long before the U.S. Census office was established.

Given this backdrop, it’s interesting that President Barack Obama is even considered as the “first black president.”  You see, even during slavery and before records of vital statistics and census were being kept, most people were accepted within, or rejected from, membership in the so-called white majority culture, based on their appearance, or degree of visibility towards blackness or whiteness. Back then, in early Colonial America, many people, black and white and Native-American, did not keep good records of ancestry. As I child, even I instinctively knew this, based on my crude observations and various kitchen table conversations.

So, I think it stands to reason that somebody classified as legally black, who probably looked white, might have been president long before President Barack Obama was even born.  And, I can just hear the naysayers and racial purists, with their political spins and shams, and their squirming behinds in neo-Confederate seats, trying to explain their allegiance to an earlier presidency- which happened to be black. But, the idea of a black president before President Obama is not such a foreign idea and has long been speculated and, some say, recently proven via strenuous research by scholars and historians, black and white.  

When I was a child, certain folk in the community were known to be “passing” for white. It was their choice, pure and simple, to avoid the social misery and difficulties associated with being considered black and a 2nd class citizen in a society geared for a status quo of wretched white supremacists, as well as decent-leaning white citizenry. So, I wasn’t surprised when running across research which strongly suggested that up to six presidents in the United States, before President Obama, may have been legally black.

Plausible Heritage

It now seems that contemporary historians are all over the place on the whiteness or blackness of the following presidents:  (1) Thomas Jefferson, (2) Andrew Jackson, (3) Abraham Lincoln, (4) Warren Harding, (5) Calvin Coolidge and (6) Dwight E. Eisenhower. As for their alleged racial heritages, I have friends who simply say “C’mon man….” dismissing the possibility altogether. Independent historians, some call “amateur,” and historians of the status quo, alike, argue for and against theorems and research published on the curious ancestry of these individuals.

But, whether or not you give any credence to the “Six Black Presidents: Black Blood: White Masks USA” (by Dr. Auset Bakhufu, 338 pgs, 1st, Ed published Jan 1993, Pik2 Publishing) or “The five Negro Presidents: According to what White People Said They Were (by Joel Augustus Rogers, 19-page pamphlet, published May 1965, Publisher:  Helga Rogers), it’s reasonable to allow for the likelihood that between one and six black presidents may have been in office, based on historical research and the existence of the “One-Drop Rule,” as well as the hierarchy of color in Colonial America, where white or lighter skin tones always carried a higher value than black or  darker skin. 

There’s even a widely rejected view, as hoax, by historians and biographers, of a seventh black president, John Hanson, rumored to be a Moor and chosen by Congress, in 1781, to run the country as the 1st President of the Continental Congress (a ceremonial position before the Executive Branch was established in 1789 and before George Washington became president). They also tend to reject much of the claims regarding African ancestry in American presidents.  Yet, they readily acknowledge our nation’s nagging legacy and hushed realities of interracial relationships and secret sexual liaisons. 

Cultural Rainbow/ Shades of Color

It’s also interesting that many of the first Europeans that came to the United States were, like Africans and Native Americans, not exactly white and were considered to be minorities.  Over the years, the Immigration services and self-identification within the census-taking process seem to have gradually accepted or claimed many immigrants with dark-skinned heritage as being classified as white after a few generations, even as the minority population in the U.S. continues to grow. 

In my lifetime, I’ve seen racial identification within my own family and families of friends first collectively use, then gradually eliminate, such terms as mulatto (1/2 black), quadroon (1/4 black), octoroon (1/8 black), half-breed, etc., when referring to our ancestors or conditions during the Jim Crow years.  And, I still marvel and often laugh at how my light-skinned paternal grandfather, of Scotch-Irish ancestry, often called mulatto or white, and my cinnamon-brown-skinned grandmother, of Coastal West African and Cherokee Indian ancestry, traveled in different railroad cars, pretending they didn’t know each other, when traveling by train from Ohio to visit our home in Kentucky. It was no big thing, back then, just part of an every-day survival skill-set, during the segregation years. But, it’s almost laughable, today. 

But, when I look around at the rainbow of skin-tones, open eyes and softened hearts in America, today, I’m puzzled.  I wonder how we ever arrived at this stage in our nation’s development one political party seems bent on bringing  people together, while another seems to be tracking backwards, aiming to retract or reverse old civil rights legislation. It seems to be oblivious to the racial reality of the expanding minority communities which they continue to slander and offend with despicable racist and sexist rhetoric, filled with bald-face lies and calculated distortions.

I’m puzzled. Yet, I understand all the reasons why, given the harshness of our racial past and the lingering attitudes of an Antebellum mindset, stuck on stupid and some notion of Anglo-Saxon superiority and “blue blood” pedigree.  This includes the unfounded fears of racial retributions or reversed abuses of political power, as well as the assorted predictions for a coming race war, all stemming from the cultural ignorance in America from not being able to talk in serious tones about race to each other.

That’s why I’m happy to cast my vote for the re-election of President Barack Obama, no matter what he calls himself. A vote for O-B-A-M-A is a vote for progress, not regress and certainly not a return to the Jim Crow and Antebellum mindset of yesteryear. It’s a vote for a rainbow of possibilities, like the colorful, mythological Phoenix, arising out of the ashes from our ugly past. 

Wake up America, a V-O-T-E  F-O-R  O-B-A-M-A is a vote for an America we all already know and love.  It’s not the hate-filled, divisive America apparently envisioned by certain race-baiting politicians, pseudo-journalists and fake television-news shows. Rather, it’s the people-loving and caring America which is slow to anger, but quick in kindness, at home and abroad. 

Ask yourself, what does your cultural and social quotient really tell you when hearing that black people vote for our president only because he’s black, when they’ve voted for previous presidents who happened to be white– or, mostly white, depending on your interpretation of the “One-Drop Rule”?

Really? 

Could it be simply because of the content of his character and gist of his political party’s platform which, when compared to the flip-flopping flaps of his opponent and his party’s platform, earns President Obama the trust of many citizens within every color and shades of color, within the spectrum of America’s- and, the world’s- cultural and racial rainbow.  

Ask yourself, do the people who seem to hate President Obama truly hate him- or, within the slippery slope of America’s “One-Drop Rule,” they somehow hate themselves?

Backstreet Djeli w.d.s.

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BALLOT BOX HIJINKS: From “Three-fifths a Person” to a Black Man in the White House

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”   Frederick Douglass 

 

Prudent minds and discerning hearts, perhaps for most Americans, are long past being shocked at the sickening dribble of politicized race-baiting and divisive rhetoric concerning our tall, lanky and cool-headed Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama, whose speeches media pundits often describe as Lincolnesque

But, when the whiny Republican-generated sarcasm began to fan the flames of fictional voter fraud insinuations, igniting counter-productive voter law changes, I knew that their fake ranting would throw the entire election-year dialogue way off course, unless some appreciation existed for the cultural and legal backdrop of Lincoln’s time.

Lincoln’s Landscape

In his prophetic speech concerning “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” at the Illinois Republican Convention (June 16, 1858), Abraham Lincoln painted his vision of why this nation would eventually become united. That was over 150 years ago when America’s legal landscape and cultural mindset routinely denied justice and dignity to African-Americans, as well as others within the poor-and-downtrodden grouping of the Christian idiom, “the least of these,” our ancestral brethren and fellow countrymen. 

Archives record Lincoln as musing, “…I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other…” Four years later, as president, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Regardless of the extenuating political circumstances which inspired his comments, one has to marvel at the grit and spunk required for a white guy, politician or not, to verbalize such feelings at a time when, in the eyes of the law, black people were not considered to be full human beings. They were considered as “three-fifths of a person,” instead.   

Back then, before the power of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution refashioned our legal landscaping, blacks could not vote, could not own property, could not own firearms, could not obtain good paying jobs, could not obtain a good education and could not even testify in court against whites. Along with poor whites, they did not posses any of the same benefits or rights to justice that were routinely granted to the genteel white citizenry.

Affective Black Phobia

In my opinion, it wasn’t too far removed the from mindset, coupled with an acquired fear of black people, by some, which paved the road to the lingering racism and shameful motives by others, today, to play legislative games with the ballot box and selectively tinker with established methods of simplifying the process of voting. Incredulously, this has occurred at times when our nation is often invited to monitor elections for electoral fraud in other countries.  

But, the way I see it: 

IF you could peel back the scabs of racism in the United States, and examine the oozing sores of an inconsistent justice system, you might begin to feel the despair and frustrations of many black families from living during the period when the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roger B. Taney, in the Court’s majority opinion (a.k.a., the “Dred Scott Decision“), wrote that the political leaders who framed the U.S. Constitution felt that black people “…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.” (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 1857)

IF you could see the morphed pre-Civil War reasoning of white Southerners behind the economic thinking associated with the declining “benefits” of using of slaves as free labor, and their fear for encroaching social class divisions, you might begin to see some of the despair and frustrations that many whites wrestled with during the confusing pro-slavery morality of the times. And, the spiraling fear of slave rebellion sweeping across the country, only added to their woes.

IF you could see or feel any of this, in my opinion, you may still never grasp the shadowy reasons why race and the voting rights are still a top-of-the-chart, post-Civil Rights issue, today. But, it may give you a clue to why today’s dwindling sense of white privilege and superiority seems to be stoking the fires of fear and division with bizarre strategies to prevent or discourage Americans from exercising their right to vote.    

IF you reach back far enough into our history’s ugly episodes of suppressing the black vote, you may even get a sense of why the Republican Party’s cynical legislation, earmarked for changing various voter laws, seems so far out of synch with progressive attitudes in the Democratic Party, as new racial tensions fills the air. It’s the stuff which has already shaped the electoral landscape and skewed the discord within the 2012 Presidential Election campaigning.  It’s also part of the logic fallacies associated with the oft-stated goal of the Republican Party’s Minority Leader of the Senate (“Mitch” McConnell) to limit President Obama to serving only one term.

Whitewashing the Black Codes

Surely, all Republicans are not racist, nor wedded to the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) lunatic fringe which seems bent on putting forth perverted beliefs and trumped-up distortions concerning voter fraud and voting rights. But, the combined effect of recent state voting law restrictions seem more in line with thinking which existed when Southern legislatures passed “Black Codes” (between 1800 and 1866, similar to Antebellum Slave Codes) to control the behavior of “Negro” or black Americans. According to historian, John Hope Franklin, these were “…to insure their role as a laboring force in the South.” (“From Slavery to Freedom:  A History of Negro Americans,” by Franklin,  Alfred A Knopf, Inc., Pub.).

In some states, black slaves or ex-slaves could only work in agriculture or as domestic servants.  Some codes made it illegal for blacks to live in cities or possess firearms. It also denied them the right to vote.  Franklin observed that “The control of blacks by white employers was about as great as that which slaveholders had exercised.”  Blacks were not allowed to testify in court, except in cases involving their own race. And, there was “no indication that in the future they could look forward to full citizenship and participation in a democracy.”

Cousin to these mandates, “Jim Crow” laws became rampant after “Black Codes” were declared unconstitutional.  These were state and local laws, enacted during the 90-year period after 1876. They were designed to keep the races separate and maintain the white supremacist status quo. Racial inequality was central to their belief system. And, it remains so today for those that cling to this antiquated mindset. Blacks were excluded from political party primaries, allowing whites the freedom to plot political strategies behind closed doors, further disenfranchising blacks and citizenship rights.

Constitutional Course Correction 

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, added in 1865, made slavery illegal.  History notes that many states complied with the laws they passed. But, many whites and southern states fought against them and all laws which spelled any notion of equal opportunity. Slave owners still desired the economic benefits of free slave labor, sexual experimentation and human breeding which provided the nation’s cheap labor force. They feared that freeing slaves would eliminate those advantages.

The 14th Amendment, added in 1868, was to help protect the rights of the newly freed slave.  Simply put, it considered all persons born within the boundaries of the United States as natural citizens with the same rights as all other Americans. It prohibited states from making or enforcing laws which took away a citizen’s civil rights, in an environment where voting information, and the power associated with voting, was something many whites felt should be kept away from black people. 

The 15th Amendment, added in 1870, was specifically aimed at protecting the voting rights of African-Americans. It thwarted government efforts to refuse anyone their right to vote because of their race or color- or, previous status as a slave. This was at a time in which many blacks were becoming aware of the political power of the vote, in the wake of the Reconstruction Act, of 1867 and 1868, designed “…for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States,” according to historical archives. Yet, women of all races were still denied the right to vote, until the 19th Amendment was added in 1920.

White Supremacy Backlash

But, it was also a time in which barriers to black voting surfaced in the form of a “Poll Tax”- to be paid before voting- and reading and writing tests were to be required of former slaves and groups of people who were previously denied an education. In the South, the “Poll Tax” and so-called “Literacy Tests” were later joined by a complex array of voter suppression techniques, including scare tactics within the sheet-cloaked bigotry of the pea-brained terrorist, Ku Klux Klan, aimed at disenfranchising blacks and poor whites. This included “Residency Requirements” and schemes in the timing of voter registration, as it related to election dates and locations, as well as “Felony Disenfranchisement,” for crimes committed by blacks.

In the South, “Jim Crow Laws” replaced the “Black Codes,” once used within the political shenanigans to reinstate slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War before they were declared unconstitutional and removed during the Reconstruction period. 

Eventually, “Jim Crow Laws” were declared unconstitutional and removed, too. These were laws which shaped the political landscapes between 1876 and 1965.  They legalized racial segregation in all public facilities in the South, where I was born and raised. They were politicized edicts of the Confederacy which promoted a twisted ideology of equality under the cloak of a stated “separate but equal” status for African-Americans.

This fake ideology, promoting white supremacy and white political power- not always just in the South- led to many social, economic and educational disadvantages for black people, poor whites and other racial minorities in general. In my opinion, it forever shackled the thinking and behavior of individuals raised during that time, or on the fringe of its cultural landscaping, for generations to come. More important, it impacted what families taught their kids and kin behind closed doors. It’s a cancer, surely. Yet, I feel it’s a cancer with a cure.

In the Wake of Turbulence

Old “Jim Crow” stumbled around in the approaching storm clouds of the Civil Rights Movement, flapped his freakish, defiant wings once more and flew off into the sunset with the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous (9-0) decision, Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, proclaiming separate public schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional, based on a rule violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It may have been a blessing in disguise to live through the school desegregation years, including the racial turbulence which followed. It beefed up our own perspectives of certain moral or inalienable rights, as well as inescapable moral wrongs which still needed to be addressed, in our schools, in our communities and in our courts. But, the many brave, no-nonsense white guys, and other racial groups, that I came into contact with, in athletics, during military service and in business, provided a more realistic perspective of what a “real American” looks like and how they behave– polar opposites to apparent, current GOP leadership demographics. It also helped in what we taught our own kids, now adults with kids, themselves. 

The year I graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Navy, following Cuba’s Bay of Pigs Invasion, in 1961, the current President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, was born (August 4, 1961) in Honolulu, Hawaii, two years after Hawaii became the 50th state of the nation. His legacy is already history.

Three years later, the last of the “Jim Crow Laws” were overruled with the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and buried with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Standing Where Lincoln Stood

Much has happened since.  But, a mere 42 years later, an audacious Senator Barack Obama (D-ILL), armed with years of unheralded civil rights advocacy and voter registration work in the tough streets and alleys of Chicago, as well as teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, stood where Lincoln once stood in calling for an end to slavery and disunity.  In the icy cold winds of February 2007, facing an energetic crowd of 16,000 outside Springfield, Illinois’ Historic Old State Capitol building, he boldly announced that he would seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

That was three years in the wake of his famous and inspiring keynote address to the Democratic National Convention (in Boston, MA) and he admitted to “a certain presumptuousness in this, a certain audacity” to attempt to do what Lincoln did in healing a divided nation.

But, following his election, on the day of his inauguration, January 20, 2009, certain political forces were already meeting in secret, at a private dinner, with the main course being obstruction plots to ensure his administration’s failure. Within the year following, vile voter disenfranchisement activities began oozing to the surface, like raw sewage seeping from a broken sewer pipe.

Yet, according to a recent analysis by the Huffington Post News, “State officials in key presidential battleground states have found only a tiny fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected existed. Searches in Colorado and Florida have yielded numbers that amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state” (“Voter Purges Turn Up Little Evidence Of Fraud Despite Republican Insistence,” Ivan Moreno, September 24, 2012).  However, the Brennan Center for Justice (July 23, 2012) says some 5 million eligible voters could find it more difficult to vote, due to new restrictive voter laws which fall heavily on minorities, the elderly, the disabled, students and low-income Americans.

Lipstick on a Pig?

That’s huge!  Even more astounding are the some 90 million individuals, eligible to vote but remain unregistered for a variety of reasons (“Why 90 million Americans won’t vote in November,” by Susan Page, USA Today, August 15, 2012).  Imagine what might happen if these subversive voter law changes finally ticked them off enough to register!

Voter suppression may not have been what President Obama was referring to when he artfully- or, inartfully- commented on his opponent’s change mantra, in September 2008, during the race for the White House Oval Office, saying You know … you can put lipstick on a pig.  It’s still a pig.”  

On the other hand, more artfully, I can still hear my grandpa, a hog farmer, quipping his oft-quoted phrase, “If it looks like a duck, quacks and smells like a duck, with duck droppings, it’s probably a doggone duck….” But, given the resurgence of irrational fear and bizarre political landscaping, voter suppression looks like the pig in lipstick, today, in my opinion.

Racism is often hard to see, pure and simple. A pig in lipstick is not!  So, if you can see one coming, you still have options:  Get out of its way, ignore it or consult a Psychiatrist- or, an Optometrist!  Whatever you decide, please do so well before the voter registration deadline in your state (which varies by state).

It’s amazing how the landscapes of yesteryear give added perspectives to the caustic, crippling wave of events still lashing about, today, as Tuesday, November 6, 2012 approaches. That’s the day, it seems to me, that America’s prudent minds and discerning hearts will likely return a black man to this nation’s revered White House.

Backstreet Djeli, w.d.

 

PROPELLED BY FEAR: From America’s “Slave Codes” to “Black Codes” and Modern-Day “Negrophobia”

“Negro writers, just being black, have been on the blacklist all our lives.  Do you know that there are libraries in our country that will not stock a book by a Negro writer, even as a gift? There are towns where Negro newspapers and magazines cannot be sold except surreptitiously.  There are American magazines that have never published anything by Negroes.  There are film studios that have never hired a Negro writer.  Censorship for us begins at the color line…”   (From 1957 symposium speech by J. M. Langston Hughes, an African-American Poet & Writer)

 

Irrational Fixations  

When Langston Hughes made this stunning observation, above, I was into my second year of high school, an all-black private academy in Kentucky, about 30 miles west of my home town.  It was just before transferring back home for my final two years, at the mostly white high school, as flak from the desegregation hoopla was still hitting the fan. 

Widely known in the African-American community as the “Poet Laureate of Harlem,” Hughes had made those remarks within a speech to a national group of writers, in New York City, on the heels of earlier McCarthyism witch hunts, driven by fear of possible influence on American arts and institutions. Coming from Hughes, the comments were significant, since he hailed from the Harlem Renaissance period (1920s and 30s) when black writers wrote and published profusely, “…when the Negro (and, Harlem) was in vogue.” 

I became aware of his soulful writings within my own early passion for writing and poetry, while growing up in the shadows of a segregated South. I had already experienced the difficulty of locating black novels and newspapers and felt the vicious stings of racism within Mr. Hughes’ observations.  He was describing to his peers the various forms of fear of and/or contempt for black culture or black people. But, I didn’t fully understand this irrational fixation, coined “Negrophobia,” until my later life experiences.

Those experiences, including athletics, the Navy, and later becoming a “soldier” on the frontier of workplace integration in civilian life, taught me that the true, multi-cultural America wanted to rid itself of this racialized rut as much as I.  Later, within the everyday scratching for a living and pursuit of happiness, I began to realize that this senseless modern-day “Negrophobia” was often problematic and counter-productive- not only for Black America, but for White America, as well. For the nation, the way I saw it, it was like cutting off your nose to spite your own face.

Yet, the suppressed pages of harsh experiences and ugly episodes of our collective past reveal a marked progression of white panic, from the time Africans were first imported to the Americas, enslaved and free, for assorted purposes of economic, sexual and medical exploitation, to advance the cause of America’s ultimate independence from the long reach of the British Empire and “taxation without representation.”

Seeds of Hate, Roots of Fear

To truly understand this complex journey, from whence we all came, fraught with political booby traps and social pitfalls, along the way, we ought to travel back in time to the fear that gripped America, in the wake of the hushed, but spiraling, slave revolts in the South. It was the leading edge of the nation’s plans regarding Reconstruction legislation and what the heck to do with the newly freed Negro, following the Civil War. 

Retracing some of those steps is what I found myself doing, in view of the seemingly resurgence of peculiar racism, politicized lies and wacky distortions about our president and the all-American family currently occupying the prized White House, amid the perplexing cries in some corners of society for “taking their country back.”  To understand it, I simply returned to the mountain of independent studies research, painstakingly assembled during my parallel pursuits of Black History and Ancient-African history studies, while simultaneously chasing a B.S. degree at night, cultivating a career in the day and raising a family.

It seemed to me that America’s loony “Negrophobia” started barreling downhill, years before the Civil War. On the heels of spiraling slave rebellions, it rushed to the front of the stage when Virginia’s famous South Hampton County Resurrection took place, during the summer of 1831. That’s when the preacher-slave, Nat Turner, called “The Prophet” by some slaves, spurred on by “messages from God” inside his head, launched what came to be known as one of the largest slave uprising that North America.  Arguably, it may have been the largest the Deep South had ever seen, igniting fears of payback and retribution in white communities and legislatures across the cultivated landscapes of rice, cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations.

In the process, according to historians, Nat Turner and some 70-plus African-Americans, free and enslaved, went on a 2-day killing spree, allegedly murdering nearly 60 white men, women and children, including his master, Joseph Travis and his family. Also killed were other whites they encountered while setting free many slaves from the plantations and homes they attacked.  The lives of many so-called ‘poor whites’ were said to have been spared, due to the perceived shared experiences of poor whites and blacks, according to other historical archives.  It’s a concept I understood from my earlier childhood years of working and going to church in my grandparent’s racially mixed farming community, in Ohio. However, its inconsistency became as baffling as the biblical Ten Commandments seemed to become, once school desegregation began.

Two months after Turner’s rebellion, in the wake of the white mobs’ revenge-killing spree of some 200 blacks, Nat Turner was chased down, arrested and executed in an area I traveled widely as an investigator, in my last career.  It’s now known as Courtland, VA (formerly, Jerusalem, VA).  Various documents show that after he was hanged, his body was further assaulted “in hideous ways,” including being beheaded, flayed and quartered. That’s the way they “taught lessons” to others back then. Overall, 56 other blacks were convicted, some being hanged or sold out of state.

Entrenched Paranoia 

Years later, reactions to the exaggerated exploits of the Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion, including the sanctioned mob-violence response, could be felt within all sorts of legal prohibitions against slaves and free blacks which limited various civil rights and beefed up existing ‘slave codes.’ This also included innocent black men, and women, accosted in public behind the fear mongering strategies of mob lynching and vile revenue-producing schemes of prison farm labor.

Slave Codes, not to be confused with ‘black codes,’ were stringent Colonial era laws enacted, during the 1600s and 1700s, in the lower South to govern the behavior of slaves.  According to historian John Hope Franklin (“From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans”), they covered nearly every aspect of slave life. While differences existed among the various states, they generally expressed the same idea that slaves were property, not people, and laws should protect ownership of such property, namely whites, against any dangers which might arise out of the gathering or presence of large numbers of “Negroes.” 

Furthermore, according to Franklin, the South felt that slaves should be kept in the lower or inferior class, subject to the authority and control of whites, in order to maximize discipline and work efficiency. This racialism and fancy sounding legalese outlined repressive laws. Slaves had no legal standing in the courts. A slave could not strike a white person, even in self-defense. Generally, the killing of a slave was not considered murder. However, “the rape of a female slave was regarded as a crime, but only because it involved trespassing,” according to Franklin.  And, runaway slaves could be killed on sight, if they refused to surrender.

Black Codes, on the other hand, emerged within the legal landscapes of the mid-1800s, following the Civil War. They were rooted in the earlier ‘slave codes,’ according to historical archives. But, their objective was to obtain a steady supply of cheap labor, primarily within the “inferior” class of newly freed slaves. After the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1865, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude, all former slave states in the South passed Black Codes which placed restrictions on the newly freed slave, with limited 2nd class civil rights and no voting rights. This action was stoked by the fear that whites were losing their lands and blacks would refuse to work, unless coerced, controlled or intimidated, as well as the new scare that blacks might claim social equality. 

The way it seems, this was a period somewhat similar to the highly charged political atmosphere of today.  The 13th Amendment, the first of three Reconstruction Amendments, ushered in a new period of constitutional arguments and radical congressmen, uncooperative with the president. Overt racism raised its ugly head, as well as government corruption and all sorts of racialized violence against voters.  Sound familiar?

It also launched a wave of racial intolerance behind the cowardly secret Ku Klux Klan and other white, terrorist-related paramilitary organizations.  This repugnant racial snobbery, like Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Holocaust, included the first taste of Jim Crow laws, designed to legalize racial segregation in public facilities, especially in the former Confederate States of America- the group that lost the Civil War. These same laws made America’s stands on human rights and equality the butt of jokes around the globe.

The “separate-but-equal” presumption within the throes of legal segregation, in the “land of the free, home of the brave” was also a joke, until the Civil Rights Movement led to passage of Civil Rights laws in the mid-1960s. But, the fear of black people and/or contempt for black culture seems to have only gone underground, until recently, based on the race-baiting and divisive politics that seems so prevalent, today.  And, it seems to take on new meaning within this election year’s highly offensive attack-advertisement strategy against President Barack Obama, by GOP Super PACs, within their idiotic desire to win- for the sake of winning- without any concerns for the total economic and social costs to the nation.

Reconstruction’s Broom

That also seemed to be the case during the Reconstruction periods. While the topsy-turvy political environment swept in a bevy of black politicians and experimental interracial government dynamics, behind the broom of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the vast majority of former slaves (an estimated 80%) became sharecroppers. They leased their lands from former slave owners.  While African-Americans improved their lot within education, political inroads, black churches and fraternal organizations, white ministers beefed up their pulpit preaching on blacks being an inferior race because of their interpretation of the “Curse of Ham.”  White supremacy remained the legally sanctioned order of the day.

Behind the toxic caricatures of the face of Reconstruction, painted on the public canvass of history, the successes for black politicians were unquestionably etched into the background.  Between 1868 and 1876, over 600 African-Americans served in eleven Southern states as state legislators.  There were also two U.S. Senators and 15 members of the U.S House of Representatives. But, the state of South Carolina stood out in my mind because, at the end of Reconstruction, four of its five congressmen were black.

I thought about this when recently attending the Annual Gullah Festival in Beaufort, SC. To get there, we traveled over the scenic “Robert Smalls Parkway” (a.k.a., Rt. 170). Robert Smalls, a black hero of the Civil War, was elected to Congress as representative of South Carolina. He was a former slave, born in Beaufort, SC, and later became a ship’s pilot, sea captain and politician. During the Civil War, he became famous by stealing a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston Harbor, and using it to escape slavery.

However, considering Robert Smalls and others who courageously served their nation during the politically hostile Reconstruction years, perhaps it may have been P.B.S. (Pinckney Benton Stewart) Pinchback that stood out the most, for me.  Pinchback (of mixed African, Scotch-Irish, Welsh and German descent and a Commissioned Union Army Officer of a “Colored Infantry” regiment, in the Civil War), was light skinned, with straight hair, and was raised as white. He also had a Mulatto wife.  As acting governor of Louisiana, he became the first black person to serve as a state governor.  However, his term was very brief, due to white Congressional resistance he encountered. But, he mostly stood out for me because of his linkage of the political past to the political present, in Virginia, where I now reside.

Still Sweeping Out the Past

After white resistance was successful in contesting his election results, the march of black political gains seemed to have come to a screeching halt- until 1990, here in Virginia, before another African-American became governor anywhere in the United States. This was our esteemed “Guv,” Governor Lawrence Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected Governor of Virginia, since Reconstruction

Yet, when you look back at the systemic attempts to limit or prevent African-Americans from obtaining equal participation in or benefits of American citizenship, you only begin to sense the associated frustration and rage. You may also get a sense of why certain members of the GOP status quo, teetering on the edges of states’ rights, interposition and nullification, still dripping from their lips, might be fearful of reprisals and retributions. You might even see why the inbred disease of racism within our society is so problematic and counter-productive to a nation that once had the capacity to lead other nations out of the darkness of hate and inhumane treatment. 

However, none of this excuses the irrational cries by some to take their country back, as well as insidious suggestions of a coming race war, or ridiculous claims that our president is not an American- within the backdrop of some deep-seated fear of blacks eventually taking over a previously Eurocentric America.  While the fake right-wing clamoring sprouts from the twisted roots of Colonial history, its modern-day manifestation is the pea-brained cousin of the minds which launched Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Holocaust and other 20th century racial snobbery around the globe.

The multicultural, “Real America” I know wants to rid itself of this despicable infestation of racial animosity. The way I see it, the real reason for all of the phony fuss is likely due to the fact that the Obama-Biden Administration already has its finger on the true pulse of the nation, which has kick-started our return to economic prosperity.  In my opinion, the GOP “Party of No,” marching behind their cancerous resistance philosophy, simply wants to position itself for the credit.

“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

 

 

 

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