Tuning into talk radio can sometimes be a mind-numbing task that significantly lowers one’s IQ, but I occasionally throw myself in front of the train and risk my intellect to see what folks out there are talking about. Unfortunately, when I turned my radio on this morning, people were talking about why black Americans should just “get over it.” The caller apparently believed that since slavery ended, everything is now hunky-dory and the black community has no reason to talk about it anymore. I realize it can be hard for gun-totin’, deer-huntin’ rednecks with Confederate flags flying in their pickup trucks to understand, so I put together a little list of why African-Americans don’t just get over it:
1. Holocaust survivors get Israel, while freed slaves get sharecropping.
I’m not going to bother with the stale, old argument about which was worse, the Holocaust or American slavery. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two – one was genocide, while the other was 400 years of stripping human beings of their rights and using them as farm animals. However, the response to the two would sure as hell piss me off as a black man.
Let’s get this straight. The Jews get a national homeland, stolen from the Arab people who had lived there for centuries, while the freed slaves got sharecropping and debt slavery on the same plantations where they had toiled as slaves. I realize the two happened in two totally different times with two totally different social consciousnesses, but I can damn sure see why this might tick off your average African-American.
2. Decent education is less available to people in majority black communities.
In the South, slaves were rarely allowed to read – this is a common tactic for keeping slaves. Keep them ignorant and afraid, and they will follow commands. Unfortunately, this did not die with slavery. White, privileged Americans tried for the next 100 years to keep black people ignorant.
First, we segregated our schools to keep those terrible, awful black kids from mingling with our ‘wiser’ race. This was a fine method for ensuring that education for both ethnicities was anything but fair and equal. Integration presented challenges for those who wanted to keep holding black people back, but clever redistricting often sent all the kids from majority black neighborhoods to a vastly different school setting then their white counterparts. This still happens today, everywhere from inner-city New York City to the rural south.
Furthermore, there is quite a bit of evidence that kids learn better from teachers of their own race, as they have more upon which to relate to their teachers. That’s a real tough goal when the vast majority of teachers are white. This is part of a vicious cycle, unfortunately. White people on average receive a better education, and thus they are more apt to become teachers, only exacerbating the situation.
3. White people in the workforce still earn more, on average, than their black coworkers.
According to information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, white workers earn more cash for their work than African-Americans. This could be the result of less-qualified minority workers, but I’d say see reason number 2 for information on why this may be the case.
4. Black men still make up the largest number of American prison inmates.
A 2003 Bureau of Justice census reported roughly 46% of prison inmates are black men. I’ve often heard the argument that “maybe they commit more crime.” Sure, that’s probably true. Once again, see item 2. A lack of education often leads to a life of crime.
5. And finally… RACISM STILL EXISTS.
The Jasper, Texas incident happened in only 1998, for a recent high-profile hate crime. For a more personal account, there are towns in my home-state of Louisiana where black men are warned to not be pulled over if they drive through because they will be harassed, searched, and given excessive fines by the local law enforcement. A particularly telling case of present-day racism, also from my home-state, is the Jena 6 incident, where six African-American teens were given excessive charges, as adults, for a fight with a white classmate.
I would not argue that racism still exists in the way it did even twenty years ago, even here in the south. Nor would I argue that African-Americans should be revolting, or overthrowing the bonds of white oppression. But to suggest black people should just “get over it” is ludicrous. Nor should Jews “get over” the Holocaust. Does this mean they should be constantly angry at the so-called “white race” over these injustices? Of course not. But getting over it implies forgetting what has happened and no longer discussing these injustices, and it is never a good thing to forget the evils of the past. We can remember the injustices of the past without carrying a burden of hate and bitterness, and we can prevent future injustice by discussing the errors of human history. The darkest times in human history should be remembered better than the golden days. Otherwise, we’re bound to repeat the same old mistakes, again and again.