Black Lives Matter. No question, no hesitation, no doubt. Until America can equitably uplift its African American residents, All Lives Matter slogan means nothing. African American people are disproportionately incarcerated, under-educated, under-waged, under-housed, underfed, undervalued. Only after black lives mattered equitably all lives can matter equally in the USA. Four centuries (1620–2020) of racial injustices must be addressed first.
Every new immigrant arriving in the USA hears about the national ethos ‘American Dream.’ It may have a slightly different meaning in different literature, but broadly it espouses the ideal of equal opportunity for everyone to move upward for better and richer living through hard work irrespective of their current class and birth circumstances. Unfortunately, not “everyone” ever had equal opportunity in this country since the first arrival and colonization by the Europeans. For all non-Europeans, there was never any equity, or even equality, in opportunity and to them, the American Dream always felt like an American Nightmare. The nightmare may have changed from a blood-sucking demon to frozen legs that will not allow for running away from a chasing hunter, but it is still far from becoming a sweet dream.
Human migration is as natural as water flowing through rivers. It continues to happen through the legal processes or perilous journeys across the Mediterranean or the Darien Gap in Panama. Migration to the Americas started as far back as 20,000 years ago when people from Asia migrated over the Beringia Land Bridge between modern-day Russia and Alaska. Those Pre-Covis and Covis people discovered the continent, not Christopher Columbus, who believed to have found India when he landed in the Bahamas in 1492. Polynesian migration may have also happened to South America long before Spain and Portugal colonized most of South and Central America including Mexico in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
No other human migration or exploration in history will ever be as devastating as the European exploration for trading routes to East and West from the early 15th century to the middle of the 17th century — known as the ‘Age of Discovery’ or the ‘Age of Exploration’ in the European vernacular. This was led by the post-middle-age Atlantic coast nations of Portugal, Spain, France, and England. This exploration during the Renaissance period to the African coast, West Indies, Americas, India, Australia, and New Zealand led to Europeans accumulating massive amounts of wealth, but at the cost of incredible amounts of suffering on the natives of these lands. To those native people, this period was the Age of Colonialism and Exploitation. Europeans were not concerned about the wellbeing of native people who did not look, dress, eat, or pray like them. Those peoples were of different races and their lives and culture were dispensable. Whenever those people tried to resist European invasion, they were met with unmatched Machiavellian intellect and the technological advancements of the Europeans. Europeans were not interested in living harmoniously or helping native people learn a better way of life. Rather, they colonized lands, subjugated and enslaved natives, and plundered resources to the last bit to enrich themselves. The seeds of Caucasian supremacy and racism towards non-Caucasians had been sown.
The nightmare of the native people in the Americas started with Columbus’s introduction of human slavery and near decimation of the Taino population that lived in the area where he first established the Hispaniola settlement. That legacy of horror was carried forward in the Spanish colonies in Latin America through forced slavery of labor and sex, which obliterated the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Spain’s devastating success in accumulating wealth motivated other European nations to rush to the Americas for a piece of the sweet pie of plunder. France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and England started exploring and colonizing the Caribbean Islands and the Atlantic coast of North America.
British colonization of North America began in 1607 with the settlement of 120 English people in Jamestown, Virginia. A short while later, in 1620, pilgrims arriving onboard the Mayflower settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts. By the early seventeenth-century, England had taken the lead in the conquest of North America by establishing settlements all along the Atlantic coast and the West Indies. The European migration to America in search of economic and religious freedom took hold at the cost of a great loss of life and freedom of the American Indians. Europeans brought new diseases that killed scores of American Indians, they caused irreversible damage to the native way of life by trading firearms and horses, and they bought tribal war prisoners into slavery. Imagine the nightmare of American Indians who tried to be friends with the new immigrants, only to be tricked into trading for deadly weapons to fight rival tribes and selling captured tribesmen into slavery. The permanent loss of freedom and lands in the American Indian psyche never healed and it continues to reverberate in the American Indian reservations. American Indians should have been in control of the lands and helping migrants settle in America, instead, because of their racial difference, they are the ones now receiving handouts from those who took everything they had.
Slavery of the African people in the continental United States started around 1526 in Florida by the Spanish colonists. In British colonial America, the first 20 or so African indentured servants were sold in Jamestown in 1619. Africans sold in America were not technically enslaved until the Virginia law of 1705 codified the slave status. Between 1619 and 1705, many laws were enacted, gradually stripping away any possibility of non-European indentured servants gaining their freedom. 1705 Virginia law made all arriving non-Christians slaves, allowed punishing slaves to death without any legal repercussions to the owners, and made children of slaves property of the slave owner. Making non-Christian arrivals slaves meant that Africans could be treated differently from the European indentured servants. At that time slave owners whipped slaves who displeased them, clergy preached that slavery was the will of God, and scientists opined that Africans were a less evolved subspecies of humans. Racial segregation and racism not only became the law of the land but also took deep root in the Caucasian psyche.
As late as 1857, long after independence was achieved and the original constitution was ratified in 1787, the Supreme Court ruled that the African Americans are not citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in any federal territory. To this day the US constitution carries a legally operative three-fifths clause that counted three-fifths of all slaves in a state to decide the number of representatives and direct taxes for a state. Interestingly, the slave-owning states in the south wanted to count each slave as one person because that would give them more seats in Congress and more tax money. They wanted it both ways — keeping slaves as property for economic benefit and counting slaves as humans for congressional power. But the northern states were not ready to allow that. They argued that either south must relinquish slavery or not get their slaves counted at all. In this heated debate north even proposed that their cattle be counted as part of their population if slaves in the south were counted, arguing the perceived equivalence between the two. So, the framers of the constitution came up with the compromise — the three-fifths clause. The African American race was forever denigrated as 60% human in the US.
The African slave trade was not banned until 1808, but even as it was, the domestic slave trade flourished. As the northern slave owners were losing the value of their slaves under growing pressure to abolish slavery, southern farm owners wanted those slaves to work in their plantations of highly profitable crops — cotton, tobacco, and indigo. Slaves were moved to the south and the southern farmers were not ready to give up their chattel. When Lincoln took office as the President in 1861 the Southern states seceded to form the Confederacy and the civil war broke out. Lincoln’s emancipation declaration, which freed all slaves in Confederate territory, in 1863 and the defeat of the confederate army in 1865 culminated in the adoption of the 13th amendment outlawing slavery in December of that year. African Americans, especially in the south, did not get to exercise their right to vote fully until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 even though the 14th Amendment, ratified in July of 1868, gave them citizenship and the 15th Amendment, ratified in February of 1870, prohibited discrimination. The last vestiges of slavery in Texas were stopped on June 19th, 1865 — the date memorialized in the ‘Juneteenth’ holiday celebrated by the African Americans. The demand for Juneteenth to be declared as a national holiday is now gaining momentum after the unlawful killing of George Floyd in the hands of police.
More than 4 million slaves were emancipated without offering them any financial support. All they had was their skills. They used their skills to build wealth for themselves. But they were deprived of building their destiny with the introduction of lynching by those who once owned them. Starting not very long after the 15th Amendment, lynching continued till 1968, mostly in the south. African Americans were terrorized in the deep south through lynching, which caused the mass migration of 6 million people from the south to the north and the west. People were lynched not just for violent crimes; they were also lynched for being too successful in business, for asking for better wages and fair working conditions, for getting too close to Caucasian women, and for complaining about someone being lynched unjustly. Lynching was the main tool for making sure that the African American community remained as horrified, if not more, as they were during slavery. Instead of healing the scars of 250 years of slavery, America kept on aggravating the wounds by rubbing in salt.
The Great Migration of African Americans from the south did not end their misery. As they migrated to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from the deep south and started all over again to rebuild their lives, they were faced with a new reality — redlining. The practice of redlining, which has its roots in the National Housing Act of 1934, would deny mortgage and financial investments to so-called “high-risk” neighborhoods. Maps were drawn to delineate city neighborhoods into Green, Blue, Yellow, and Red outlined areas. Green or Type A areas inhabited by mostly Caucasian people would be considered as ‘desirable’ for mortgage and investment, whereas Type D or redlined African American neighborhoods would be considered ‘risky’ and would be rejected for mortgage or investment loans by private lenders. Developers would wall off African American neighborhoods from their new developments to maintain high property value in their neighborhoods. This redlining practice exacerbated racial segregation in housing and caused urban decay in African American neighborhoods. Devaluation of African American owned real estate generated lower property taxes, which in turn translated to lower education investment in those neighborhoods. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was designed to minimize discriminatory credit practices against low-income neighborhoods, but even though it may have opened up credit and redevelopment in low-income neighborhoods, gentrification forced many low-income African American families to move out of their neighborhoods.
As if all those centuries of slavery, lynching, redlining, and systemic racism in housing, education, finance, and healthcare were not enough, racial profiling by law enforcement was the rotten cherry on top of the bitter cake that African Americans had been forced to eat during the entire history of their race in the USA. It was no surprise that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and many more unarmed African Americans were killed by the police. African Americans are three times more likely to get shot by police than Caucasian Americans. It is the modern, and more legal, form of lynching to dominate over the African American race and keep them vulnerable.
Post-WWII, Germany carried out ‘denazification’ to ensure that its people never forgot the horrors of Nazi Germany and to promote the idea of ‘never again.’ The symbols and ideology of Nazism were wiped out; and victims were memorialized, while the perpetrators were vilified. The US was the essential partner in the denazification program, but ironically, similar ‘never again’ policy has never even been proposed for the reparation of either the American Indians or African Americans. It is appalling that we conveniently forget centuries of atrocities inflicted on these people while simultaneously labeling a few vandalism incidents as domestic terrorism. When Black Lives Matter protesters are out on the street peacefully asking for equal opportunity, safety, and justice, they are vilified. Americans are so quick to judge them for their crimes but raise all sorts of excuses against reparations and healing.
Sooner or later America must reconcile with its history and provide reparation to American Indians and African Americans. One way to do that is to invest $5 on each person of those two communities for every dollar spent on each person of all other groups including, and most importantly, the Caucasians. Those 5 dollars include one extra dollar for every century of injustice these groups have faced in America. America must do this to help reconcile its troubled past, and it has to do it NOW.