Today I was listening to the radio when an odd guest came on- the leader of the KKK. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear most of the interview because it was lunchtime, and thus I was distracted with the kids and getting food on the table and making the day continue to run smoothly.
Yet, as in all times when my body is involved in routine movements, my mind disengaged enough that I started down this line of thought. I thought, first, of a few days ago when in a conversation with my father he mentioned that the welfare system has “destroyed black society”, a statement which seemed so empirical as to give me no reply. I don’t like entering into a debate in which I feel crippled by my own lack of information, so at the time I said nothing.
But my irritation with the statement hasn’t faded over time. For one, the statement seems incomplete. He meant “black society in America” and it’s obvious given the context in which it was made, but even so… I think that people too often assume that the whole of the “black experience” (another phrase I find irritating) hinges on the black experience in America. That and they too often say “black society” when they truly mean the inner city- two things that are wildly different. Not all black people live in the inner city and not everyone in the inner city is black. So let’s please keep those things separate.
That isn’t the whole of my irritation. The implications as well as the overall lack of information they portray is what truly gets to me. So lets, just for “fun” (by “fun” I mean sorrow inducing meditation, but whatever…) go over the history of the “black experience” in America. First, black people are brought over on slave ships to be exposed to conditions worse than what we put cattle through. They are worked to the bone, beaten and raped, subjugated, barred from learning basic skills, starved, and have I mentioned the beatings and raped? Women would stand up to defend a stray dog being stoned in the street, but not a black man.
When the obvious injustice of this treatment was recognized and black people were given personhood- and note, by personhood I literally mean being identified as people– what were they given to correct this injustice? These people, battered and beaten, barred from ever having so much as learned to write their names, were given a donkey, some papers and some land. How were they expected to start to mete out a living? And do you think their neighbors, the people who had been beating and raping them a year previous, would give them a pittance of help? Do you imagine they were given years of free tutelage, invited over for dinners, loaned seed crop? Perhaps some of them were, but for the most part I am not surprised by the fact that they banded together in shared misery and poverty, desperately trying to make the most of their meager circumstances. At least they had their freedom.
But look at their situation honestly- these black communities are desperate and impoverished. They have little more than the clothes on their backs. They are surrounded by white people who have inherited wealth and circumstance. Even the poor bakers and blacksmiths have inherited their trade- they have something to build wealth on. Black people have a mule and the derision of the white people who still, at that point, felt that something had been stolen from them.
That divide has yet to be closed. I refuse to believe it. One can say that the white people in America built what they had from nothing- but those people came into the states with their health, their determination, their personhoood, their education- whereas the blacks were starting at less than zero. It is incredible that they were given as much as they were, considering the bitterness on the part of the south, but even so…
Can anyone say that it was enough- not enough to assuage our own guilt, but enough to birth equity? I don’t think so.