If you live in Baltimore, or anywhere in the United States, you shouldn't be surprised by the anger, the poverty, the police violence and the hopelessness. All you have to do is sing the national anthem, written after witnessing the bombardment of Baltimore Harbor by the British during the War of 1812.
"O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
And skip down to the last lines of the third verse, which isn't sung much:
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
And there you have it: embedded in the national anthem we so proudly sing is the core and composition of slavery, part of the organic foundation of the land of the free for white people.
This should be no surprise. We Americans from the founding fathers to the present, like to preserve the underclass of people of color, but not admit it. The founding fathers never directly mentioned slavery in the constitution, but assumed it. They established a national census "by adding to the whole Number of free Persons... three fifths of all other Persons." They agreed that "the migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States... shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight..." That means that slaves could be imported into the United States until at least 1808. The founders made sure that, "(n)o Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." So if a slave escaped to the North to be free, he was pursued and captured and returned to slavery.
It took a civil war to end slavery. But the leaders of the South, having lost the war, were raised up in popular culture as the heroes of the nation... and still are. It is odd how blind we are to our own history. We fought to defeat the Nazis and their genocide. We cringe at the rise of Neo-Nazis. And yet we honor Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other leaders, who fought to preserve a system that enslaved 10 million people over two centuries.
While the Civil War ended slavery, new forms of servitude were put in place, such as convict labor, and share cropping. Segregation insured that blacks would have inferior education, inferior work, and inferior quality of life, and live in fear of stepping out of line in the eyes of whites. The civil rights movement demolished legal segregation, but the story did not end there. For a while we have witnessed the social devolution of segregation, the war on drugs could be characterized as the war on black people. Mass incarceration has created a new Gulag Archipelago to the United States. Since 1980, incarceration has quadrupled, with over 2 million people in prison. Of those, one million are black. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
On the job front, we have undermined the income, the work, the compensation and the jobs of African Americans. While wages of white workers have fallen, the wages of black workers have fallen by twice as much in the past five years. Two million more African Americans are living in poverty now than 10 years ago. Since 2009, middle class black families have seen a drop of 3 percent in their household income. Unions are denounced and the bargaining power of workers, black and white and Latino, is undermined. And on the other side of the ledger, the top one percent do better and better, while corporations reap record profits.
Meanwhile, with states facing continual fiscal crises, public higher education has been defunded and priced out of reach for aspiring students. Funding for early learning has been cut. Family leave insurance to enable working parents to care for newborns is a non-existent dream. The discussion about K-12 is focused on "reform," not funding. Being poor is a crime and being wealthy is exalted.
We have created a pressure cooker of hopelessness and anger, built on racism, our history of slavery, our idolatry of the losing generals in defense of slavery and our economic institutions which enable, condone and applaud the private accumulation of riches to prevail over the needs and desires and hopes and dreams of a commonwealth of Americans.
Welcome to Baltimore. Welcome to America.
This blog enables the personal opinions of the author, not the organizational agreement of the Economic Opportunity Institute.
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