Now on to business…
Why do blacks need special help? How come they are allowed to speak of Black Pride without being labeled racist? How come they are allowed to have college funds to help their young people exclusively? Sure, racism was bad but wasn’t that like hundreds of years ago? Aren’t they supposed to be over it by now? Horrible things happened to other ethnic groups who came to the Americas and Caribbean and they are not as badly off! Why should anyone in 2010 feel responsible for slavery? I did not enslave anyone! Even my great grandfather did not enslave anyone! Why are the black people so angry still?
An example of trivialization of the effects of slavery and continued racism can be found when O'Reilly equated the Black Panthers with David Duke (1/11/99): "You were promoting your people, black people, and he's promoting white people. So what's the difference?"
It is difficult to communicate the complex web of dysfunction that four hundred plus years of slavery followed by another hundred plus years of terrorism, injustice and segregation up to today’s ongoing racism and discrimination has done to descendents of African people.
In a simplified representation, I will attempt this impossible task to help those who still have trouble wrapping their minds around its effects. I call this story:
The Ladders That Built America
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a Rich White Man kidnapped a Black Man from a foreign land and using unthinkable means the Rich White Man forced his captive on his knees and used him as a human ladder to climb a tall wall. You see, on the other side of that tall, thick wall was abundance beyond compare. Back in Europe and in the early stages of arriving in the New World, The Rich White Man had used his own brothers and sisters to access wealth, but his fellow whites had grown increasingly empowered, ambitious and individualistic. They had also splintered away from the great religious empire that once kept them in-check and were challenging the class system. So, it had become much easier to use people who came from lands already weakened and ravaged by tribal wars, enslavement and exploitation. The African territories were such a place.
Suppressing all compassion and teaching his children to do the same, the Rich White Man somehow convinced himself and his children that it was the Black Man’s lot in life. The Rich White Man justified his actions by saying,
“Well, at least he we’ll make him a Christian convert, although not as equal a Christian in the eyes of God as we are.”
They set about turning The Black Man into the perfect human ladder. First, they robbed him of his name, honor, culture and family-ties. They programmed him to be ashamed and afraid of his African roots and be desperate for survival rather than fraternity so he would easily betray his own people. They trained him to be motivated only by fear of punishment and not his by pride and ambitious dreams. They whipped and terrorized all desire to climb the wall and feel deserving of the spoils on the other side. They slaughtered all Black Men who were smart and cunning enough to learn how to read and plot escape and engaged in twisted breeding experiments to build bigger, stronger human ladders.
The Black Man learned that being dumb and submissive meant survival and so he taught his children how to be dumb and submissive too.
Once over the wall, The Rich White Man made himself very comfortable. He also aided his family and friends over the wall using his black human ladder. Eventually they too benefitted from the fertile land, riches and abundance. They in turn helped their families and friends, who helped their families and friends and so on. They taught their children it was their birthright to experience this entitement. For over four hundred years they used the Black Man as their human ladder, they learned how to ignore his cries as his back broke and bones fractured under their weight.
The White Man taught their children how to ignore and suppress their conscience and justify the injustice using religion, economics and theories of racial superiority based on what they had caused the Black Man to become.
Indebted Labour Force Replaces Slave Labour
Then one day, the Rich White Man decided he did not need his black human ladder anymore. He and the privileged few he allowed over the wall discovered how to build wooden ladders. Not only that, they discovered that if they made these wooden ladders available to others who could afford it, they would make an even bigger profit than if they used human ladders.
A new labour force was now available.
You see, many people now wanted to climb over the wall and would do anything for a ladder- work long hours, vote a certain way, fight in wars for the Rich White Man’s causes, just for the chance. Immigrants began to come from all over the world just to get the opportunity. Besides, the Black Man’s complaining and suffering was tiresome and it did not help that the whole “human ladder” thing was falling out of favor among the growing humanist, intellectual elite who were currently the most innovative and promising group poised to usher in the rapidly approaching 20th Century. The Rich White Man wanted to gain access to their brilliance and most of all, to be accepted and perceived as one of them.
So one day, The Rich White Man told his black human ladder,
“Hey Black Man, I’m setting you free. Maybe what I did to you over the last four hundred years was kinda unfair to you, but hey, at least now you have your freedom, not as much freedom as I do of course, but sufficient enough for your kind. Hey, at least you are a Christian now. Just stay on that barren side of the wall with the poor whites and recent arrivals to America! This side with all the abundance is for people like me who arrived on the first set of ships and our descendents!”
You see deep down, the Rich White Man was and still is fearful of retribution. He feared what would happen when the Black Man had children and grandchildren. So he spends a great deal of time trying to “manage” this threat.
“Now don’t let this little bit of freedom go to your head. Remember your place Black Man and be submissive and obedient or else we can lock you up and force you back into slave labor in chain gangs for the slightest hint of disrespect.” Slavery may have been over but for generations more, the oppression continued.
His fears however are proven unnecessary for the crippled Black Man was grateful just to be free for he was broken and worn down from being stepped on. For a while, freedom alone was truly enough and he and his children stayed on the barren, stagnant side of the wall without much complaint. After all, the Black Man was never paid a cent for being a human ladder far less dreamed of climbing a wooden one. All initiative, ambition and individualism was bred and beaten out of him and he in turn had beaten it out of his children and they beat it out of their children, “Know your place! Be grateful you are at least free!” they chastised their sons and daughters who asked why they are not allowed to approach the wall let alone climb one of the new wooden ladders.
Meanwhile the Rich White Man decided that he will open up the accessibility of ladders just a smidge. This coincided with his discovery of profitable ways to mass produce and sell ladders in an efficient way. He opens up ladder opportunities to Merchant Class White Men, Poor White Men and eventually even Immigrants. He provides them with Ladder Loans that offer one rung at a time and many took advantage of it. They work hard for the Rich White Man and the conditions under which they suffer are almost as horrible as those suffered by the human ladders who paved the way for all of this…with one big exception.
Unlike the Black Man’s Children, the Children of the Poor White Man and Immigrants actually saw examples of their people actually making it over the other side of the wall and helping their family and friends over. In fact, this is what inspired many of them to come to America. Their parents were laborers, farmers, tradesmen and were also excluded and exploited by the privileged Rich White Man’s circle in their European countries for years. They too had their share of hardship, potato famines, religious persecution, class entrapment and clan feuds in the Old World which were notable. However, in this New World they found not only a sliver of opportunity but a new hierarchy.
No matter how badly the Immigrants and Poor White Man’s Children had it, they were bolstered by the knowledge that unlike their European countries, they were not dead last in line for a ladder. In this new land of opportuntiy, The Black Man’s Children replaced them at the bottom, along with the Native American Indians and Mexicans. For while the Rich White Man’s system discriminated on social class, national heritage and religion, those on the privileged side of the wall actually felt more comfortable and less fearful of vengeance around someone who shared the same complexion rather than the same Christ.
Even though the Poor White Man and Immigrant had suffered, they never lost their family ties, cultural and racial pride, sense of ambition and individuality. All of these things had been systematically stamped out in the Black Man’s Children in addition to something far more important…real hope of actually making it or at least their Children making it within a generation. They took out Ladder Loans, worked hard and repaid the Rich White Man in exchange for one ladder rung at a time. Some even managed to pay off the loan in their lifetime and truly enjoy the riches on the other side of the wall. Some used military service, intelligence, innovation and their talent to find their American dream.
Water fountains in an American Court of Law back in the day. Imagine the effects on the very psyche of a people raised generation after generation to know they are lower than second class citizens.
While watching all of this, the Black Man’s Children realized that it was their parents’ sore muscles, broken family and broken bones that in fact helped the first Rich White Man climb over the wall and made all of this opportunity for his Children and others possible in the first place.
“Certainly, if these people can do it, we’ve earned a chance to go after at least one rung of the ladder,” they reasoned.
So the Black Man’s Children who were raised to never dare ask for anything, timidly approached the Rich White Man for a Ladder Loan
“Sorry Black Man’s Children,” said the Rich White Man’s Children who had already developed a cold-hearted immunity to noticing injustice, “but you are not a desirable Ladder Loan candidate. You lack steady employment,”
So the Black Man’s Children asked for a job to obtain a ladder, one rung at a time.
“Sorry Black Man Children,but you do not have sufficient education to get a job,”
So the Black Man’s Children asked for special consideration to be educated given his unfortunate set-backs.
“That would be unfair,” said the Rich White Man’s Children “If I give that to you, why not give it to everyone?”
“But you did unmentionable things to our parents’ and are still treating us unfairly!”
“Yes, unmentionable is the operative word here. C’mon, get over it already! Okay, you are good at being a human ladder, so I will give you as close to a human ladder job as I can find for you, how’s that?”
So it was, the Black Man’s Children accepted the most menial tasks, just for a distant hope of affording a ladder one day. It is not long however, before more of them realize that even after fifty years of working they would never save enough to buy a single rung on a ladder. Many of dropped out of the race. Many fell to desperation and despair. However a few toiled on and placed hopes on their children seeing the other side of that wall. They called it, “The Promise Land”.
The Effect On The Children
Unfortunately, The Black Man's Children were unwittingly affected by human ladder indoctrination. They may have never felt the lash but they were born with the welts and were uninspired by the hopelessness in menial toil. In them, the seeds of despondency bore bitter fruit. Yet despite this, there were glimmers of hope. They had slowly coalesced as a community around an almost forgotten African spirituality mixed with the New World Christianity and the musical rhythm buried deep in their heart. The native spirits and native wisdom had not been entirely destroyed and gradually the crippled Black Man’s Children began to break out of their human ladder paralysis.
Somewhere between inventing gospel, the blues, jazz and calypso, they began to dream of doing more than just surviving and raising children to subsist their way through life while working in dead-end menial jobs. They decided in earnest that the strongest among them will try to be a human ladder for their brothers and sisters until they could obtain wooden ladders for everyone. On their impoverished side of the wall, they formed their own community, hoping one day, they too could climb over the wall and help their brothers and sisters over as the Rich White Man did and the others were currently doing.
It would not be easy. There was now stiff competition not just for the ladders but a spot on the wall to place them and climb up. The Children of the Poor White Man and Poor White Immigrants were now scrambling in vast numbers to get over the wall. Some did not even bother to use a ladder but drilled holes into the wall and made their way using bootleg booze, gambling, vice, extortion and various scams. They would discover that great crimes could lead to great fortune. In the end, The Almighty Dollar, not some form of Christian morality was the ultimate God of this New World.
But why didn’t the Poor White Man’s Children, Immigrants’ Children and Black Man’s Children not see their shared struggle and common oppressor? Why didn’t they unite and help one another climb over the wall?
During times of economic depression, racial violence against blacks would spike.
They might have come close a few times but then a Great Depression made everyone go “every man for himself” and “to each his own” and there arose great resurgence of terrorism against the Black Man’s Children as even the most menial jobs were now desired by the Poor White Man’s Children who had fallen on desperate times. After the Great Depression subsided, next came the new threat of Communism. The Rich White Man’s Children took great pains to stamp out any talk of “sharing wealth” and “brotherhood” and so it made any who wanted to unite be fearful of being labeled a Bolshevik.
However, that was not really the most powerful reason why. The real reason why the common struggle did not unite the lower classes, black, white, immigrant is far more depressing and so typically human.
Many, particularly among the Poor White Man’s Children and Immigrant’s Children who had experienced exclusion and persecution from the Rich White Man, decided to regain their self-esteem by victimizing others in turn. They derived great pride from not being dead last in line for a ladder according to the Rich White Man’s ranking system and became virulently preoccupied with all the reasons why they were still “better than those niggers!”
The Effects On The Grandchildren
Times were changing though. The Black Man’s Children had multiplied and were mobilizing and demanding equality. What aided their cause greatly was the love affair America now had with the musical magic they had spawned that now filled the airwaves with jazz, soul, blues and rock n roll (the slang blacks used for making love). The feelings aroused and the integrating nature of the rhythm instantly put those who had appointed themselves “Protectors of White Progress and Virtue” on edge. Watching their sons and daughters gyrating to the devilishly pagan drums of “negro music” was the start of them using “morality” as a code word for “race”. Jazz was evil. Blues was evil. Rock n Roll was evil because it was negro-derived. It would not be the last time “moral values” was used a code for “white”.
The orgins of the Religious Right in America are closely linked to racism. Anything that threatened integration of white and black became a crusade for the racist whites who euphemistically called themselves the "Morality Police" who sought to have it outlawed on equally frivolous grounds- marijuana, Jazz, Blues, alcohol, Rock n Roll, and yes, also integrated education.
Despite the protests, increasing numbers of the White Man’s Children, rich, poor and immigrant including some in the echelons of power began to soften and notice the marked injustice being done to the Black Man’s Children. It soon became more important to their image, political and economic interests to demonstrate humanitarianism and reconciliation towards this abused and neglected group.
The Poor White Man’s Children could not believe it! Their response was swift and violent, especially in the South. So it was, yet another generation of the Black Man’s Children experienced a further set back of crippling disenfranchisement, terrorism and discrimination. However, a hope was slowly dawning with the birth of the Grandchildren. It was into a world where blacks and whites and everyone else danced to the same soundtrack. In addition, more of the Black Man’s Grandchildren inherited the collected savings of lifetimes of menial work. By pooling resources together the Black Man’s Grand-children finally got enough money to afford one rung of the ladder. With each rung, came enough courage to attempt to climb for the first time.
When America black and white began dancing to the same soundtrack, one that originated with the black rhythms, it was a sign of change to come.
It was not easy trying to purchase a rung. Often, the White Man’s Ladder Store refused to sell it to them or would only do so at a higher price and only if they stayed on their side of the store. The Black Man’s Grandchildren decided to pay the higher price. It was also not easy getting a spot on the wall to place the ladder as they were often pushed away and ganged up on. They were undaunted though.
“Once we get over to the other side to the Promise Land, we can at least help our brothers and sisters over the wall too,” they kept on saying and it gave them strength.
So they contentedly paid the added “Black Man’s Tax”, swallowed their pride, held themselves to a higher standard, did everything to set their white neighbors vying for a spot on the wall, at ease. They minded their manners and acted diplomatically. They hid the hurts and offense. They groomed themselves in a way that soothed the Rich White Man’s Grandchildren’s fears of anything overly African, nappy or vengefully angry. They pretended to forget there was any reason to feel hurt or have a grudge. In this uneasy and unconfirmed forgiveness, the Rich White Man’s Grandchildren and Poor White Man’s Grandchildren convinced themselves that the Black Man’s Grandchildren had “gotten over it” and they could breathe easy. They became gradually comfortable with the occasional token black who managed to secure a ladder and somehow learned how to climb it even though “it was not in their nature” to do so.
It is hard for many to understand the level of self-hatred inculcated into the Black Man’s Children and Grandchildren and how the White Man's Children and Grandchildren are unaware of how they still contribute to it. One way of summing it up can be found in the experience one of my black sisters who decided to choose to wear her naturally kinky. She worked in upper management of a large bank. The manager called her into his office and asked whether or not she could get a more “corporate hairstyle”. Thankfully, the young woman had rediscovered her pride and replied, “If I were to apply harsh chemical relaxers and painful weaves a French Poodle’s hair so it resembles a Maltese’s or Afghan Hound’s long silky hair everyone would consider it animal cruelty and disrespectful to their breed. Funny isn’t it how when it comes to dogs, we accept and celebrate their differences and still see them as beautiful in their own right and yet cannot even do the same for ourselves.”
When the miniscule number of Black Man’s Grandchildren climbed over the wall, they exclaimed,
“But there has always been more than enough for everyone!”
They felt such humbling gratitude to have made it over because many of their brothers and sisters still had not and many more they knew never would. It became an urgent mission to provide ladders to their people and teach them how to climb and protect them as they did. However, it would be harder than they had anticipated. The bitter fruit of despondency fallen from consecutive generations had now fermented and their people were drunk on it. The Black Man’s Grandchildren had grown so pessimistic and desperate they had begun using their brothers and sisters as human ladders, pimping, addicting and killing them in order to escape their misery.
“We are already too late!” the few successful Grandchildren of the Black Man panicked. “How are we going to repair this tragedy? We cannot do it alone!”
Fortunately, there were Liberal Grandchildren of Immigrants, Poor White Men and even some Rich White Men who were touched by their efforts and whose hearts had not completely hardened despite being raised to turn a blind eye to injustice. They actively disagreed with their parents’ fear, avoidance and racism. They admitted the truth: All of America on the privileged side of the wall had profited and benefited from the Black Man serving as a human ladder while his own Grandchildren had not received one percent of the rewards of his labor and were still being stymied by racism. For them it was an expression of humanitarianism, gratitude and resolution to assist those disproportionately disenfranchised.
Imagine the courage of the first black people to cross the wall. Courage that is needed even today for many who try to break barriers of race.
Together they marched with the Black Man’s Grandchildren for integration and equality.
“But we thought they were happy and contented! What the hell more do they want?” screamed the Conservative Grandchildren of the Poor and Rich White Men.
They unleashed their dogs and hoses. They accused those who demanded an equal place of Communism. Among those very unhappy about this development were the Poor White Man’s Grandchildren who were still holding on to the assurance that, “We were supposed to be next in line for a ladder over the wall, not those niggers!”
“Reverse racism!” they cried.
They pointed to the fermented, poisonous fruit growing in black communities not as proof of the atrocious seeds that were sown by their forefathers but as proof of the Black Man's Children's current unreservedness. Every time there was a crash in the economy, their cries would grow louder.
Some of the Rich and Middle Class White Man’s Great Grandchildren took offense as well. All the increased talk of “sharing” also bothered them tremendously.
“Why can’t the Black Man’s Grandchildren climb over on their own merit? Cause that is how we did it! Totally free from hand-outs, entitlements, and special privilege at someone else’s expense!Right?....RIGHT?"
Everything I just wrote, captured in a concise little cartoon!
And there you have it! A synopsis but I want to delve even deeper in a rather unexpected direction. I am going to do the unthinkable and explore…
How slavery and racism has damaged the psyche of the White Man's Children, Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren and why resolution is being made so difficult between black and white today.