Written by: Anthony Hall
And there it is again. Dammit. Don’t you hate that feeling? You know the feeling of thinking you understand something only to turn on the T.V. to see George Floyd under the knee of a police officer yelling for his mother before going unconscious and subsequently dying? I could not wrap my mind around what I was witnessing. What was more confusing to me was some of the comments left on social media. After taking a moment to gather myself, a thought hit me. It was as if I was sitting in a darkroom and someone turned on the lights. Our problem in the United States isn’t that people are heartless or cruel. No, the problems are assumptions, and languages. I’ll explain: often times the language we use assumes that the other person has a basic understanding of the facts. We assume that everyone’s school taught the same lessons in history class, when in fact we know that is not true. “A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history. When colleges such as Stanford decline to require Western Civilization classes or high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward (this happened in North Carolina), it’s merely a blip in our news cycle” (Markowicz, 2017). In light of the dumbing down of our education system, I am no longer convinced that we should assume that people understand the phrase: “Black Americans are tired of racism.” Both sides are using phrases, and I am not convinced both parties share the same understanding. In light of my discovery, I am writing a guide to White people. This guide is not bashing or attempting to pull on your White guilt heart strings. Nope. In this paper, I will provide a brief history of the events that led us to George Floyd. This paper is in no way meant to be comprehensive and if you are a student using this paper to study for a test, you are going to find yourself in some trouble on test day. In this paper I will discuss what led our country to this point and provide a suggestion on how to fix it.
Slavery in what became the United States began with the arrival of enslaved Africans to the British colony of Virginia, in 1619. It officially ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 (National Geographic, n.d). In 1641, Massachusetts became the first state to officially legalize slavery, while Mississippi became the last state to officially abolish it in 1995. Yes, you are reading correctly; Mississippi did not ratify the thirteenth amendment until 1995. I wonder why a Black American living in that state would have adverse feelings towards the country where they live?
Often times history is told simplistically: there were Black people and White people and they hated each other. The truth is more complex. During Bacon’s Rebellion, Black slaves and White indentured servants banded together to stand against the land owners. This unity alarmed the wealthy White establishment, and inspired early 18th-century laws that discriminated by race and in addition social class. Let’s take a pause. The laws that were created to separate the races where designed by rich people to keep poor White people and Black people from coming together. Allow that to sit with you for a bit.
Virginia was the first state to pass anti-miscegenation laws; these laws would prohibit people from marrying outside of their race. On November 4, 1967 “Mildred and Richard Loving, challenged the anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia, which challenged laws prohibiting interracial marriages” (NYPL.org, 2016). This case became a landmark case opening the door for those who could not previously marry the person they love.
“In 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified with two provisions applying to slavery” (National Geographic, n.d). Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 allowed a slave who flees to another state (even a “free state”) to be returned to the owner in the state from which the slave escaped. This is the so-called Fugitive Slave Clause. Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 determined how slaves would be counted on the U.S. Census. Population determines such issues as a state’s delegates in the House of Representatives and certain taxes. The “Three-Fifths compromise” determined a state’s population would include all free persons and three-fifths of its slaves. Many people interpret this law to mean that Black slaves were considered three-fifths a person. The three-fifths rule was pertaining to the overall population of slaves. For example, if a state had one hundred slaves, the state could only count sixty of those slaves.
After two-hundred and forty-six years of slavery Black people were free on paper, but they still were not free in everyday life. After slavery, state governments across the South instituted laws known as Black Codes. These laws granted certain legal rights to blacks, including the right to marry, own property, and sue in court, but the Codes also made it illegal for blacks to serve on juries, testify against whites, or serve in state militias. The Black Codes also required black sharecroppers and tenant farmers to sign annual labor contracts with white landowners. If they refused they could be arrested and “hired out for work.”
To marginalize Black Americans, keep them separate from Whites and erase the progress they made during Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were established in the South beginning in the late 19th century. Black Americans could not use the same public facilities as Whites, live in many of the same towns or go to the same schools. Interracial marriage was illegal, and most Black Americans could not vote because they were unable to pass voter literacy tests. Jim Crow laws were not adopted in northern states; however, “Black Americans still experienced discrimination at their jobs or when they tried to buy a house or get an education” (History.com, 2019).
“Most southern black Americans, though free, lived in desperate rural poverty. Having been denied education and wages under slavery, ex-slaves were often forced by the necessity of their economic circumstances to rent land from former white slave owners. These sharecroppers paid rent on the land by giving a portion of their crop to the landowner. In a few places in the South, former slaves seized land from former slave owners in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. But federal troops quickly restored the land to the white landowners. A movement among Republicans in Congress to provide land to former slaves was unsuccessful. Former slaves were never compensated for their enslavement” (Khan Academy, n.d). We refer to this period in our history as the Reconstruction period, 1865-1877. During this time Abraham Lincoln began planning for the reconstruction of the South during the Civil War as Union soldiers occupied huge areas of the South. FYI: “The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and ended on April 9, 1865” (Howard University, n.d). Great, now we understand a little bit about Slavery, we made our way through Reconstruction, now everything should be okay for Black Americans, right? If only life was that simple.
“Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. The case stemmed from an 1892 incident in which African American train passenger Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for blacks. Rejecting Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between whites and blacks was not unconstitutional. As a result, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace” (History.com, 2020). Even though the law pertained to railcars, it was not long before the term “separate but equal” became synonymous with segregation in U.S. schools. States would use Plessy to anchor their argument that Black American students should not be able to attend the same schools as White students. It was not until Brown v. Board of Education that Black Americans finally caught a break.
Five cases from Delaware, Kansas, Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Virginia were appealed to the United States Supreme Court when none of the cases found success in the lower courts. In 1954, The Supreme Court combined these cases into a single case which eventually became Brown v. Board of Education. The cases were: Belton v. Gebhart, Bolling, et. al. v. C. Melvine Sharpe, Briggs v. R.W. Elliott, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward Count, and Brown v. Board of Education.
What made Thurgood Marshall effective in this case was his ability to corner the court into a decision. “Whichever way it is done, the only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position, is that there must be some reason which gives the state the right to make a classification… in regard to Negroes, and we submit the only way to arrive at that decision is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings” (BlackPast.org, 2012). This argument left the court with no other option. The court could admit that Black Americans were inferior, or end legal segregation. At this point in our story, Black Americans have survived slavery, Reconstruction, Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow (in the process of surviving), and now have desegregated the schools. Seems like an awful lot. Black Americans should be in the clear at this point in our history, right?
The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice that took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s for Black Americans to gain equal rights under the law in the United States. “The Civil War had officially abolished slavery, but it didn’t end discrimination against Black Americans—they continued to endure the devastating effects of racism, especially in the South. By the mid-20th century, Black Americans had had more than enough prejudice and violence against them. They, along with many whites, mobilized and began an unprecedented fight for equality that spanned two decades” (History.com, 2019).
On September 3, 1957, nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, arrived at Central High School to begin classes but were instead met by the Arkansas National Guard (on order of Governor Orval Faubus) and a screaming, threatening mob. The Little Rock Nine tried again a couple of weeks later and made it inside, but had to be removed for their safety when violence ensued. Finally, President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and ordered federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine to and from classes at Central High. Still, the students faced continual harassment and prejudice.
Wanting to show a commitment to the civil rights movement and minimize racial tensions in the South, the Eisenhower administration pressured Congress to consider new civil rights legislation. “On September 9, 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, the first major civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It allowed federal prosecution of anyone who tried to prevent someone from voting. It also created a commission to investigate voter fraud “(History.com, 2019). The 1950’s was shaping up to be one of the most monumental decades in the lives of Black Americans.
On May 4, 1961, 13 “Freedom Riders”—seven African Americans and six whites–mounted a Greyhound bus in Washington, D.C., embarking on a bus tour of the American south to protest segregated bus terminals. They were testing the 1960 decision by the Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia that declared the segregation of interstate transportation facilities unconstitutional. Facing violence from both police officers and white protesters, the Freedom Rides drew international attention. On Mother’s Day 1961, the bus reached Anniston, Alabama, where a mob mounted the bus and threw a bomb into it. The Freedom Riders escaped the burning bus, but were badly beaten. Photos of the bus engulfed in flames were widely circulated, and the group could not find a bus driver to take them further. “U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (brother to President John F. Kennedy) negotiated with Alabama Governor John Patterson to find a suitable driver, and the Freedom Riders resumed their journey under police escort on May 20. But the officers left the group once they reached Montgomery, where a white mob brutally attacked the bus. Attorney General Kennedy responded to the riders—and a call from Martin Luther King, Jr.—by sending federal marshals to Montgomery” (History.com, 2019). I feel a sense of guilt that I am only dedicating a page and a half to the Civil Rights Movement. If you are reading these stories for the first time, I invite you to commit a little time out of your day to some independent research on the history of Black Americans in the United States. Again, this paper is far from a comprehensive study. This paper is intended to be a guide to understanding the phrase: “Black Americans are tired of racism.”
“Top Adviser to Richard Nixon admitted that the ‘war on drugs’ was a policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and Black people” (Drugpolicy.org, 2016). The story is so over the top that no one wants to believe it; however, this was the confession of Richard Nixon’s top advisor. The statement is so shocking, I will let Mr. John Ehrlichman tell you in his own words: “You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said, referring to Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did” (Drugpolicy.org, 2016). If your President is implementing polices to “break up” your communities, wouldn’t that make you a little angry? After everything Black Americans have gone through at this point in history, this is what they must battle next: their Government using drugs to break up their community.
“There was no directorate of operations instruction about how to deal with drug allegations during the whole period of the Contra effort,” Hitz said. “They were in process. They were working on some kind of guidance. But they never published it in black letter and sent it to the field.” In Nicaragua, the Smith-Casey letter basically excused CIA officers from reporting drug trafficking among their contacts. Even when it became clear that narcotics could cast a pall on the effort, the CIA appeared unwilling to react” (PBS.org, n.d).
In 1986 the DEA seized 400 pounds of cocaine hidden in yucca addressed to Ocean Hunter. Documents from the hearing would show that companies were used to launder drug money between Costa Rica and Miami. Oliver North, former deputy-director of the National Security Council, categorically denied that anybody in his operation was trafficking drugs. But in 1987, a co-owner of the companies pointed the finger at the National Security Council. Moises Nunez told the CIA that he had a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council since 1985.
“If we have a foreign policy that says we’re going to oppose the spread of Communism, that’s not inconsistent with the (drug) policy,’ North said in an interview with FRONTLINE. “We’re not going to tolerate the flow of drugs into this country. Unfortunately, you’ve got members of Congress up there who want to beat the drum and blame the problem of narcotics in America on the Nicaraguan resistance. And that’s just not the case” (PBS.org, n.d).
“He is either misinformed or lying,” Winer says. “Oliver North’s diaries are filled with references to drug trafficking and people associated with his enterprise drug trafficking–filled with it. Oliver North can say, ‘I never hired or worked with any drug traffickers.’ His organization did.” While the Kerry report listed several companies used by the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office that had drug ties, it failed to pass definitive judgement on how much government agencies knew about those ties. “At best, these incidents represent negligence on the part of U.S. government officials responsible for providing support to the Contras,” the Hitz report stated. ‘At worst, it was a matter of turning a blind eye to the activities of companies who use legitimate activities as a cover for their narcotics trafficking” (PBS.gov, n.d).
What message does this send to Black Americans who found out from one of the President’s top Aides that the President wanted to use drugs to break up their communities? Well, it probably doesn’t make Black Americans want to grab a flag and hold their hand over their heart as they recite the pledge of allegiance. I am not saying that the United States allowed drugs to come into our country and allowed those drugs to flow into Black communities. I think speculation is irresponsible, which is why I made it a point to provide a source and quote directly from it. I do not want to talk about what is unknown so let’s talk about what is known: (1) The President, according to his aide, wanted to use drugs to break up the Black community. (2) A report from Congress states that the United States at worst turned a blind eye to drugs coming into the country. (3) Subsequently, “numerous Black American families have struggled for generations with persistent poverty, especially in the inner city. These conditions were further strained during the 1980s and 1990s by the widespread use of crack cocaine. For many, crack use became an obsession, dominated their lives, and superseded family responsibilities. This behavior placed additional pressure on already stressed kin support networks” (Dunlap, Golub, & Johnson, 2006). Now that we reached the 1990’s Black Americans should be okay, right?
Rodney King. Four Los Angeles policemen — three of them white — were acquitted of the savage beating of Rodney King, an African-American man. Caught on camera by a bystander, graphic video of the attack was broadcast into homes across the nation and worldwide. Fury over the acquittal — stoked by years of racial and economic inequality in the city — spilled over into the streets, resulting in five days of rioting in Los Angeles. It ignited a national conversation about racial and economic disparity and police use of force that continues today. You see, the riots were not only about Rodney King and that takes us to George Floyd.
When you see people rioting and acting out, it is not because they are bad people. People are rioting because they do not know what else to do; I just demonstrated in this paper nearly four-hundred years of Government sanctioned racism. Think about that for a second. For four-hundred years Black people have lived in a country where their Government proposed, endorsed, and carried out racism. So yes, people are angry. Yes, people are carrying around four-hundred years of anger and distrust. Some will argue: “those things that happened in the past did not happen to you. Slavery was a long time ago.” Well, it ended in 1995 officially. Nevertheless, one cannot make the argument that slavery happened a long time ago, so Black Americans should get over it, when Black people are still getting killed by White Americans in the street. To make matters worse: we have a President who is advocating for more shooting and violence by his tweet: “when the looting begins, the shooting begins.” So, what can we do to fix this problem? First, we can stop looking at the symptom and work towards fixing the disease. The riots are the symptom, the disease is racism. In simple parlance, let’s change the way we look at Black Americans.
My humble suggestion: police officers should have to live in the neighborhoods they police. Why? If police officers lived in the neighborhoods they police then they will begin to see the people in that neighborhood as people. They will see little Kareem grow up. They will see him at the market with his grandma. They will watch him play ball in front of their house. And when the day comes when they catch Kareem at 22 doing something stupid like using counterfeit money to purchase something at a store, instead of placing their knee on the neck of the little boy they watched grow-up, they will be able to have a conversation with Kareem. Who knows, the officer might be able to influence Kareem because Kareem would know the officer as the “guy from the neighborhood.”
I hope this paper will lead you to a deeper understanding. I hope you look through some of the resources in this paper and begin to dig deeper into this topic. It is not enough to be angry, and it is not enough to be dismissive; the answer to most of the world’s ills, in this writer’s opinion, is education. And yes, all lives matter, but if a fire breaks out in your kitchen and when the fire department comes they begin spraying water in your bedroom you may ask the question; “why are you spraying water in my bedroom when my kitchen is on fire?” Imagine how you would feel when the fireman replies:” yes, but all of your house matters not just the kitchen.” Think about how confusing that would be to you. #BLACK LIVES MATTER