I am a liar. Most of my life I wanted to believe the following quote so much that I became the most egregious of liars; I lied to myself. The quote you might recognize:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Since it was scribbled on parchment, this false declaration has had its knee on our collective necks as surely as the policeman who destroyed George Floyd’s airway. To believe that we treat men equally is a lie.
After scratching out a fraught toehold on its East Coast (see the history of Thanksgiving) the newly arrived white Europeans schemed to consume the continent to establish their own New World. First came independence from the oppressive English monarchy. Next, a document to rule over this new proletariat empire. The result? Our Constitution.
Suddenly the authors of our Constitution were faced with a dilemma; in declaring equality, they were expected to treat all men equally. If not, then they had better redefine what a “man” really was. They decided that Africans, the basis of their cheap labor economy, weren’t human. How could they be? What man would meekly allow himself to be loaded on a ship and ferreted off to slave in an alien land? What father would allow his family to be sold off? Thus, those dark-skinned non-humans became chattel to be counted and valued like the herds of domestic animals they toiled beside. Believe me, the fact that those animals were treated better than them was not lost on the slaves (See the rebellion of Nat Turner).
But that is ancient history, some say. It has nothing to do with today, not in this land of opportunity for all. Recently, a defensive friend claimed that she was “color blind.” As a first responder she has seen life at its rawest. My bringing up the issue at all just proved that I was the actual racist in our conversation. Soon, my “Black Lives Matter” elicited the ubiquitous “All lives matter.” She didn’t want to hear my argument that a “Too” was actually implied in that latter declaration. But the BLM are Marxists, she complained. I reminded her that Black villains of the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement were Muslims and communists. Later the invading Mexicans, more cheap labor, were characterized as below human. The Indians were treated to a healthy dose of genocide. All well-used tactics of the world’s ruling classes.
I survived the 1960s and emerged with hope. Being White, I patted myself on the back, proud of my progressive views and eager to see this brand-new America in action. We eventually elected a Black president and the bucket sloshed back to where it had been. Trump is just George Wallace with an iPhone, cheerleading the country back to a Jim Crow reign of terror. My latest Kindle book, Glaude’s “Begin Again” is aptly titled. Like Sisyphus, we now have to start rolling the civil rights boulder once more up the hill.
“Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious adversary to justice,” James Baldwin said. He told Dick Cavett that, during the race riots, “The police were not there to protect my life, they were there to protect your property.”
Want more irony?
“I can’t breathe” is a rallying cry for both protestors of police brutality and the fools who think that wearing a mask to prevent infectious diseases is unconstitutional. Like in Vietnam and our wars for profit, once again people of color are disproportionately affected. Black people make up a huge part of the essential workers ranks. As first responders of all sorts, laboring in jobs that are traditionally low pay, they are the first who come in contact, and take care of, those same people who don’t see their Black faces and who can’t be bothered to wear face masks.
Speaking of not seeing, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” opens with a Black man ready to slit the throat of a White man who refuses to apologize for bumping into him. Just before the fateful stroke, though, he realizes that he is invisible. The White guy doesn’t even see the Black man that is about to kill him. Admitting we see Black faces is the first step toward making the psychological reparations necessary to fully realize the dream of our founders. It is the only way we can bury the lie inherent in their words forever. Deep down in my heart I know that diversity made this country what it is. I’m done lying.