Right Wing Denial and the Legacy of Slavery

Politicus USA

Slavery ended nearly 150 years ago. It’s over. Nothing left to see here. Except that it’s Black History Month, and those damnable minorities and their liberal allies keep bringing up the past, reminding everyone of that darkest blemish on American history. The only times you hear conservatives talking about it are to revise history as politicians like Ron Paul have been doing by mainstreaming the belief that the Civil War was not primarily fought over slavery. There is no acknowledgement from conservatives that slavery and its aftermath had any consequences that can be observed today. They continue to argue that everyone has an equal chance of success on an equal playing field. While a disproportionately high number of African Americans remain in deep poverty, conservatives bend over backwards to blame them for their circumstances.

With the way that generations overlap, there are living African Americans who have heard their great-grandparents tell stories of their relatives’ firsthand experiences surviving slavery. During the Great Depression, firsthand accounts by slaves were collected for those who are interested to hear them personally. What kinds of stories would be most relevant to the social circumstances of African Americans today? Certainly, there was the commonplace policy of purposely breaking up families for over 240 years. Ever since the Moynihan Report first identified the struggles of the black family, conservatives have been quick to pounce and attribute the high percentage of single parent families to their moral laxity. They are chronically unable to acknowledge that a systemic decimation of families perpetrated by white people plays a significant role in the instability of male-female relationships to this day.  We have no precedent for the recovery time required to overcome this type of assault on a fundamental societal institution.

Speaking of recovery time, it’s been approximately seven generations since formal slavery ended. But that’s not the whole story; this month on February 13th, PBS will be airing the documentary, Slavery by Another Name, based on the book by Douglas Blackmon of The Wall Street Journal. This documentary will focus on the period from 1865 to World War II when African Americans experienced neo-slavery, a time of legal discrimination, widespread and brutal violence, and rampant criminalization. For example, “black codes,” or laws that were written to arrest and confine African Americans for crimes such as “vagrancy,” resulted in forced labor camps with conditions indistinguishable from slavery. Of note, a black man could be arrested for vagrancy for not having a job in a community that refused to employ him. As Blackmon states, “African Americans know this story in their hearts…and so people come up to me and say, ‘Gosh the story that my grandmother used to tell…I never believed it because she would describe that she was still a slave in Georgia after WWII or just before, and it never made sense to me, and now it does’…These are things that connect directly to the lives of people and the shape and pattern and structure of our society today.”

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