4.19.2009

Happy Negroes, Unhappy Slaves Redux

A continuing conversation on race in America

Back in February of 2008, I wrote about a conversation that I had with a man, whose name I don’t know, about Black people, white people and the political campaign of Barack Obama, who, at that time was merely running for president. You can read about that conversation here.

Even after the conversation, we continued to talk and a year later, we’re still engaging in our favorite weekend past time and still talking. He’s not happy with Barack as president. He voted for him as did I, but he is unable to be patient. He wants change now, as in "Okay, we put the Black guy in.....now what’s the difference..."

Today we went back to race again coming at the question from differing viewpoints. He has progressed from slaves being happy during slavery to Blacks should be grateful they were taken off the slave ships and allowed to live. According to my friend, Blacks don’t show gratitude for what whites did for them way back when, which was to save our lives from the big bad Spaniards who stole them in Africa, forced them onto ships to survive or die.

He told me that Blacks should be glad nobody forced them to get back onto those ships because the Spaniards would have killed or drowned them rather than transport them. So slavery was something of a godsend for Black people. It was a blessing that we, Blacks today, are not properly thankful enough or respectful for.

That last thing on respect comes from my reading of him as he was telling me this. He didn’t say it, and I don’t want to put more words into his mouth because he is well capable to choking himself. He doesn’t need my help to do that.

As I listened to his theory, it dawned on me that I was hearing a theory that under lay the thoughts and actions of a lot of white people....that Africa, the slave ships, were bad, but getting to America was the good thing for Black people. It saved us.....I asked him....saved us from what exactly.....the freedom of living in your own country, with your own family, on your own land, surrounded by your own stuff? Being free to make your own decisions and not have to worry about whether you put too much starch in your master’s underwear?

How can being brutally snatched to another country to serve and become the property of another man be considered salvation? He still has no answer for me. He can’t seem to get past the "Africa bad, America good" scenario, or that Blacks blame whites for a situation not of their making. I couldn’t get past the "issues" of choice.....once Blacks were unchained and taken off the ships...no one forced white people to engage in slavery....It was a conscientious choice to do that after attempts to enslave Native Americans failed. It was a dehumanizing situation from which we all, both Black and white, still suffer.

So at this point, after a couple of thrusts about the still ongoing institutionalization of racsim that permeates everything in America, we move on, saving this saga for another day. We turned instead to Herbert Hoover’s presidency as the reason why most Black people are democrats. Seems he saw something recently on television that made this connection.

In my friend’s mind he felt that Blacks should have been republican from jump instead of adopting the politics of their owners who were primarily southern democrats. I explained that many blacks were republicans or believed in the politics of abolition and the party of Lincoln, and that persisted well through the 1960s.

I have already chronicled how much of my family was republican. The switch happened when southern democrats left the party to become republicans rather than allow Fannie Lou Hamer to be seated the Democratic Convention, I believe in 1964. I can remember hearing older family members talk about the death of FDR, and of watching his funeral train. They recalled the tears they shed and shock they felt when this man passed. Yet they still called themselves republicans.

I reminded my friend that what Blacks may have felt politically, was different than expressing it, because getting the right to cast a vote was in and of itself, an adventure. It remains that way today despite the voting rights act of 1965. And unless anyone thinks the fight is over, the Voting Rights Act is not a permanent law-it must be renewed every 25 years.

It is also coming before the United States Supreme Court in the next couple of weeks. A Supreme Court that is led by an activist conservative. What will happen is anybody’s guess.

There are any number of possibilities, including striking it down and declaring it unconstitutional....just like affirmative action in California.....In the aftermath....the colleges and universities have once again become primarily all white institutions.....Will that happen to the right to vote?

Don’t know.....Just asking questions....as always....

My conversation with my friend.....to be continued....................
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