Inspection- 12 Years a Slave and Centuries of Racism

by Ken Carman

  Yesterday, for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my wife and I went to 12 Years a Slave. I’m going to try to not tell you too much, but so much here is so important for you to know, to hear. There was a lot I knew intellectually, but to see what it must have been like to have been sold into slavery seemed almost like being there. But obviously: not. Not even close.
 Please go.
  Having lived in the South since 78 I have heard arguments like, “Flying the Confederate flag is about ‘heritage.'” (Why, yes, it is, if you include all the nastiness of slavery and the fact the South took up arms against their fellow countrymen.) The Blacks had it “better” under slavery. (Depends upon the master how bad it was, for sure, but I seriously doubt those who make this claim would make it if it had been their ancestors, or especially them.) I’ve heard them say black sold blacks. (So this makes it right, how?) And, of course, all the demeaning comments obviously intended to reinforce the same old racist stereotypes that essentially are intended to classify blacks as a sub species.
  Disgusting.
  But to see some master read from the Bible quotes about servants, like one about servants who don’t obey should get so many beatings, then claim this means slaves have be submit to their true Gods: their masters, white people, the plantation slave owner? Worse than “disgusting.”
  Remind me again which one is the “sub-species?
 The main thrust of this true story is an actual former freeman who was kidnapped and then sold back into slavery. One of the points being that if the kidnapped freeman, or woman, tried to appeal to anyone that was pretty much a guaranteed beating, or hanging: showing just how much of a Catch-22 slavery was. And that was certainly not one of the most evil Catch-22s inherent to the system.
  But you can go to the movie yourself, and I recommend it. Just remember my warning: and this is an important… this is a tough one to sit through, but an important one. If at least a tear or two doesn’t try to come out then there might be something wrong with you.
  Today we have a situation where an overwhelming portion of the prison populace is black. In New York City’s “stop and frisk” the overwhelming racial makeup of the stopping and frisking is black. People point to pants dropped teens: ignoring the fact whites are also part of the gang banger culture, and the obvious truths that not all “pants dropped” are gang bangers, or black. This image problem that’s skewed oh, so, black, and oh so wrong, was exemplified by the “hoodie” excuse for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. One does wonder if Trayvon had been white whether justice might have had a different conclusion, or if he would have even been shot at all… even if the young person reported to have been breaking into houses had been white.
 When the rhetoric was at it’s zenith I walked into WalMart one day and saw racks filled with hoodies, and plenty of white folks buying them, wearing them. I wear one myself from time to time.
 But one cannot deny blacks suffer from not just an image problem, but a crime and criminal problem too. This is a chicken and egg argument where a recent study, reported on by MSNBC, shows nearly half of black men have been arrested by age 23. The stats for whites at that age is 38% vs. 49% for blacks.
 Is it the fault of the race or the fault of a long term racist system that has far too slowly adjusted away from the worst excesses over many centuries, and all the misconceptions that leaves behind? Taken out of historical context it’s oh so easy to simply say, “They should pull themselves up by…” What “bootstraps?” By the programs those who regurgitate all these self righteous talking points often also insist we should keep cutting?
 Yes these are folks who, after making some bootstrap comment, would ban bootstraps. By the way, when was the last time you saw a bootstrap?
 Damn racists and their banning bootstraps.
 Chuckle,
 I’m sure we’ve all heard the characterizations of blacks as lazy, shifty, good for nothing lying n… Ever wonder where those characterizations came from? Watch as the plantation owner demands production numbers from his slave cotton pickers and those who pick the least get whipped, and the woman who picks the most is his chosen rape victim night after night. Maybe that will give you a hint of how it started.
 Prejudging someone by their skin color when black is so easy, our preconceptions have be passed down through the generations.
 Even now, about 150 years latter, actual achieving on a large scale by one black is greeted by, “Put the white back into the White House” signs. If the previous white president had plenty of time away from the White House that’s OK, but a black?
 In their seething anger you can almost hear the unspoken, “Good for nothin, lazy n…”
 But I’d like to paint a different picture…
 Most did not come here as Christians, but they did convert.
 Most did not speak English, but they learned.
 They came with many talents, but instead worked the fields and tried to fit in. Even now they do work within a system that still has driving while black, stop and frisk and the toughness of walking in to apply for a job where your race obviously has been a factor in not getting hired for many years.
 A few months ago I was at a restaurant and a black family next to us consisted of a teenage girl on a cell, a boy on a personal device, grandpa and grandma listening intently while Mom and Dad chatted about how things had changed, the prices in the grocery store and what Aunt Zelda was doing lately. Change the melanin and racists would probably snuggle up to them and let loose one of those rip roaring, always unfunny, black jokes.
 Frankly I am amazed at how resilient they are. If I had had that history to back up anger I’m not sure I would be that resilient. This… despite history, despite continuing racial stereotypes aimed at them by folks who don’t deserve to be in the same room, or even the same country.
 I looked at that family and thought of all that has happened, then wished for one of those Twilight Zone moments where everyone who utters the same nonsense would find themselves starting over: living out their lives like those they continue to slander.
 I seriously doubt they would have done anywhere near as well as so many of those they’re so eager to malign.

                                                     -30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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