Why America can Never Forgive the African American
America, at the time of this writing, has enjoyed 238 years of independence. Almost 150 of those years have been without slavery, almost 50 years with civil rights, but zero of those years have been with equality. In America in the year 2014, the average African American life is worth less than it was in 1860, a few years before the end of slavery. The average African American has a net value of less than 10% of the value of the average white American. Even with a black President, recent events in America have made it clear that America does not value black lives, and it never will.
America has always been a country that puts its money where its mouth is. Born rich (Thomas Jefferson & George Washington were amongst the richest people in the world when the constitution was signed) and with a rich variety of resources, wealth and what people do with it have been amongst some of the truest harbingers of the American opinion. And it’s with that understanding that the fundraising efforts for both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson provide such a good look at the state of race relations in America today.
For those who’ve been blissfully unaware, on August 9th, 2014, St Louis County police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Darren Wilson is white, Mike Brown is black. The mostly-black community in Ferguson protested, demanding justice. The mostly-white police force engaged them with tanks, tear gas, assault rifles and rubber bullets. The media eventually roared in, bringing the whole conflict onto the national stage, and, inevitably, fundraisers have been set up for the upcoming legal battle over whether or not the killing was justified.
At the time of this writing, the legal fundraiser for Mike Brown has raised over $316,194 dollars, maintained by the family’s lawyer, Ben Crump. However, the legal fundraisers for Darren Wilson have raised $433,370, split between two campaigns, one run by Shield of Hope, an organization involved with police officers in Ferguson, which has raised $197,620 and another run by an anonymous individual, which has raised over $235,750.
To American wallets, justice for the life of Mike Brown is worth slightly more than $300,000. But freedom for Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed him, is over $430,000 and growing. Black lives are valued as less than the freedom of the people who kill them, as seen in the lead up to the trial of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in 2013. His legal fundraiser raised over $200,000 for his defense, the Martin family received $100,000.
Why is this so consistent? Why are there so many Fergusons, so many Mike Browns, so many Trayvon Martins and Eric Garners? The answer is simple, but hard to swallow. The sad truth is that America can never forgive the African American community for slavery, for oppression, for segregation, and for continued inequality.
It isn’t that America blames these things on black people. The problem is far deeper than that. The plight of black people in America today is that they are a problem whose solution costs more than America is willing to pay to fix. And in that sense, being a problem that costs too much to fix will earn scorn and ire simply for continuing to belligerently exist.
America was built on slave labor. In fact, the long, complex tale of the American narrative is deeply tied to slavery and free labor. The South, in its glory days before the Civil War, was dependent on slave labor in order to maintain massive plantations that benefitted a few white slave owners at the cost of thousands of slaves. The South was so dependent on slavery that it was willing to secede from the nation and go to war against its other half to preserve slavery. Losing that war and ending slavery has created an economic hole which, 150 years later, the South still has not fully recovered from.
Racism has long been a scourge in America, but to understand why it exists, it has to be looked at from an economic perspective. The end of slavery in America introduced millions of uneducated, unskilled laborers into a job market reeling from civil war. Those ex-slaves now had to get a job to feed their families, but how many jobs could there be, and how could it be ensured that the entire economy wouldn’t collapse by adding so many workers into it at once?
Enter racism. Everybody agrees racism is bad, but few people understand what the purpose of racism is. To understand racism, it must be examined economically. Racism is a system to protect resources for one class at the expense of another class. In the American sense, racism has been used to prevent blacks from getting access to good jobs, moving into good neighborhoods, and attending good schools, in order to preserve those jobs, houses and schools for the people who run and benefit from them.
Black people make up 12% of America’s population, but are exceedingly poor, have a much lower literacy rate, and tend to live in areas of high crime and poverty. When a system exists to keep 12% of the population uneducated and in poverty, that offers easier opportunities to those who are not in that demographic. It means more wealth and power for those outside of the demographic. It’s a system that officially moves a select group of people into a pool for abuse and imprisonment, so that the rest of the country can live a higher standard of living.
In San Francisco, news organizations have covered the lack of diversity at several of the world’s largest tech companies. Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have 1–2% of their workforce identified as black. In an industry that prides itself on being open and available to talented young people who can climb based on the quality of their ideas, the question becomes, why can black people not break into even 1% of this industry? The answer is retorted, “Companies can’t hire when black people aren’t applying or getting STEM degrees.” Following the analogy, “Why aren’t black people applying for tech jobs or getting STEM degrees?”
The answer to that requires going back to the end of World War II when America, keen to keep its wartime economy from collapsing, diverted government resources to building homes for people and encouraging home ownership. The Federal Housing Administration, set up in the 50s to help guarantee home loans, officially would not guarantee home loans to people living in neighborhoods with black neighbors, making racism and redlining official government policy.
As a result, minorities were often moved into neighborhoods populated only by other minorities, while white home owners got moved into the best neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods, because of redlining, lack of opportunity and agents who preyed upon them financially, fell into disrepair, with poor property values, poor and aggressive police response, and little opportunity to move out. White neighborhoods, by virtue of moving minorities out, were blessed with high property values, better schools and opportunities, and networking opportunities with other people like themselves.
As such, in the 1980s when the first computers began to hit people’s homes, people in nice neighborhoods were able to afford them. People in poor neighborhoods could not. The young, wealthy and talented tech workers making up the industry today came from those neighborhoods who were providing computers to them since childhood, ensuring their success, while children in black neighborhoods were struggling with basic literacy and trying not to get killed by the police.
The decisions made by real estate agents and the Housing Administration 60 years ago are still ringing out today, even as gentrification reshapes those neighborhoods and displaces those who spent decades struggling to make something out of being moved to a poor neighborhood.
In America, the top CEOs earn 330 times what the average worker makes. The insane amounts of wealth being made by the top 1% of society are only possible with the free & very cheap models of labor that existed when America was founded: slavery.
America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Of its nearly 2.3 million prisoners, 1 million of them are black. A 50% population for a 12% national demographic. One in six black men have been imprisoned, and black youth make up almost 50% of arrests and detainments. While the amount of white people who use drugs in America is 5 times higher than the amount of black people who use drugs, black people are imprisoned for drug use at 10 times the rate of white people.
What are all these prisoners for? Introduce the Prison Industry. Private prisons are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy today, and the federal prison industry “produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags,” and in addition, “prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services, 93% of paints and paintbrushes, 92% of stove assembly, 46% of body armor, 36% of home appliances, 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture.”
In other words, prison labor has allowed American companies to pay outsource prices for labor at home, cutting shipping costs and increasing profits. And all it requires is a nationwide system based on keeping as many people in prison as possible for whatever reason possible. From the War on Drugs to New York City’s “broken windows” policies, targeting America’s law enforcement agencies on the black population sends more of them to prison, where they produce free and cheap labor for the federal government and private corporations across the country.
This leads back to Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. Decades and decades of media stereotypes have convinced Americans that the average black male is prone to crime, prone to drug use, prone to sexual and domestic violence and more. So when Michael Brown was dead and Darren Wilson was standing over him, those years of negative black stereotypes convinced the New York Times to opine that Mike Brown “was no angel,” because of his love for rap music and the teenaged scuffles he’d been in, while Darren Wilson, whose entire police department pre-St Louis County had been disbanded for racism and brutality, was allowed to slink by as a “low profile figure,” with an “unsettled” early past.
Darren Wilson won the campaign fundraising game because America needs to believe that young black men are violent, opportunistic criminals who would attack a police officer in his car for no reason. Manufacturing profits need Americans to believe that the safest place for a young black man should be in a prison, producing labor for pennies an hour, with a revolving door system that brings him back into the fold if he messes up after serving his time.
America’s tech industry needs Americans to believe that young black men and women aren’t interested in tech jobs because they’re too busy stealing, or because they don’t have the mental capacities to teach themselves to code. If the tech industry demographics reflected America at large, with 12% of those jobs going to African Americans, it would be that much harder for young, talented white and asian people to get jobs in that industry. The economic resources that remain in one entrenched community are easier to keep within that community if one limits who has access to those resources.
This isn’t to say that America *desires* this outcome for its minorities. Clearly, Americans value freedom and opportunity — it’s in the Declaration of Independence, after all. But how do you reconcile the consequences of slavery, the repercussions of Jim Crow and segregation, and the forces of today’s prison system with the value of the cheap labor it produces, with the continued economic oppression of the African American community?
This is why America can never forgive the African American. The cost of equality and reparations for economic injustice is simply too high for Americans to pay. Who wants to inconvenience themselves for the sake of a demographic they want nothing to do with? Who wants to compete against 100% of Americans for a job when they could compete against 88% and better their odds? This is why Americans have trained themselves to believe that blacks are violent, uneducated and undeserving — protection of economic resources is far easier when institutionalized racism prevents a significant portion of the population from competing for them.
Ultimately, the cost of equality isn’t even known. Every Congress, Representative John Conyers submits HR 40, the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” It is a bill, not to give reparations, but to simply study what it would cost to commit to racial equality in America. Every year, the bill is voted down. America, who paid reparations to slave owners for the loss of their slaves after emancipation, is not even willing to hold a commission on what reparations would look like.
African Americans in this country today remain steadfastly patriotic, hopeful, and focused. The citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, wish only for the officer who killed Mike Brown to face a court room and a jury of his peers. Black Americans, like so many other Americans, want an equal chance to compete for the American Dream, to be considered and treated equally by law enforcement and politicians, and to have a chance to raise their kids in a country that offers equal opportunities to them. The problem is that this kind of equality has to come from those who have power, privilege, and wealth, and nobody is going to give up that convenience, that power, that privilege, just for the sake of equality.
In short, the plight of the African American in America today is that they remind Americans of the injustice, inequality and institutionalized racism & imprisonment needed for the rest of the country to enjoy the standard of living that they have, and they cannot be forgiven for being a problem whose solution is too expensive to solve.