White and Angered by the Protests? Let’s Do a Quick Refresh on American History.

Venture Capital Investor @ Acumen America; Fmr. Goldman Sachs & JPMorgan Wealth Advisor; Fmr. Management Consultant at Manatt Health Strategies

Don’t call for peaceful protests, without understanding the violence and fighting used by your ancestors that built the privileges you sit upon today. America has been at war, domestic and abroad, 93% of the time, since 1776. Fighting for what we believe in, right or wrong, is in our DNA, and it seems that this statement is always correct, except for when African Americans fight for their rights.

I’ve seen comments and posts from many (not all, as evidenced by the protests) white Americans around their disgust with protest and riot level violence in response to the death of George Floyd. While I could go on and on screaming at the top of my lungs imploring you all to see this moment as a symptom to underlying structural problems, I thought a brief primer on America’s History around protest and violence would be a better re-centering exercise.

Violence in the United States, and within global history, has long been a mechanism of change. In 1765, the Stamp Acts were passed, and your ancestors were INFURIATED, arguing that only their representative assemblies could tax them. The colonists insisted that the act was unconstitutional, and they resorted to mob violence to intimidate stamp collectors into resigning.[1] In 1767, your ancestors were also subject to the Townshend Acts by the British Parliament. These acts were a series of measures that began taxing goods imported to the American Colonies, and your ancestors felt that it was an abuse of power at the time. These two acts were the beginning of the rapidly devolving relationship between England (oppressor), and it's American Colonies (the oppressed). They ultimately paved the way for the greatest revolution the world has ever seen.

Portrait of the Boston Tea Party.

Before I fast forward to the Civil War, and how the southern confederacy’s grievances led to a domestic war that lost over ~650,000 souls on both sides, I want to quickly touch on two somewhat barbaric moments in American history, in the colonies before the American Revolution. The first one being, how the lands were claimed by your ancestors, and secondly, how the subsequent wealth was created out of thin air through free labor arbitrage (aka slavery).

Burial of the dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee. (Credit: Niday Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo)

The History of American Indians before European contact dates to 8000 b.c. There is profound evidence that these lands were inhabited entirely by Native peoples, with long-standing traditions, rituals, and an established way of life. This all came to an abrupt halt when your ancestors arrived as disgruntled Puritan separatists from England, looking to escape persecution from the King. Your ancestors were received with open arms, love, and pure human exchange. The Native Americans taught your ancestors how to farm on these lands, and in return, millions of Native Americans died from the diseases brought, and the violent wars waged on them. Millions of Native Americans were forcefully marched on the trail of tears, and locked into small reservations as a thank you for their kindness.

Before I hop back to the violence shed holding on to the grasps of racist hierarchy (aka slavery) in 1865, I think it’s worth briefly skimming over the barbaric Transatlantic Slave Trade. Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were shipped like human cargo to the “New World” (aka Native American lands).[2] 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean, and South America.

The transatlantic slave trade emerged as one of the most lucrative transnational enterprises ever. It fueled the development of the new economic system of capitalism in Europe and the “New World.”[3] Moreover, some of the wealth and property accumulated then, and many of the institutions created in that era, still exist today (e.g., HSBC, Barclay’s, Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, etc.).[4] Even some of the largest insurance firms in the US — New York Life, AIG, and Aetna — sold policies that insured slave owners would be compensated if the slaves they owned were injured or killed. “Slavery was an overwhelmingly important fact of the American economy,” explains Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University.

Fast forward past the vast fortunes accumulated by pure aggression, and barbaric practices, your ancestors hit an inflection point in 1861 around the future of the nation’s involvement with slavery. The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.[5] The south was so passionate about keeping the institution of slavery afloat that they decided to not only go to war to keep it, they disavowed the United States of America and everything the flag stood for in the process. Despite the hypocrisy of it all, they did what you are seeing across streets in this nation times 100; they fought against what they felt was a heavy-handed government. The Civil War was yet another moment in which your ancestors fought aggressively hard against perceived oppression. Before we head towards the post-reconstruction era violence bestowed upon freed slaves by your ancestors, it is essential to note that slavery afforded many of the privileges you enjoy today, and fighting against oppression was a common theme up until this point in American history.

Now, after the Civil War, we saw more barbaric and violent practices from your ancestors. The post-reconstruction era was the First Time in American history, where the violence carried out by your ancestors was not rooted in fighting from “perceived oppression.” After the civil war, there was a full-fledged unapologetic oppression campaign through massacres of innocent self-sustaining black towns, Jim Crow era abusive policing, perpetual blockage of fair economic opportunity (in the north and the south), and pervasive and unchecked public executions of black men and women for public display.

In a span of just 24 hours, 35 square blocks were burned and over 1,200 houses destroyed by an angry white mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma based on a false accusation by a white woman, on a young black man. Contemporary reports of deaths began at 36, but historians now believe as many as 300 people died, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

Effectively, police officers from their inception were meant to be the strong arm of white supremacy for nearly 80 years; black Americans were kept in line through viscous behaviors by the people they paid taxes to for protection. While slave patrols formally dissolved after the Civil War ended, their culture became infused into the burgeoning criminal “justice system” during the reconstruction era. This “justice” system, was designed to enforce the Jim Crow laws in the south, and if blacks got out of order, they suffered direct and unfettered police brutality. Compare that reality for black Americans to the expensive tea your ancestors took issue with at the Boston tea party in that iconic rebellion. Did black America revolt like you see today in all of this? In pockets, of course, but for the most part, no, we fell in line.

On June 15, 1920, three African-American circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, suspects in an assault case, were taken from jail and lynched by a white mob of thousands in Duluth, Minnesota. Rumors had circulated that six African Americans had raped and robbed a nineteen-year-old woman. A physician’s examination of her subsequently found no physical evidence of rape.

After you get past the Jim Crow era, you enter a new period in American history, where American oppression of minorities became less outwardly violently at scale, and a lot more subtle. Redlining, lack of educational opportunity, inadequate health access, over-policing, the war on drugs, and lack of access to capital have made today’s racial wealth gap today wider than in the 1960s. Simultaneously, it is still persistently accurate that black men have a 250% higher chance of getting killed in unarmed situations than white men by law enforcement. When you couple the history of overt violence of your ancestors with the stifling economic conditions carefully implemented, through segregation, it hopefully starts to come into clear view why people have had enough.

This picture is a great example of the response this nation had towards the crack epidemic versus the opioid epidemic. (Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

These protestors have had enough of being second class citizens when we grew up in an educational system that beat American ideals into us. These protestors are sick of the modern-day lynching from the police force around America because they are still acting in the way they were designed to from the slave patrol and Jim Crow eras. These protestors are sick of being deemed essential workers, only to be still told their time and effort isn’t worth more than 7 dollars an hour in the middle of a Pandemic. These protestors are sick of having schools that are for more inferior and less funded than the schools you all send your kids to learn in. These protestors are sick of having ideas that will never see the light of day, because of the lack of access to capital in their neighborhoods. These protestors are sick of political figures on both sides of the aisle that cycle after cycle, never listen to their grievances. These protestors are sick of white America enjoying our culture, and athletic abilities, yet not appreciating our collective humanity. These protestors are sick of the hypocrisy in our founding documents being exposed every day in our disparities in educational, criminal justice, health, and financial outcomes.

American capitalism is a broken zero-sum game, trust me I know, I worked at the highest levels of finance (Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan), and studied policy at the number one policy school in the nation (UC Berkeley). If your ancestors knew that the end outcome of this carefully designed machine would be 100% social unrest at all levels of society (across all races), maybe they would have been more thoughtful about how policy interacted with markets. From the beginning of our country’s history, we’ve had no regard for who was left in the wake of the ruthless pursuit of wealth. If thoughtful care were made in ensuring there was a more of an even playing field, I would not have had white friends calling me hurting as much as I have been the past few days. Unfortunately, the founding fathers were too focused on exploiting our labor, talents, and skills for their gain, and were too focused on ensuring their institutions would serve you all long after they are gone. When people say white privilege, it is the only two words that summarize everything you’ve read above.

The question to people who hate what they see on the news, and prescribe to a version of America that more closely aligns with the belief that all men (and women) are created equal, what are you going to do? Are you going to take the easy route and blame the oppressed for what’s going on? Or will you take a step outside of your privilege, and figure out how you can create a version of America in your lifetime that rights the wrongs of the past, and creates more balanced economic and criminal justice outcomes?

Despite all the items typed here, as an African American, the ideals of MY COUNTRY, OUR country, the United States America, still gives me chills to my core. “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.”[6] I pray hard and long for a day when my country, my home, all that I’ve ever known, lives up to its ideals and creates comprehensive policies that more closely align with what we’ve strived to be in words since our inception. God Bless America.

A line of almost all white women formed between police officers and black protesters at Thursday night’s rally in downtown Louisville calling for justice in the death of Breonna Taylor. (Photo: Tim Druck)

[1] One 1765 Stamp Act Dice British Crown Tax Mark with …. https://www.ebay.com/itm/One-1765-Stamp-Act-Dice-British-Crown-Tax-Mark-with-Certificate-of-Authenticity-/123382271607

[2] Ghana’s Year of Return campaign for … — Quartz Africa. https://qz.com/africa/1684130/ghanas-year-of-return-campaign-for-diaspora-tourism/

[3] Economics and the Accumulation of Wealth. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php-option=com_content&view=article&id=362&Itemid=212.html

[4] Economics and the Accumulation of Wealth. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php-option=com_content&view=article&id=362&Itemid=212.html

[5] The Civil War — Google Sites. https://sites.google.com/a/masdstudent.org/the-civil-war/

[6] Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War. https://www.nps.gov/shil/learn/historyculture/upload/SLAVERY-BROCHURE.pdf

Venture Investor @ the Acumen Fund. Concerned Citizen. Policy Nerd. FAMU x UC Berkeley (Goldman School of Public Policy). Kidney Donor & Advocate.

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