By David Grace (www.davidgraceauthor.com)
I streamed the movie Lincoln a few days ago and was surprised to learn that even after four years of civil war many members of Congress from both border and northern states were opposed making slavery illegal.
The main arguments against adopting the 13th Amendment were that if slavery were made illegal four million dollars worth of “property” would be lost (the market value of the slaves) and that when the war was over the former slaves would want to vote, and, of course, you couldn’t allow black people to vote. The next thing you know women would want to vote and God knows we white men couldn’t stand for that.
That and the fact that this is Christmastime, a Christian celebration, started me thinking about we got from “there” to “here.”
When America was first settled the Southern states were suited to plantation crops like tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, and rice. The Northern states weren’t.
To exploit plantation crops the Southerners needed workers, lots of them. They had three sources of cheap labor: indentured servants from England, Native Americans, and Africans.
Between the late 1700s and early 1800s South Carolina enslaved between 25,000 and 50,000 Native Americans but they ended up exporting them to the Caribbean as a “trade goods.”
Toward the end of the 1700s the number of Englishmen who were willing to come to America as indentured servants drastically declined. Also, the planters began to worry about what might happen to their power if they created a large class of restless, landless, and relatively poor white men who would be free of their control upon the expiration of their contracts of indenture.
That left the Africans as the principal source of cheap labor to work the plantations.
All told, about 450,000 African slaves were imported into the Southern United States as cheap labor, the best kind if you want to make a lot of money.
Since this is Christmastime, I have to ask myself how supposedly Christian people could justify that?
If you’re going kidnap people, steal their lives, and work them to death, you pretty much can’t call yourself a Christian. You can be a Christian or do that, but not both.
But if it’s really important that you can think of yourself as a Christian and you still want to promote and protect enslaving black people what do you do?
You invent a fiction that the people you’re enslaving aren’t people at all. They have to be something other than human.
To maintain the fantasy that you’re a decent, Christian person you can’t admit to yourself, leastwise to the world, that these dark-skinned slaves you’re buying are human beings. You have to put them into another box.
You have to make them less than human.
In order to successfully keep lying to yourself that you’re a decent person they have to be some sort of farm animals, smarter and more useful than horses and oxen, but subhuman all the same.
You tell yourself that they’re really just a tribe of really smart monkeys, not human beings at all. Your Jesus Christ wasn’t talking about them. Oh, no, He was only preaching peace, love and tolerance for real people, that is, White People. For Jesus, Black People didn’t count, according to you.
That was your version of The Big Lie.
But after decades of kidnapping these “subhumans”, stealing their lives, treating them like lambs to the slaughter, you get criticized. People start calling you monsters and evil and you’re afraid that they may not let you keep on enslaving black-skinned people forever. And there’s money at stake here.
But not only is your business model being threatened, your character is on the line. People are calling your Christian decency into question. You have to do something.
Your solution is to start a war both to protect your business model and to protect your fantasy that black people are not people at all, because if you have to admit that they are then you’re going to have to admit that you’re not the decent, Christian people you want to pretend to be.
You turn into good, old Uncle Charlie who gets caught with ten-thousand pictures of naked little boys.
You can’t let that mask be ripped off and expose the ugliness beneath.
You choose to kill to protect the lie.
After six hundred and forty thousand men perish in the war you started to protect the fiction that black people are farm animals you finally, kicking and screaming, are forced to stop owning slaves.
But you’re still not done. Not by a long shot.
You started out by kidnapping people from their homes and stealing their lives.
Then you prosecuted a war that killed over six hundred thousand men in the hope that you could keep on kidnapping people and stealing their lives.
Now that they can’t be your slaves any longer you’d like to be rid of them, but you can’t figure out how to do that. You’re stuck with them. More than that they’re the living evidence of your inhumanity.
You’re like the little girl who begged her daddy to buy her a pony then tired of it when it grew large and wanted him to send it away with the complaint that the costs and time and effort of caring for it were all the horse’s fault.
So you choose to engage in a hundred-year-long concerted effort to mistreat dark-skinned people, subjugate them, and abuse them all in service of your self-protective delusion that people with black skin are subhuman.
You don’t want to admit that you’ve violated the teachings of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You don’t want to admit that you are the opposite of decent people, so you cling to your Big Lie that people with black skin aren’t really people at all, not the way people with white skin are.
You tirelessly engineer an entire society based on the principle that people with black skin are sub-human, tainted, and unfit to associate with the likes of you.
You don’t let them live near you. You don’t let them ride up front on your buses and trains. You don’t let them eat in your restaurants or sleep in your hotels.
You hang them. You beat them. You burn down their churches, all the while exalting in the supposed glorious heritage of the Confederacy that your ancestors established for the purpose of maintaining the fiction that black-skinned people were subhuman and the lie that your ancestors were true followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Finally, after a hundred years of this abuse, again kicking and screaming, you’re forced to stop doing that. You’re forced to let people with black skin into your hotels and restaurants and allow them to vote. How unfair to you!
Not satisfied with kidnapping and enslaving them, not satisfied with killing over six-hundred-thousand men in your failed attempt to keep on doing what you were doing, not satisfied with brutalizing and abusing them only to be stopped by federal courts and police, now, today, you complain that they’re stealing your money, draining your taxes, and taking your jobs.
How dare a black-skinned man take a job that a white man might want?
Kidnapped. Abused. Denied a good education. Denied any role in your society you blame them for not being successful enough, skilled enough, or hard-working enough.
Now you walk around complaining that black people are stealing your country. That they’re taking what rightfully belongs to you, that is to white people.
Who am I talking about? Who are “you”?
You are the people who recently applauded the slogan: Make America White Again.
Now, a few days before Christmas, I have to wonder what kind of people do that and can still look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that they are decent, Christian, men and women.
–David Grace (www.davidgraceauthor.com)
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The Caged Bird
by Maya Angelou
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream.
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.