I was reading a book (Awash in a Sea of Faith by Jon Butler) and a sentence jumped off of the page: “By 1660 the law in each colony established slavery’s most elemental forms: the owner possessed the slave, the slave’s labor, and the slave’s progeny.” What is stunning about this is prior to the availability of large numbers of African slaves (and I do mean large numbers, in many counties they became the largest segment of the population) the only similar source of labor was from “indentured servants.” Indentured servants signed a contract (or their parents did) that sold their labor for a fixed period of time for a price. These were usually English poor people looking for a way out of poverty in a land of opportunity. The owner of the indenture had control of their labor and their person to some extent. They could insist on certain behaviors, like piety, cleanliness, etc. There were abuses as legal remedies were not always available to wronged indentured servants, but the key point is the owner of the indenture did not own the individual and they did not have any claim on their progeny although they could charge their wards for the upkeep of such children. (Whether or not an indentured servant could marry was not always part of the contract, most often it required the permission of the indenture holder.)
The striking thing about the institution of slavery as developed here in the U.S. was the ownership of unborn children. While our modern minds quail at the owning of another person, at that time one could make an argument, based upon the Bible, that slavery was not only allowed by normal and regulated. Every time you read the word “servant” in the Bible, replace it with the word “slave” because the job of servant was not what it was in Victorian times, a paid position. But to own any issue of those slaves is a total abomination that could only come from a viewpoint that African slaves were equivalent to farm animals in the minds of the early Americans. They were not human. If you owned a horse, you owned any foals and you bred them as you will. Same for cows, and goats, and chickens, … , and slaves.
History also reveals to us that in the South, the white segment of the population lived in constant fear of slave revolts, revolts in which slaves would rise up and murder their oppressors in their beds. Farm animals don’t rebel against their lot in life, human beings do, so there was some cognitive dissonance involved. My opinion (and it is just that) is that fear burned into the minds of many Southerners this dissonant position: “they” are human and they are dumb animals and this became a very durable meme. (A dumb animal is one that cannot speak, by the way, not one bereft of intelligence.)
“You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes,
a couple of blocks is probably all it would take to understand.”
Fast forward to today.
A young man is gunned down in the street in Ferguson, MO for sassing a police officer and running away. Apparently he stopped and turned back toward the police officer to surrender, but he was shot and killed anyway. Another young man was shot and killed in a toy store for holding a pellet gun and talking on a cell phone. The store video showed the gun held like a cane, with the muzzle on the floor. No verbal directions were given before the shooting started. Young black men are shot and killed and hassled with impunity by white and even black police officers. The black officers apparently have to show solidarity with their white co-workers to be acceptable into their community.
Young black men are stopped and questioned on sidewalks and in stores and, while driving, pulled over and ticketed at very high rates. Jon Stewart told a tale last night of one of his comedic minions, a black man dressed in a tailored suit, out with his producer, who was dressed closer to a street person than anything else. They both went into a building and guess who was questioned by building security? (Hint: the Black guy.)
Slavery was ended. Jim Crow was created to take its place. Vagrancy laws were especially useful to the miscreants who created this nonsense. Black people with no job were arrested and given a large fine which, because they had no job, they could not pay. So, they were impressed into work gangs and paid a pittance until their “fines” were paid. In other words: official slavery was reinstituted.
After Jim Crow was eroded (ain’t gone yet) the general approach has been to incarcerate large numbers of Black men, which makes them unemployable and strips them of their voting rights, but which makes them, because of their high incarceration rate, paintable as dangerous, which allows them to be shot down in our streets because, well: black, therefore dangerous. Fox (sic) News beats the drum along with other right-wing ideologues, that Black people are to blame. If they hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time; if they had just done what the Police asked; if they hadn’t been Black, everything would have been okay.
They are just animals.
When I was growing up, I was told that before I criticized anyone I should “walk a mile in their shoes,” which was an aphorism that I should try to see what things looked like from their viewpoint. If I had been treated as ordinary Black citizens in this country are treated, I would have become completely radicalized and would probably be dead at this point for trying to fight back. You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes, a couple of blocks is probably all it would take to understand.
Do you understand?