Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you come on my tour, you will spend your time in Old City learning about the great things that the Founding Fathers did. Excellent! To quote our latest (last?) president: “We did great things. Super big things. We did a phenomenal job.” (Trump, #twitter) Let’s not pretend, however, that we were saints. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be worshipped as a Demi-God. (I deserve it more than most.) But it’s what we DID NOT do that is still causing problems 230 years later.
Slavery is that problem. We did not end slavery when we had a chance. In fact, we made it worse. During the Constitutional Convention, we gave the the southern slave states more political power by allowing them to count slaves into the population. More people represented in a region will mean more members in the House of Representatives. The north protested. The south lashed back. We ended up compromising and saying that each slave would count as three-fifths of a person.
By incorporating the 3/5 Compromise into the Constitution, we reinforced the horrible institution in two ways: 1) we strengthened the political power of the southern plantations; and 2) we established it as a fundamental institution.
Increased Southern Political Power
The Three-Fifths Compromise was supposed to be a compromise. (Compromise (n.) – Selling your soul to save your hide) Instead, we allowed more representatives for slaveholders because we included a large number of people who couldn’t even be represented. We gave the southerners more power by giving them more seats in the House of Representatives and more votes in the Electoral College. This ensured the survival of slavery. The select few of us, First Generation Americans, who actually detested slavery, always figured that a war would be the only way to end slavery…. and we were right. But do you think, before the Civil War, the population as a whole would be willing to have a war if they knew it would kill 670,000 Americans? Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but the answer is “no”. (73 years of failed compromises between the north and south proved this…)
Our Constitution established the three branches of government. It set term limits. It created the Electoral College. It understood the weaknesses in humanity and provided checks and balances to prevent consolidation of too much power. It became the blueprint for our republic, the most successful republic in world history. This document is worshipped in our country more than the Bible. The phrase, “that’s unconstitutional!”, has a stronger impact than the phrase, “that’s un-Christian!” in this country. So anything written in it, is essentially American gospel… even if the gospel that is preached includes racism, sexism and prejudice.
Soooooo, basically, established a racist and oppressive foundation making it easy for future generations of white-privileged, American, men to defend and rationalize hypocrisy, racism, prejudice, injustice, oppression, enslavement, rape, and murder.
How does one defend the institution of slavery? The answer is: They cannot and should not. But sometimes the most indefensible mistakes can become the most valuable learning experiences. After all, how else will we curb racism unless we understand how one can rationalize and defend it? (Remember: History doesn’t repeat itself; it paraphrases) Let’s look at my own experience:
I printed advertisements for slave sales in my newspaper. I owned two slaves. I am aware that fighting for liberty while denying it to others at the same time made us vicious hypocrites. Unfortunately, my mindset was developed, at the time, from a practical approach. I knew that the institution of slavery was so enmeshed in the fabric of our society that it was unlikely to meet its demise any time soon. Servitude was an institution that went as far back in human history as all others. I wrongfully rationalized that I would be unable to do anything to dismantle the institution; so I, instead, decided to take advantage of the rules it rewarded to me, a white man.
I recognized and argued that the idea of white racial superiority was only prevalent because we were treating them as animals. If the black population were allowed to be educated, I argued, then they would be just as successful as whites. But they were not allowed to be educated, and so I was unable to prove my point. So this artificial facade of racial supremacy stood firm. I was, of course, a “child of the times” and my “times” were waaaay racist and prejudicial. (Hell, I hated Germans!) Every cultural group despised each other. English vs. French, Christian vs. Muslim, Catholic vs. Protestant… hypocrisy and distrust were everywhere. This is not an attempt to defend slavery, but it does help to explain the mindset of humans. Geographic differences are common enough (Suck it, New Jersey!) without incorporating, distinct languages and cultures…. Let alone skin color. (Foreign = different = not normal) It takes a long time for change to occur in societal norms and expectations. (Think real hard about how many people were willing to argue and fight for gay marriage 10 years ago…) I did very little to attempt to break down barriers in my youthful years.
We had to tip-toe around the subject during the birth of our nation because the South was unwilling to join with the North unless slavery was untouched. Our only priority was to establish a firm union, so we let all other attempts at bettering the world evaporate.
It wasn’t until the end of my life that I tried to curb the influence of slavery, but to little avail. (I joined a petition to support a bill in the House of Representatives to abolish the slave trade. When Southern slave owners argued it was their “Christian duty” to convert the heathens, I responded with satire. I wrote an essay as a Muslim slave trader who defended the enslavement of “heathen Christians” and convert them to the true religion, Islam. (Remember: those who rationalize oppression based on their religious beliefs are God Damn hypocrites.) Though clever, the essay produced far too little too late. I, like so many others, did not focus on attacking the subject when I was younger because I had everything to lose. Only when I was on my deathbed did I put any effort into it.
It’s hardly the story of a martyr…
I will not defend myself. I genuinely repent for my wrongs and failures. I hope our mistakes, as the Founders of our nation, will be used as a guide into the understanding of human nature, and government as a whole. Let’s consider the selfish nature of human nature….
Human Nature’s Selfish Nature
I spent my entire life trying to figure out a formula that could measure, estimate, and explain human nature. What I realized was that it was impossible to compute humanity. Humans are, by nature, contrary and complicated. We say one thing and do the other. It can never be 100% determined when it will occur, but inconsistency can be consistently guaranteed. (Did that make sense?) Humans are not just beastly individualistic by nature, nor are they all socially civilized. Both are true some of the time; neither are true all the time. For example a person can be reasoned with, but a mob of people demand action not reason. The closest thing to certainty, however, is that humans reach their optimum level of compassion when their self-interest is not in jeopardy.
We all come from various experiences and relationships that shape our opinions and actions. We, as individual humans, can be incredibly generous and compassionate. We can be charitable and empathetic. Some are selfless. Most, however, only reach this level of “model citizenry” once they are sure that their own interests are taken care of. Survival, comfort, security for children… all are very natural variables which most humans consider of the highest importance. This fact can negatively impact the quality of compassion and empathy that a person gives to others.
Self-interest is not moral. Self-interest is not rational. Self-interest is certainly not charitable. And yet, everyone can relate to it. That is why the most genuinely selfless are hailed and canonized as heroes and saints… because they are the exceptions to this rule!
Taking that sentiment into consideration, it is easy to see why slavery became an entrenched part of our society. The value of a nation does not come from the land, but rather the productivity of people who develop it. Therefore, the more developed and productive your land and people were, the more value and power you had. Free labor was a commodity every person wanted; an increase in goods and productivity (with minimal cost) appeals to anyone who wants to increase their time and wealth. What started with indentured servitude built the backbone of slavery. After all, one only had their servant for seven years… what does one do when they’ve gotten accustomed to that type of “help”? . The threat of potentially losing that level of production and value than causes one to think about ways to keep a more permanent level of servitude… slavery is the most profitable.
In a cruel twist of irony, the Age of Reason, flourished in a time of rampant prejudice. One could easily rationalize a defense of slavery on the grounds of racial superiority…
All it takes is one generation for the institution to be so deeply entrenched in the society for people to be unwilling to change it. An institution where people can produce needed goods as cheaply and quickly as possible; while at the same time serving as motivation for others who want to achieve that kind of land, wealth, and power. This is the type of life most farmers wanted and many children grew up experiencing. One in which slaves are prevalent and considered a commodity, not a worker. Businessmen, both North and South, are seeing how popular and “free” this form of labor has become. They are motivated to invest and profit from this lucrative trade. Entire livelihoods are based on this institution. Compassion for the enslaved is lost under the profits and gains of the business world. Even those who would be willing to free slaves and pay them for their work, do not because they will be unable to compete with anyone who employs “free” slave labor. People have been willing to fight for their beliefs, do you really believe they would not do the same to maintain their livelihoods?
Thus the complexity of Human Nature: A person wants to do the right thing; yet when faced with the question of a person’s value, they are selfish in nature.
But enough explaining… Now to the REAL purpose of this essay…..
A Brief(-ish) Message to Rational White People
Let’s get something straight, rational white people: we need to seriously accept this fuck up. LET THE WHITE GUILT SINK IN. Own it. Let it make you feel sick and shameful. I am, to be honest, embarrassed at how much we, as a Caucasian collective, have NOT done this. We continue to reinforce painful ignorance, if not outright atrocities, towards minorities…
So listen up! I am reaching out to those good natured people who do not mean to be racist… yet still manage to pull it off ever-so convincingly… (We make it look so easy!) Let’s summarize our “inglorious” track-record in a nutshell:
- We kidnapped and stole a population of people from their homes in Africa
- We put chains on them and took them to a far-off land, throwing away bodies of the dead in the ocean as if they were nothing
- We spent 250 years raising their subsequent generations to be considered inferior creatures; treating them like animals
- We fought a war that killed 650,000 men in it to abolish/maintain slavery (depending on which side we were fighting for)
- We, the Northerners, shamelessly exploited the “rights” of the freed blacks in order to punish the Southerners, while putting little effort into trying to respect and repay the newly freed population
- We, the Southerners, spent the next 100 years preventing the black population from the rights to run independent businesses, to own homes, to receive an education, to vote
- We, the Northerners, spent the next 100 years denying jobs, housing, and a quality education to the black population because they were competing with what we already had.
- We, the Southerners, maintained a consistent reign of terror on the black population through brutal violence, rape, and lynching as a method to maintain status quo.
- We, the Northerners, did the same, but in a more covert way, encouraging blacks to stick to within their own culture or to become more white like us.
- We were the bad guys in the Civil Rights Movement. We assaulted their heroes. We arrested their heroes. We sent the big bad FBI after their heroes. We murdered their heroes because at that time, they weren’t “our” heroes
- We all have maintained segregation despite the Voting Rights Act and Brown v. Board of Education through many ways, some of which include gerrymandered districts and the “White Flight” to the suburbs.
- We maintained poverty in their communities, provided inferior education, and made it easy for drugs and guns to flow into the communities… and yet still remorselessly and condescendingly look down on these communities
- We sent many of them to prison over petty crimes and then become shocked and horrified that they come out hardened… doing little to rehabilitate and educate them…
- We built up this image of the dangerous young black man, terrifying all who are not one of them.
- We allowed police to LITERALLY get away with murder…. all in the name of our “law and order.”
- We continue to exploit every aspect of their culture for the sake of “entertainment” while not realizing how ignorant we are of their history, struggle, joys, and celebrations which make up that “entertainment” …(Ignorant of ignorance… #ironic)
- Oh, yea! We also treated our first black president like he was “un-American” for no reason other than just because he was colored and had a “weird” name…
In other words: WE, as a collective whole caucasian peoples, need to stop saying and doing just about everything and take some time to reflect.
We need to understand that “All Lives Matters” is exactly the tone-deaf response that members of the Black Lives Matter predicted we’d have. We missed the point that whites would be MORE sensitive if white people were dying in the same manner… because we were being too sensitive about ourselves first.
We need to stop saying “I don’t see race” and “racism is done”. We need to understand that we make these statements because we are PRIVILEGED enough not to know the feeling of being stopped and harassed for the color of our skin. We aren’t reminded about race and their effects every day unless we go to seek it.
We need to stop complaining about Affirmative Action and start sending much needed suburban taxpayer money into poor urban school districts. It’s called “equity”. More resources need to be used to ameliorate the problems (which we caused) in order to maybe, just maybe, be able to provide a more equal playing-field in the generations to come.
Until we realize that we really don’t know what it feels like to be a minority in this country, then we need to just sit down and shut the franklin up.
Sooooo, I know what you’re thinking… I think…
I mean, you might have been waiting for the reading to get a bit more funny or sarcastic… or you could have stopped reading a long time ago… but in general you might be feeling overwhelmed with emotions like guilt, anger, annoyance, confusion, or hunger (it’s a long essay…).
Let me help you and summarize the important take aways:
- Us, Founding Fathers, reeeeeeeeally fucked up by maintaining and strengthening the institution of slavery; which means that white, straight, males are the cause of most (if not all) societal problems in America. Yea, I said it.
- No matter the color of skin, all humans are capable of rationalizing prejudice and slavery because of a tendency towards self-preservation (FACT)
- Regardless of the acknowledgement that all humans are capable of enslaving others, let me once again REITERATE that White Americans need to understand that we are to blame for the socio-economic problems within American society (#firstworldamericanproblems)
- Whites are born with ZERO credibility to discuss race because our privilege blinds us to the prevalence of racism in daily life
Let me be frank…. -lin (BOOM! #puns): I don’t expect any earth-shattering changes to come from this essay. I learned long ago that COMMON SENSE says that people do not want to be corrected…. even with COMMON SENSE. So my expectations are tempered, yet, if I managed to get you to walk away deep in reflection or more enlightened mind, then I did my job.
Remember, ignorance can be more dangerous and detrimental than outright hatred. Ignorance hides us from all forms of transgressions, robs us from our opportunities of growth and change, and allows us to maintain a status quo without feeling any sort of guilt. If White America can embrace the guilt, then we can begin to move in the right direction. If not? Well, then we will continue to grasp in the dark for that elusive objective that we, Founding Fathers, set out to create: A More Perfect Union.