A deadly disease infects us all. We acquire it from birth. It threatens lives and incites fear. The disease is racism.
Black Americans have been subjected to brutality—physically, spiritually, and economically—since their ancestors were forced into slave ships and transported as chattel to this continent. From the “slave patrols” that subjected slaves to prohibitive surveillance, to the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist vigilantes that tortured and hung blacks, to police brutality and incarceration, black people have been beaten, robbed, humiliated, abused, cheated, raped, and murdered by organized gangs of white men, whether vigilantes or forces of the law. The prevailing culture, in its attitudes and through its institutions, has supported the subjugation of an entire population. The flourishing of the black community’s culture is a testimony to its creativity and resilience under the harshest of conditions.
Slavery is America’s original sin, a psychic wound, exacerbated by racism and violence against Native American and immigrant populations, that manifests in incalculable ways. From the very beginning of our nation, the fractional value of black lives was enshrined in the Constitution. In 1787, Southern slave states lobbied for and were given an extra three-fifths per owned slave toward voter representation in the House of Representatives. American institutions have since prevented African-Americans equal employment, fair housing and business opportunities, voting rights, access to healthy food and healthcare, among other abuses.
Suppression and dehumanization have created an (im)perfect storm of institutional oppression for black lives. The baton of condoned racism that permeates our society has bludgeoned the community, not into submission as intended but rather into anger and resistance. The current protests, nearly all of them peaceful, are the inevitable and surprisingly mild evidence of justifiable rage. Unless this nation finds ways to eliminate the institutional oppression that has reigned for 400 years, we will be condemned to eternal repetition of enforced brutality and reactive anger. Resistance from a community and its allies who refuse to bend to the baton will continue unabated.
Cynical politicians use race bias along with push button social issues and religion to maintain conflict between marginalized groups. Hateful calls to “dominate the streets” only exacerbate the existential crisis that is racism in America. The aim is to thwart and control, divide and conquer. The powerful institutions of government, law, banking and commerce perpetuate this dangerous and dismal status quo, turning marginalized whites against “minority communities,” whose population will surpass that of whites before 2050.
Working-class whites have more in common with blacks than they have with demagogic billionaires. Marginalized Americans of all races have more in common with immigrants than with their low-wage-paying masters. Black and immigrant workers joined progressive labor movements at the beginning of the last century to affect numerous progressive changes. If these communities were to again join in common cause against institutional oppression, mighty political shifts would inevitably follow, though with the divisiveness of Trumpism currently rampant, a joining at the ramparts seems very unlikely at this time.
The current upsurge of peaceful protests and sporadic rioting are the inevitable result of centuries of oppression and violence against the black community. Civil unrest will continue as long as debasement and violence against its citizens continues. Lives will be sacrificed, property will be destroyed, and despair and divisiveness in America will continue until the political will and the heart and soul of America responds.
How long can a nation bury reality and pretend that racism and its many abuses doesn’t prevail? How long will we continue to enslave ourselves to racial injustice? How long will we tacitly support institutional oppression that promotes educational, vocational, health, and economic injustice? How long can a bunkered society survive behind walls, gates and security systems, ignoring brutality? How long will we continue to justify these abuses, pretending they don’t hurt us all?
Our survival as a nation depends on correcting these raw injustices. Now is the time for white people to remember their history, end their denial, and fearlessly address the sources for justified black rage. If we don’t act together now, we condemn ourselves to many more long, hot summers.
William Torphy’s fiction has appeared in Bryant Literary Review, The Fictional Café, ImageOutWrite, Sun Star Quarterly, Burningword Literary Journal, Chelsea Café, Arlington Literary Journal, The Meta Worker, and HOME:An Anthology, by Flexible Press. His opinion pieces have been posted in recent blogs, including Solstice Literary Magazine and OpEdge. He is a host and frequent reader at LitCrawl in San Francisco where he works as an exhibition curator.