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How did we get here, America? Racism didn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away without greater awareness: Opinion

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, kneels at El Paso's Memorial Park holding a "Black Lives Matter" sign June 1, 2020. (CNS photo/Fernie Ceniceros, courtesy Diocese of El Paso)

St. Joseph’s Parish, 1012 N. French St., Wilmington, provides a newsletter that has in recent months been sharing thoughts and ideas on racism. Parishioners of all ethnic groups are encouraged to participate and together educate one another on the subject of racism in America.

By Deborah Scott

The United States of America has open wounds. There is no surprise in this claim. The most profound wounds are racism and bigotry. These wounds have been oozing for centuries. Unlike some other large, developed countries except Germany with the holocaust and South Africa with apartheid, the United States reigns supreme when it comes to legislation and traditions that have under girded systemic and racially divisive policies and practices designed to subjugate a particular group of people. It bears repeating that this has been the case for over 400 years.

St. Joseph’s Church in Wilmington.

African slaves were brought to America as chattel to perform free labor. Because slaves were not thought of as humans, they were shackled and cramped into transports across the Atlantic, females were repeatedly sexually assaulted, and frequent lashings were employed to demand obedience. None of these treatments summoned compassion from the captors who suffered with a malignant case of poverty of humanity. Captors on the slave ships and likewise the people who purchased slaves convinced themselves that slaves were at best subhuman so as not to clash with any degree of Christianity they may have pretended to possess. Wallowing in such delusion allowed demons to justify their treatment of those who were forced to perform all sorts of laborious tasks. While farmers, businessmen, clergy, doctors, educators, etc. reaped the rewards of free labor for centuries, slaves were generally paid with scraps of food, rags for clothes, tiny shacks without flooring as living quarters, and subjected to 24/7 acts of dehumanizing intimidation.

Slave owners passed their wealth and mindsets about black people down to subsequent generations. However, the slaves who were largely responsible for putting in place the foundation of this country could not outrun their demons. Every means possible were implemented to keep black people from benefiting across spectrums and without exceptions, in the pursuit of life, liberty, and justice. Such has been in place over the course of not one, or two, or three, but four centuries.

It is true that thanks to the trailblazing efforts of some blacks and some whites down through the years, accomplishments have been realized, but at what costs? Too many steps forward have been met with challenges that ultimately resulted in steps backwards. Let’s be real — vestiges of the mindsets about Black people that prevailed over every aspect of life in America during the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries remain in play in 2020. Nothing else can explain why in 2020 America still has a race problem. People often ask what it will take to heal the wound of racism in America. The answer will be hard to pin down because just the idea of holding honest discussions on racism makes people uncomfortable.

Imagine an America had blacks not been captured on a foreign continent and hauled across the Atlantic to work like four-legged animals in all sorts of conditions. Suppose instead, Africans made their way to this country voluntarily in small numbers, as did hordes of whites from Europe and beyond, and once here, they settled on plots of land and assimilated into their various communities. Imagine an America where deciding to become a banker, entrepreneur, doctor, etc. did not require one to have white skin. Imagine America as a land where the ruling class was not made up of people all the same color. Imagine an America where obtaining any level of education was not hampered by the color of one’s skin. Imagine an America where settlers from Europe and beyond did not forcefully claim the land that had belonged to its indigenous people for thousands of years. Centuries of strife rooted in racism could have been avoided.

Racism is a term that is frequently used, and one who practices racism is a racist, but what is racism? The definition of racism that took hold in America centuries ago is defined in one dictionary as “the belief that different races possess different characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.” If you wish to read about real-life situations in America where racism has reigned, a gazillion books and articles can be referenced. Quite frankly, I am so very tired, frustrated, and angry that racism is still such an oozing wound in the United States. This wound should have healed long ago. But it is hard to fight the ignorant who continue to practice racism day after day, month after month, year after year, and generation after generation. There has been a resurgence of embolden race baiting in recent years because those in power are fearful of easing their collective grip on power. They have circled their wagons, so to speak, and “last-stand” tactics and fallacious rhetoric are unabatedly served up by false prophets to the most gullible and ignorant among us. It is impossible to negotiate with ignorance, so the only resolution is to shut them down. Black people are in this country to stay.

As a black woman living in the United States, I am personally familiar with the pain inflicted by the multi-pronged weapon of racism. I have wondered so many times, “Why do they hate us so much?” If there is such a thing as a repository for Black Americans to record incidents of racism having been committed against them, their ancestors, friends, and families, then here’s an announcement—the repository is full. The repository filled to the rim a long time ago and has been overflowing for far too long. Overflowing because the reality is that there is no guarantee of receiving fair and impartial resolutions for injustices against Black people in America. Yes, there are judicial and legislative branches of government in this country, but respect, justice, and beneficence are not always principles that come into play when those on the receiving end of injustices are black.

People are not born as racists. Racism is taught, and far too many people have deluded themselves into believing their misguided personal and family views on race are etched in Judeo-Christian doctrine. Why was there ever or even still a need to teach anyone that they might be superior to another human being simply because of the color of their skin? Does doing so satisfy a family tradition, a generational practice, or a personal delight? Black people in the United States are tired of drive-by discussions on racism that generally rise in frequency following traumatic events and then fade out until the next major event. Such discussions are often exacerbated on social media platforms with a duplicity of purpose—inform and ignite. The better angels among us need to remove the blinders and understand the reality of present day racial, cultural, and social norms that are defining the United States. Wake up everybody. Rome is burning.

Stemming back to the 17th century in this country, if it were possible to add up the number of times that Blacks were whipped to death, tortured until they drew their last breaths, shot, hunted down like four-legged animals and lynched, or killed by any other means, what would that number be? What consequences did the criminal justice systems in the various jurisdictions lay at the feet of the perpetrators of the crimes? Most often, all-white juries rendered not guilty verdicts for the perpetrators if a trial was held at all. Read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although a fictional work, the storyline holds a mirror to the racial and cultural norms of the time in many parts of America, especially in the south. To those who might say that a lot has changed since those days. I ask, just how much has changed? Take stock of the present-day racial inequality that defines America. No matter the laws enacted by the legislative branch of government as a means to protect, efforts have frequently been undertaken to sidestep or erode what was designed to protect and defend.

Some like to believe that the present-day situation is not truly indicative of what this country stands for. Tell that to the families of Blacks who have been murdered by police and others without justification, leaving loved ones with a numbing void and despair not understood by those who have not walked in their shoes.

There is a reason why racial inequality has never completely disappeared in this country. It stems all the way back to when foreign settlers/invaders started coming to America. No matter where their journeys originated and no matter what history has recorded as the reasons why they sailed for the new world, each group ultimately wanted to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Are not such desires innate to mankind regardless of color? When was it decided that in order to realize their desires for life, liberty, and happiness they would need to subjugate those who did not look like them?

Humans are not born into this world hating each other. People are taught to hate in direct and indirect ways in the privacy of homes, schools, workplaces, social settings, and yes, sometimes in religious settings. Beliefs, traditions, and customs flavored by racism far too often frame our moral compasses. How can racism and bigotry be excised from one’s DNA?

Humans have shown time and again that indifference or shying away is the best approach for dealing with the unspeakable. Some might hold drive-by discussions on the phone or perhaps on Zoom conversations following racially motivated incidents. Then the issues fade from their memories after uttering: those poor people, or my heart goes out, or condolences, or why are they so frequently placing themselves in harm’s way?

How is an entire race of people supposed to respond when their worth and humanity is repeatedly under attack? Where do they take the pleas for resolutions when the repository for incidents of racial discrimination is already overflowing?