The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Trying to find center…

As I’ve said, I don’t really get any joy from looking at the racial stuff, but the response on the blog suggests to me that some of the things I’m saying aren’t being said elsewhere.  I’ve got to either address this stuff, or ask myself if I am frightened to do so.  It suggests a whole different raft of reasons why I spent thirty-five years practicing martial arts, and where a lot of that fear came from…
I’m going to try to address as much of the rest of the muck as I can dredge up out of my mind.  This isn’t fun at all, folks…

And before I start, let me reassert: NO, I don't think that white people hate black people. NO, I don't think they are especially evil, venal, ignorant, or whatever. I don't think white people are special in any way.  Nor do I think black people are special.  I think that people are just people, and some unfortunate historical and psychological quirks created a big problem.  And that we don't like looking at problems we caused, or cannot see an answer to.  This stuff is painful, and I respect those of you  with the courage to look at it.  You, and ONLY YOU, are the ones who can rightfully say you are healing this wound.  Those who cannot engage on this level are comfortable taking the blue  pill.  Let them sleep in their pods.
I said that one sign of racist attitudes would be if you thought that, if blacks had been turned white after the civil war, and you came back in 2006 and traced their genetics, you  thought they would have Let’s go through the Covenant steps one at a time, and I’ll say what I think the differences would have been, both external (in terms of the way blacks have been historically treated) and internal (the dysfunctions within the community itself)
The right to Healthcare and Well-Being.  EXTERNAL:  Considering the long period of segregation, it is pretty clear that many qualified black candidates for medical school were denied access to  education. While the Tuskeegee experiment is certainly somewhat anomalous, it does speak to the problems that occur when group X has power to control the health benefits for group Y.  Women report being better served by female doctors…it is only reasonable that blacks would be better served by a higher proportion of black doctors.   Stress-related illnesses kill blacks at a higher rate than whites.  Much of the environmental stress would have shifted.  INTERNAL: some of the stress is purely internalized by now.  Blacks really do have more opportunities than many of us think.  But a raped woman will flinch in the presence of a man who resembles her rapist, and an abused child can suffer her whole life due to events that took place in her childhood.  The ability to emotionally “distance” themselves from the images of slavery would have been healing, and within three generations, many would have intermarried into the population and conveniently “forgotten” they were ever descended from slaves at all.  Their eating and exercise and lifestyle patterns would have simply resembled the mainstream, and most of the negative statistics would disappear.
Education.  Segregation, again.  Plus, all of the role models of education and possibility would have been more accessible.  Remember the 5-10% disconnect I hypothesize?  Very simple example: note the excitement of white fight fans when it looked like the Klitchko brothers were going to be the next big thing?  Of COURSE if a black boxer is fighting, black audiences, on the average, will root for him. Jeeze—that isn’t exactly rocket science. But that empathy, that identification, extends further.  During my entire 12 years of public education, I received not one full day of discussion of the contribution of black Americans.  Not one.  White presidents, scientists, politicians, war heroes—all of the role models we hold up for emulation were of the “other group.”  It makes it harder to dream.  Harder to believe that the things we learn can really take us to the top—and believe me, little male animals would rather “rule in hell than serve in heaven”, folks.  Milton sure got THAT right.  And when you tell kids to “study hard, and you can grow up to be president!” and that little voice in the back of a black kid’s head says: “yeah, unless you’re a nigger” man, oh, man, can that screw up his ability to believe that diligent study and law-abiding behavior can take him to the top.  All of that would have changed, if the skin color had changed. We simply would have disappeared into the mainstream.  You want to know how bad it gets for black kids?  My mother, who grew up in the South, told me flat out:  “If you let white people know how smart you are, they will kill you.”  No, I don’t believe that to be true.  But can you even IMAGINE the damage that caused me?  Can you imagine the fear and pain she would have to have internalized to say something like that to her child?
Unequal justice.  Need I remind you of the studies that have proven, over and over, that if you are male, poor, or black you serve more time, for the same crimes, than if you are female, rich, or white?  This is pretty incontrovertible stuff, and rather obviously the bias of the justice system would have had much less to chew on.  There is another aspect of this: we internalize the way we are treated.  After hundreds of years of being treated like second-class citizens, that’s what black people often consider themselves to be.  Why obey laws that were designed to keep you down?  When you see rich white people stealing millions, and serving a few months in jail for it, what the hell do you think that does to respect for the  system? And what IDIOT keeps playing poker when the deck is marked, and everyone else at the table knows the code?  Again, imagine a forty-year old woman who was raped and abused for her first thirty years. You’d hardly be surprised if she exhibited some self-destructive behaviors, would you?
Community –centered policing.  Wouldn’t have been nearly as necessary, would it?
Good neighborhoods.  Segregation again—both legal, and economic. Without those barriers, blacks would have spread through the country, found jobs equal to their capacities, absorbed the same lessons as their white neighbors at the same rates.  Unless, of course, you think there are intrinsic things about black genetics that would have prevented this.  And I promise you: SOME of the people who will read this blog think PRECISELY that.  To those who believe that, given the same history whites would have responded better, I say this: white historians suggest that it took between fifty and eighty years (until WWII!) for the South to fully recover from the Civil War.  What?  That was an event that took five years, and the damage lasted between ten and fifteen times as long?  How long does it take to break a bone?  And how long to heal?  How long to burn down a forest? And how long to regrow?  To rape a child? And how long to heal the psychological trauma?  How DARE you even DREAM of thinking that a cultural event that lasted 300-400 years (including Jim Crow and segregation) should have somehow miraculously healed in a few decades.  If there is any part of you at all that whispers this to you, dig it out and have the honesty to look at it clearly, in the light of day. 
Voter’s Rights.  Again, the barriers to black people voting would have been meaningless.  Poll taxes might still have been imposed, but with lesser economic barriers, and employers, lenders, etc. unable to discriminate on the basis of race, the damage would have been far less.  Neither political party would have benefited by catering to “the black vote” however, so to whatever degree you think that would still be a  positive thing in my science-fictional world here, that would have been lost.  Small price.
Rural roots.  With a far more permeable social membrane, fewer black genetics would have remained in the South.  “Racial memory” would have faded (for better or for worse) and we would have spread through the entire society both geographically, economically,  and genetically.
Jobs and wealth.  To the degree that prejudice slowed the hiring of blacks, this would not have been. To the degree that blacks have internalized some VERY destructive trailer-trash attitudes toward money, this would have lessened as well.  One arena that would have still displayed problems: inherited wealth.  Remember that slavery is basically an institution that allows the “employer” to have total control of the level of compensation to the “employee.”  To, in other words, extract labor from that “employee” at below market value, and then to invest the excess wealth in his own children.  The REAL economic gap between black and white is inherited wealth.  To steal that labor for 300 years and then invest it in your own community is a fantastic advantage.  Turn those slaves loose without compensation, and they are WAY behind the game.  Even given white skin, they would have remained behind in 2006—just not so far behind.
Environmental justice.  Again, greater distribution through society would have solved much of this.
10)Digital divide.  The same.
Please don’t point to immigrants, and say “they could catch up, why can’t you?”  You display your ignorance when you do that.  The set of European or Asian immigrants can only be compared to the set of African immigrants.  The set of those descended from slaves can only be compared to…oh, wait, they can’t be compared to anyone, really, can they?
But what of Indentured Servants?  Surely, many  whites are descended from indentured servants. Surely (I have heard many times) if whites could get over that, why can’t blacks..?
Brrr.  All right, for the sake of completion, let’s look at this.  Let us take the (fictional) position, for the sake of argument, that the circumstances and psychological repercussions of Indentured Servitude and Chattel  Slavery were exactly the same, per unit of time.  (I really don’t feel like going into why this is an absurd notion right now.  This argument is too easy to deconstruct without such comparisons)
Anyone out there know what the average period of Indentured Servitude was?  Anyone?  Five to seven years.  Anyone know what the average period of chattel slavery was?  Anyone?  Urrr…lifetime?  And was that it?  No…your children’s lifetime. And their children’s…and so on.

So looking at the genetic lines, you have 5-7 years of damage compared to, what?  Two to three HUNDRED years of damage?  And what percentage of white Americans can trace their roots back to Indentured Servants?  Anyone?  I have no knowledge of any statistics.  But for the sake of argument, let’s take the extraordinarily generous figure of 1/10 the white population.  (We’ll leave out what might have happened had Indentured Servants, and their descendants, been branded on their foreheads, labeling them forever.  And the fact that they could disappear into the general population. And the fact that in most cases they voluntarily agreed to become such servants, in exchange for passage to the New World.  And so on.)
And what percentage of black Americans are descended from slaves?  About 98% you say?

Multiplying out the damage, assuming that equal damage happens per unit of time, you have a low average of 5 years of Indentured servitude affecting 10%  the white population, and 200 years of slavery affecting (let’s say) 90% of the black population.  Or, in other words, 360 times the damage.  36000% of the damage.  Please look at that, and remember it, before you even START to think such things again.  To function at the level of white Americans, considering what we’ve been through, black Americans would have to be Superpeople. 

But you know what’s fun?  According to almost every metric, we’re catching up anyway. 

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