A hundred-and-fifty-one years after the abolition of slavery, America has a half white, half black president, a black Nobelist in literature, whites who attribute not just every form but instance of black dysfunction to white racism, blacks who demand reparations, the mainstreaming of innumerable black slang terms, including “diss,” a new phrase “negro fatigue” and the bumper sticker, “IF I HAD KNOWN THIS, I’D HAVE PICKED MY OWN COTTON.”
It has often been stated that slavery is America’s original sin. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin ruminated on its cons and pros:
The Labour of Slaves can never be so cheap here as the Labour of working Men is in Britain. Any one may compute it. Interest of Money is in the Colonies from 6 to 10 per Cent. Slaves one with another cost 30 £. Sterling per Head. Reckon then the Interest of the first Purchase of a Slave, the Insurance or Risque on his Life, his Cloathing and Diet, Expences in his Sickness and Loss of Time, Loss by his Neglect of Business (Neglect is natural to the Man who is not to be benefited by his own Care or Diligence), Expence of a Driver to keep him at Work, and his Pilfering from Time to Time, almost every Slave being by Nature a Thief, and compare the whole Amount with the Wages of a Manufacturer of Iron or Wool in England, you will see that Labour is much cheaper there than it ever can be by Negroes here. Why then will Americans purchase Slaves? Because Slaves may be kept as long as a Man pleases, or has Occasion for their Labour; while hired Men are continually leaving their Master (often in the midst of his Business,) and setting up for themselves.
There are also these drawbacks:
The Negroes brought into the English Sugar Islands, have greatly diminish’d the Whites there; the Poor are by this Means depriv’d of Employment, while a few Families acquire vast Estates; which they spend on Foreign Luxuries, and educating their Children in the Habit of those Luxuries; tile same Income is needed for the Support of one that might have maintain’d 100. The Whites who have Slaves, not labouring, are enfeebled, and therefore not so generally prolific; the Slaves being work’d too hard, and ill fed, their Constitutions are broken, and the Deaths among them are more than the Births; so that a continual Supply is needed from Africa. The Northern Colonies having few Slaves increase in Whites. Slaves also pejorate the Families that use them; the white Children become proud, disgusted with Labour, and being educated in Idleness, are rendered unfit to get a Living by Industry.
Still, it was worth it, and that’s why Franklin kept several slaves himself. In 1759, however, he joined Thomas Bray’s association to support schools for black children, and in 1787, Franklin became president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Franklin died, then, with the hope that blacks would one day be free and equal to whites.
After blacks were freed, they had to compete with poor whites and white immigrants for work. Illiterate, ignorant and dependent after centuries of slavery, American blacks were even worse off than blacks from the West Indies. In Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell explains:
Unlike slaves in the United States, who were issued food rations and were often fed from the common kitchen, West Indian slaves were assigned land and time to raise their own food. They sold surplus food in the market to buy amenities for themselves. In short, West Indian Negroes had centuries of experience in taking care of themselves in a significant part of their lives, even under slavery, as well as experience with buying and selling. Contemporary observers noted that the slaves in the West Indies worked perceptibly more energetically on their plots of ground than on the land they worked for slave owners. They had the kind of incentives and experience common in a market economy but denied American slaves for two centuries.
In 1873, James Shepherd Pike of the New York Tribune wrote an influential series of articles that was later turned into a book, The Prostrate State: South Carolina under Negro Government. While pointing out that the black man “showed great magnanimity and forbearance in not cutting the throats of the masters’ families when he was emancipated,” Pike painted black-run South Carolina as “the most ignorant democracy that mankind ever saw”:
It is barbarism overwhelming civilization by physical force. It is the slave rioting in the halls of his master, and putting that master under his feet.
The question is often asked if education is not the remedy for the blackness of darkness that prevails in South Carolina. Yes, indeed, if that were possible […] here is a race to be educated in the very elements of manhood. They have to be taught positively and negatively […] They have to be taught not to lie, not to steal, not to be unchaste […] Education, to be what it ought to be with the existing race of negroes in the South, means to educate them out of themselves, means to undo the habits and practices and modes of thoughts and want of thought engendered by centuries of slavery.
In 1888, Walt Whitman didn’t sound any more optimistic:
The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated: it is the law of races, history, what-not: always so far inexorable—always to be. Someone proves that a superior grade of rats comes and then all the minor rats are cleared out.
Booker T. Washington, though, certainly believed the black man had a future and, moreover, was a huge asset to the nation. In 1895, Washington appealed to Southern whites to rely on blacks rather than European immigrants:
To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one.”
In his 1899 book, The Philadelphia Negroes, W.E.B. DuBois observed:
In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years has focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for.
4 per cent of the population of Philadelphia having Negro blood furnished from 1885 to 1889, 14 per cent of the serious crimes, and from 1890 to 1895, 22 1/2 per cent.
we may conclude that young men are the perpetrators of the serious crime among Negroes; that this crime consists mainly of stealing and assault; that ignorance, and immigration to the temptations of city life, are responsible for much of this crime but not for all; that deep social causes underlie this prevalence of crime and they have so worked as to form among Negroes since 1864 a distinct class of habitual criminals; that to this criminal class and not to the great mass of Negroes the bulk of the serious crime perpetrated by this race should be charged.
His strange social environment must have immense effect on his thought and life, his work and crime, his wealth and pauperism. That this environment differs and differs broadly from the environment of his fellows, we all know, but we do not know just how it differs. The real foundation of the difference is the wide-spread feeling all over the land, in Philadelphia as well as in Boston and New Orleans, that the Negro is something less than an American and ought not to be much more than what he is. Argue as we may for or against this idea, we must as students recognize its presence and its vast effects.
I dug up some old observations so we can see how far, or how little, we’ve gone as a nation. During the decade ending in 1895, Philadelphia had nine murders. Nine in ten years!
With just 50% more people, Philly already has 135 murders this year as of July 14th. Making up 43.3% of its population (according to the 2010 census), blacks commit more than 80% of Philly’s murders, year in and year out. What would DuBois make of this outrage?
Booker T. Washington hoped for “a new heaven and a new earth” predicated on “material prosperity” and “a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law.”
I don’t see it coming. After a week of black attacks against the police in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Washington DC, there will be Day of Rage protests in 37 American cities today, in support of Black Lives Matter, and next week, dozens of gun-toting New Black Panthers will descend on Cleveland to raise hell at the Republican National Convention.
To close, I will quote at length from a July 9th FaceBook post by Jay Stalien, a Baltimore cop:
I have come to realize something that is still hard for me to understand to this day. The following may be a shock to some coming from an African American, but the mere fact that it may be shocking to some is prima facie evidence of the sad state of affairs that we are in as Humans.
I used to be so torn inside growing up. Here I am, a young African-American born and raised in Brooklyn, NY wanting to be a cop. I watched and lived through the crime that took place in the hood. My own black people killing others over nothing. Crack heads and heroin addicts lined the lobby of my building as I shuffled around them to make my way to our 1 bedroom apartment with 6 of us living inside. I used to be woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of gun fire, only to look outside and see that it was 2 African Americans shooting at each other.
It never sat right with me. I wanted to help my community and stop watching the blood of African Americans spilled on the street at the hands of a fellow black man. I became a cop because black lives in my community, along with ALL lives, mattered to me, and wanted to help stop the bloodshed.
As time went by in my law enforcement career, I quickly began to realize something. I remember the countless times I stood 2 inches from a young black man, around my age, laying on his back, gasping for air as blood filled his lungs. I remember them bleeding profusely with the unforgettable smell of deoxygenated dark red blood in the air, as it leaked from the bullet holes in his body on to the hot sidewalk on a summer day. I remember the countless family members who attacked me, spit on me, cursed me out, as I put up crime scene tape to cordon off the crime scene, yelling and screaming out of pain and anger at the sight of their loved ones taking their last breath. I never took it personally, I knew they were hurting. I remember the countless times I had to order new uniforms, because the ones I had on, were bloody from the blood of another black victim…of black on black crime. I remember the countless times I got back in my patrol car, distraught after having watched another black male die in front me, having to start my preliminary report something like this:
Suspect- Black/ Male, Victim-Black /Male.
I remember the countless times I canvassed the area afterwards, and asked everyone “did you see who did it”, and the popular response from the very same family members was always, “Fuck the Police, I ain’t no snitch, Im gonna take care of this myself”. This happened every single time, every single homicide, black on black, and then my realization became clearer.
I woke up every morning, put my freshly pressed uniform on, shined my badge, functioned checked my weapon, kissed my wife and kid, and waited for my wife to say the same thing she always does before I leave, “Make sure you come back home to us”. I always replied, “I will”, but the truth was I was never sure if I would. I almost lost my life on this job, and every call, every stop, every moment that I had this uniform on, was another possibility for me to almost lose my life again. I was a target in the very community I swore to protect, the very community I wanted to help. As a matter of fact, they hated my very presence. They called me “Uncle Tom”, and “wanna be white boy”, and I couldn’t understand why. My own fellow black men and women attacking me, wishing for my death, wishing for the death of my family. I was so confused, so torn, I couldn’t understand why my own black people would turn against me, when every time they called …I was there. Every time someone died….I was there. Every time they were going through one of the worst moments in their lives…I was there. So why was I the enemy? I dove deep into that question…Why was I the enemy? Then my realization became clearer.
I spoke to members of the community and listened to some of the complaints as to why they hated cops. I then did research on the facts. I also presented facts to these members of the community, and listened to their complaints in response. This is what I learned:
Complaint: Police always targeting us, they always messing with the black man.
Fact: A city where the majority of citizens are black (Baltimore for example) …will ALWAYS have a higher rate of black people getting arrested, it will ALWAYS have a higher rate of blacks getting stopped, and will ALWAYS have a higher rate of blacks getting killed, and the reason why is because a city with those characteristics will ALWAYS have a higher rate of blacks committing crime. The statistics will follow the same trend for Asians if you go to China, for Hispanics if you go to Puerto Rico, for whites if you go to Russia, and the list goes on. It’s called Demographics
Complaint: More black people get arrested than white boys.
Fact: Black People commit a grossly disproportionate amount of crime. Data from the FBI shows that Nationwide, Blacks committed 5,173 homicides in 2014, whites committed 4,367. Chicago’s death toll is almost equal to that of both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined. Chicago’s death toll from 2001–November, 26 2015 stands at 7,401. The combined total deaths during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2015: 4,815) and Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan (2001-2015: 3,506), total 8,321.
Complaint: Blacks are the only ones getting killed by police, or they are killed more.
Fact: As of July 2016, the breakdown of the number of US Citizens killed by Police this year is, 238 White people killed, 123 Black people killed, 79 Hispanics, 69 other/or unknown race.
Fact: Black people kill more other blacks than Police do, and there are only protest and outrage when a cop kills a black man. University of Toledo criminologist Dr. Richard R. Johnson examined the latest crime data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports and Centers for Disease Control and found that an average of 4,472 black men were killed by other black men annually between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012. Professor Johnson’s research further concluded that 112 black men died from both justified and unjustified police-involved killings annually during this same period.
Complaint: Well we already doing a good job of killing ourselves, we don’t need the Police to do it. Besides they should know better.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.