Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Awakening from an American nightmare

A brief history of slavery and oppression

Update : 17 Sep 2020, 09:34 PM

lack Lives Matter. No question, no hesitation, no doubt. Until America can equitably uplift its African-American citizens, the “All Lives Matter” slogan means nothing. African-American people are disproportionately incarcerated, under-educated, under-waged, under-housed, underfed, undervalued. Only after black lives matter equitably can all lives can matter equally in the US. Four centuries (1620-2020) of racial injustice must be addressed first.

The assumed principle of equal opportunity in the American Dream was never there for the Native Americans and African-Americans. For them, it has been a four-century long American nightmare. The nightmare of the native people in the Americas started with Columbus’s introduction of human slavery. That legacy of horror continued in the Spanish colonies in Latin America through forced labour and sex slavery, obliterating the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Spain’s success in accumulating wealth started a European rush to the Americas for a piece of the plunder, colonizing the Caribbean islands and the Atlantic coast of North America.

The European migration to North America in search of economic and religious freedom took hold at the great cost of life and freedom of the native people. Natives died in scores from novel European diseases due to lack of immunity. American Indians who tried to be friends with the new immigrants were tricked into trading for deadly weapons to fight rival tribes and selling captured tribesmen into slavery. The loss of freedom and lands caused permanent damage to the American Indian psyche that never healed. Instead of having control over their own lands, American Indians are the ones cast away in reservations receiving handouts from those who took everything from them.

In British colonial America, the first 20 African indentured servants were sold in 1619. Even though Africans were not technically enslaved until the 1705 Virginia law, many other laws were enacted since 1619 to ensure that the non-European indentured servants will never be free. The 1705 law codified that all arriving non-Christians would be slaves, that slaves could be punished to death without any legal repercussions, and that the children of slaves would be property of the slave owner. 

The clergy preached that the slavery was the will of God and scientists opined that Africans were a less evolved subspecies of humans. Racism was so deep in the Caucasian psyche that the Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that Africans are not citizens and that the Congress could not prohibit slavery in any federal territory. It took three amendments to invalidate the three-fifths clause of the US constitution that counted three-fifths of all slaves in a state to decide the number of representatives and direct taxes for a state -- only to benefit the masters. 

Before the civil war broke out, northern slave owners traded their slaves to southern farm owners who were happy to expand their slave chattel and profitable farmland. Southern Confederacy and Northern Union fought a bloody civil war to resolve the issue of slavery, but -- despite necessary constitutional amendments in place -- African-Americans in the deep south could not fully exercise their right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the late 19th century, emancipated slaves in the south started to build their livelihood. But the losers of the civil war were not going to let that happen. They invented a new tool, lynching, to terrorize African-Americans. African-Americans fled the south en masse in fear, losing everything. Instead of healing the scars of 250 years of slavery, America kept on aggravating the wounds by implementing more modern forms of racism such as redlining and racial profiling. As migrating people tried to start all over again, the practice of redlining denied them any financial help by defining their neighbourhoods as “high-risk” for investment, forcing African-American communities to become urban wastelands. Racial profiling by law enforcement resulted in three times more killings of unarmed African-Americans. These modern and legal forms of systemic racism keep African Americans vulnerable.

It is time for the US to come to terms with its 400 years of racial injustices. We must say “never again” to racism like Germany does to Nazism. No more hiding behind our appalling excuses of vandalism or domestic terrorism for a few incidents of property damages in otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. The sooner America reconciles with its history and provides reparation to Native Americans and African-Americans, the better. 

The best way to do that would be to invest $5 on each person of those two communities for every dollar spent on a person of Caucasian origin. That $5 would include one dollar of reparation for each century of racial injustices they suffered. America must do this NOW. 

Nisar Ahmed is a freelance contributor.

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