Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Saturday morning, during the WLF breakfast, I said that I never thought I'd see the day a black man would be president. The woman next to me scrunched her nose and said, 'Really?'

Uh, yeah, lady. Really. Are you kidding? With this country's history?

I'm reading a book called The Color of Wealth which covers the racial disparities in wealth acquisition in this country. In detail, it shows how our country's history of systematic racial oppression is sprinkled with documented government supported acts of land theft, displacement and economic cock-blocking (for lack of a better word.)

I've just finished the chapter on Native Americans and it was depressing as hell - and infuriating.

It was depressing to think of this people systematically deprived of the assets that rightfully belong to them (it goes SO much farther than just land theft - it's about billions and billions of dollars cheated from tribes because private enterprise and our US govt colluded to strip them of rights to natural resources and revenue, as well as mismanaged the funds that were supposed to be held in 'trust' for them.) These are dollars that could, right now, make a material impact on generations of Native Americans who currently hit the lowest indicators for economic sustainability, employment, education, and health.

Our country basically committed genocide against a whole population and built a nation on top of their bodies and land. Sickening.

But it was also depressing to think about how racism has crippled us, as a whole. We are diminished, when we don't know our whole history. When they teach us about the Homestead Act but don't mention the little details that expose it for a racist (only white men got land that was stolen or misappropriated from Native populations)government policy, then how can we truly know who we really are and what it means to benefit from that kind of legacy?

Why do we really rely so much on our myths? Are we really that childlike and feeble?

I wrote an earlier post about chickens coming home to roost for the GOP but I think that I could say the same thing about our country as a whole. There is karmic payback for the blood and death we've caused. I don't care if folks think what I'm saying is unpatriotic - it's true. You can't pick and choose which parts of our history are worthy of mythmaking and then hope no one remembers or knows about the other; it's all part of the same.

When someone wins a battle, someone else dies; when you build a city, you've destroyed someone's home; when you're on top, there's somone suffocating on the bottom. We've been winning for a few centuries now and I'm guessing that the pendulum is about to swing the other way.

That's the way the world works; it's the balance of the universe. One could even call it justice.

(Ding's process: This was supposed to be a funny post about apple picking in Wisconsin this weekend, but it became something a little bit more sobering. Sometimes I write with a plan and sometimes the writing abruptly veers off my self-imposed topic. Apple picking reminded me of 'cherry picking' which made me think of selectively reading history, this weekend's conference, the Obama candidacy as a way for history to come full circle but also how it prompts the idea of payback and triggers the fears of those racists at recent McCain/Palin rallies who are expressing, IMO, fear of karmic payback. Funny how writing works.)


Greg said...

I imagine there must be several sections about the post-civil-war to reconstruction to Jim Crow period. I would be interested to see what they have to say about that. I recently came across a collection of pictures from the period when the Republicans were pulling out of the south and blacks were being driven out of their homes and businesses and off of their land. I had no idea that such a thing had happened. I was always under the impression that blacks had simply never been allowed to move forward economically in the south after the war, but apparently there was a period of about 10 years, while the carpet-baggers were in town, during which a fair amount of progress was made. All of this was stamped out by white southerners though the usual violent methods once the northerners pulled out. If you know of a good reference on this period I'd love (well, that's a poor choice of words...) to read it.

ding said...

Let me think on this. One thing I've done is cross reference the history of lynchings across America with the well-hidden history of land theft in this country. Both of those things paint a picture of deliberate economic disenfranchisement, backed by the state. (And I say it's the state because certainly there was no legal recourse given to reclaim the land, so the state benefitted from such theft.)

Generally, I'd start with The Color of Wealth. It has a great bibliography. Even more generally, do library searches on land theft/African American/Jim Crow/black farmers and look for information on the 'loss' of black-owned acreage.

The book of lynching photography, Without Sanctuary, makes a point of linking these two events: lynching and land theft. One journalist says that if you wanted to trace the legacy of land loss for black Americans, all you had to do was follow the lynching trail. Most black families lynched were successful landowners/merchants in the years immediately following the Civil War.

It's a fascinating, and angering, history.