The Republic is
three hundred years old and yet it still has trouble with equality. Whenever the
idea is brought up, the entire nation suffers a nervous breakdown. On recovery,
it reverts to one of its old and tired shibboleths… “We hold these truths to be
Generation after generation has latched on to the idea of American Exceptionalism a concept that has been hammered in, persistently enough, so much so that it has become more or less the running title of another narrative: the “American Mosaic”. What got the show going initially points directly to the republic’s founding document that was inaugurated at a 4th of July congress in 1776, in which it was declared, loftily, almost to the point of parody, that, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, etc, etc, etc...” Followed by breathtakingly over-the-top baloney, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world...
A fly on the wall at that congress might easily have thought: ‘Mmm… these guys are riding really high morally and would see no difficulty in getting all of the people free. All, including the black African slaves. All what’s stopping them from doing so is that mad, bad, King George’.
That would have been one wrong fly.
I quote the foregoing extensively because, anyone living within the borders of America would, at first sight, feel jolly pleased that he has been born in one of the best, if not the best place on earth, a land in which the rivers run with milk and honey. But he, like that fly on the wall would be utterly mistaken.
Thirteen years after gaining independence, the Establishment were at it again. They drafted another document, this time, a Constitution, that purported to set out the ways and means for governing the United States. Again, the language is lofty, as it should be. But, unfortunately, the loftiness disguises the true intent of its provisions, namely, to preserve and protect private property, but was completely unfit for the purpose of protecting all of its people. And continues to so fail ever since, despite numerous tinkerings.
“We the People of the United States”, it began, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America".
But eighty years later, enjoyment of that justice, that tranquility, domestic or otherwise, or any of those blessings of liberty, that the document bragged about, still eluded Blacks in America, whilst the white burghers, who had drawn up the document, were free to live their lives, without the hateful oppression from the English crown, but which, at the same time, apparently gave them permission to oppress other human beings, with consciences eased by selective readings of the Bible. Anyway, however they justify their behaviour, the system was based on an economic model built around the serfdom of Black Americans, a system that enabled slave masters to accumulate wealth, unencumbered by constitutional doublespeak. It is unlikely that in their new Republic, they did not recognize the irony in their posturings about the rights of man. It took the urgency of a civil war that was not going well for the Union side, for their leader to reluctantly come up with a feeble emancipation document that was, purportedly, intended to free black people living in the secessionist states. But that document was only a tactical move that had the objective of undermining the military fitness of the rebellious states, whose home front depended heavily on the free labour of enslaved Blacks that allowed the rebels to apply their energies in full at the frontline. In the end, however, by the 13th Amendment, “emancipation” was proclaimed throughout the United States. But it was just smoke and mirrors. In the post-bellum Reconstruction interlude that followed, the secessionist states passed black codes laws that systematized the control and exploitation of black bodies. It soon became obvious, even to the Congress, that the 13th Amendment did not do its intended job and therefore needed its deficiencies corrected by a 14th and 15th Amendment. Neither of these amendments made any significant difference to the condition of black people in the Southern states, but instead, provided the platform for the states’ segue into the Jim Crow era that lasted till the mid-twentieth century. Some people are not even sure that Jim Crow is truly over, with the enduring limitations on social and economic justice, and continued lynchings by law-enforcement or their deputies.
In any event, as always, history took its shambolic way on to the fifties and sixties. These decades were the darkest of what the West loved to call the Cold War, a period when America was trying to convince anyone who would listen that its social and economic order was superior to the Communist bloc’s. But, under the skeptical gaze of the rest of the word, America’s fraud on its Black population was revealed for what it was. It was a most public revelation that played out on the streets and the screens of the new medium, television, and organized by a coalition of Black and White activists. Grudgingly, the nation was forced to honor, but only in part, what Martin Luther King called ‘the promissory note‘ that the nation’s founders and architects had signed, and to which every American was a supposed beneficiary. But King’s ‘bank of justice’, on which the check was to have been drawn was truly bankrupt, morally, and the Republic had failed to deliver.
Two decades on, America remains prisoner to its lie. The country’s Black population is subject to a regime that is no different from that of its post-reconstruction era. Blacks are still being lynched openly in the public domain and gunned down in their beds as they sleep. White families enjoy a staggering ten-foldadvantage in wealth over Black families while, in 2014, Black lives were shorter by an average of more than 31/2 years, a disparity that is linked directly to the economic under-privilege.
So, neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Constitution nor any of its amendments or other proclamations of equality and the Rights of Man perform as advertised.
February is a month for reflection on these things.
Tell Fren Tru