AFRICANGLOBE – The tragic shooting deaths of nine African-American congregants in an historic South Carolina church and its juxtaposition with the ongoing debate about police mistreatment of African-Americans in a nation led by president who is part African suggests we are in a curious moment in U.S. history.
Some may have a hard time connecting the dots between circumstances and events, but as one older black woman I ran into on a recent business trip to Jackson, Mississippi, said, “African-Americans have seen this before and we know what it is.”
Many in the U.S. forget (if they ever learned) about the Reconstruction period immediately following the Civil War, in which black people newly freed from slavery gained the right to vote, built independent schools for black children and rose to become faith, business and civic leaders.
Yet, these visible signs of racial progress gnawed at the psychosocial moorings of Southern whites that resented losing their ability to exploit free black labor and desired to maintain their white supremacist values at the expense of human beings with dark skin.
So, began an aggressive campaign of white-led domestic terrorism that used political, social, economic, legal and extrajudicial means to curtail and ultimately eliminate signs of black progress. In the late 1800s, whites abrogated African-Americans’ right to vote, set up sharecropping schemes that perpetuated black economic exclusion and enabled white mobs — often with the protection and in some instances active participation of police — who killed African-Americans with impunity.
Within a relatively short amount of time, the racial order to which Southern whites had become accustomed was reestablished with the consent of Northern whites who were willing to live with the immorality of what became the Jim Crow system of racialized oppression: separate and unequal facilities, exclusion from public accommodations, pervasive discrimination in the labor market, and wealth stripping of African Americans who managed to build assets.
Fast-forward to today. It is not an accident that African Americans own six cents for every dollar of wealth owned by whites. Or that blacks and Latinos earn only 67 cents for every dollar of income earned by whites. Or that African Americans are disproportionately concentrated in under resourced schools in the middle of under resourced and highly segregated neighborhoods.
When looking at the plethora of data across a wide range of indicators, it turns out that the U.S. has not progressed as far as many had imagined.
Dylan Roof is proof that there remains a segment of the U.S. population still bent on preserving and protecting their cherished “way of life” which rests, in part, on their disdain for African Americans. Often using coded language, their perspective is reflected in policy debates where people of color are held in lower esteem, portrayed as underserving, and designated as unworthy of equal protection under the law or of equal voice in our democratic processes.
And while Aspen Institute Liberty Fellows successfully leveraged white guilt stemming from Roof’s murderous acts to build political will to remove from the state capitol the battle flag of confederate forces that fought to maintain slavery, it remains to be seen whether this important yet largely symbolic act will extend to substantive policy, systems and environmental changes that would make a positive difference in the lives of all South Carolinians, but especially blacks.
South Carolina remains one of 20 — primarily Southern and mostly Republican-led — states that have denied lifesaving healthcare to their low income residents by refusing to expand Medicaid. Like other areas of the country, South Carolina has chosen to maintain a separate and unequal system of education that is reinforced by segregated housing patterns and a ruinous system of financing that makes the resources of public schools dependent upon the relative wealth of their surrounding neighborhoods.
African-Americans in South Carolina are 29 percent of the state’s population, but comprised 43% of those fatally killed in police shootings over the past five years and 64 percent of the inmates in its Department of Corrections. Similar statistics can be compiled from other states around the country.
On the national level, the Supreme Court opened Pandora’s box by striking down an important section of the Voting Rights Act, which was put into place to protect African-Americans, thereby providing cover for increased voting rights restrictions — that have been shown to disproportionately and negatively impact black, brown and low-income Americans — in an alarming number of mostly Republican-led states. Those who are paying attention suspect that the Supreme Court in on track to continue their efforts to dismantle the gains of the Civil Rights Movement with their recent decision to take up a challenge to affirmative action programs.
Given the racially discriminatory nature of the patterns and practices documented at the federal, state and local levels, it should be of no surprise that African-Americans are worried that the nation is in the midst of what may be recorded in the history books as the end of the second reconstruction or that black youth and young adults are taking to the streets in acts of civil disobedience to protest gross inequities in the application of the law.
If people of good will of all backgrounds, but especially white people, fail to take collective action in the face of this serious threat to human rights and the legitimacy of U.S. institutions, then the country deserves the disaster that is looming.
B: Dr. Maya Rockeymoore