I begin my book Race, Poverty, & Progress: An American Paradox by referring to myself as a “modern-woman in a modern time”. However, I am fully aware that “modern” is a subjective term; time extends behind and in front of me forever. Based on that, I suggest that we look deeply into the past to better understand how past events influence the present.
The United States of America was born out of the ideology of freedom from tyranny, which had been imposed upon unrepresented people. The Declaration of Independence asserts that Americans had been, “…endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights (those that can never be taken away)”. It asserts that, “…all men are created equal…”. These assertions have been problematic for the United States because they force us, throughout all time, to continually reconcile the cornerstone of our beliefs with the reality of our conditions.
Since the arrival of Angela, an African woman, to the Virginia colony in 1619, American institutions have supported and sanctioned the wholesale destruction of Black people. When the institution of slavery was challenged, a war was fought, resulting in the loss of approximately 620,000 men. At the conclusion of the Civil War, how did the United States seek to remedy the brokenness of the Confederacy? What remnants of this unspoken alliance remain to reveal a more sinister ideology at the root: despite the assertions of liberty, freedom, and equality…the Black person in America will forever be reviled because our suffering is connected to their loss.
When I was in high school, we were taught that the North fought the South. I was not told that several states (South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) actually seceded from the United States of America…formed another country (the Confederate States of America)…had a capitol (Montgomery, Alabama then Richmond, Virginia)…had a president (Jefferson Davis) and legislative bodies. The secession lasted from 1861-1865. Do we now understand why confederate monuments stand and confederate flags still fly in America? Do we understand why justice remains overdue for nearly every slain Black American from then until now? Do we now understand why the treacherous burning of houses-of-worship and the destruction of Black business districts were allowed? Do we see the fury of the dogs attacking protesters during the Civil Rights Movement and wonder what depraved heart issued that command? Do we feel the helplessness of the bystanders towering over the mortally-wounded body of Dr. King? Do we collectively peer into the dark soul of the cop who murdered George Floyd and finally understand just where we are?
As a sociologist, I always attempt to find the hidden mechanisms of society that govern our behavior and form the reality we collectively experience. I know that everything must be examined within its broader context. To abolish, upset, and dismantle the systems of oppression that function to perpetuate Black suffering in today’s America, we must examine its past.