Writer’s Note: this piece was published in December 2014. Since that time, we can add the Freddie Gray incident to the list of police shooting incidents that produced racial violence. And, as several people who commented pointed out, the first slaves in the New World WERE Irish and they were considered less valuable than Africans.
This is where we are when it comes to race relations in the United States 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
- Within hours after a 300 pound 18 year old black felon bum-rushed a white cop half his size, and was shot dead for his trouble, Al Sharpton, who profits from stirring up trouble among those who are predisposed to his message, showed up in a suburb of St. Louis and did nothing other than stir up trouble. (So did the New Black Panthers, Bassem Masri, the Attorney General and any number of other people.) Several catchy memes came into the American lexicon following that incident, and the least true of them just will not go away. (He didn’t have his hands up, and he didn’t say “Don’t Shoot.”)
- Then there was a black man named Eric Garner, a walking coronary, who was illegally selling loose cigarettes for cash in New York. He was in the midst of resisting arrest for this violation when he said, “I can’t breathe.” It just so happened that the white cop trying to take him down supposedly had a choke hold on him. (Garner died an hour later from something other than the choke hold, but that’s not what captured the public’s imagination.)
- Along the way, Chris Rock decided to lecture “white people on owning up to the sins of their ancestors. By that, he means admitting that by the laws of inheritance, we with pale skin are guilty of being racist because in the United States it was whites who held slaves.
- Lew Alcinder, oops, I mean Kareem Abdul-Jabar writes in Time that the shooting of two New York City police officers is part of the response to systemic racism currently roiling the country (even if neither of the two victims of the NYPD were white).
According to these two, and not by any means all black athletes, all of the chaos has one source: retribution for slavery and its aftermath. For whatever reason, that is the overriding message. Well, that and eliminating police brutality and the militarization of the police. (The former should be rooted out where ever it occurs. The latter, a relative in the military assures me, is nowhere close to reality.)
That whites owned slaves in the United States for the first 87 years of its existence is a historical fact. That ALL of us who have no ancestry from Africa are complicit in that history….yeah, not so much. Take my own family history for example.
I am almost completely Celt with the squirrels up the family tree emigrating from Ireland, France, and Spain. The largest percentage of my ancestry, the Irish, left their home country to escape one of the worst genocides perpetrated on a race of people in history: The Irish Potato Famine. Irish butter, meats, cheeses and other foodstuffs were exported by absentee landlords – who largely no longer exist – to their home estates on another of the British Isles. Potatoes were imported from North America since they grow in poor soil, as a lot of Ireland is, to feed the people who were more or less enslaved at that point. They were denied the rights to practice religion freely, dance, play music, and speak in their native language of Gaelic by the country that claimed control rather brutally. (That would be England.) When the blight of 1846-47 caused the potato crop to fail, millions of Irish starved to death or died of nutrition related diseases. The Famine could have been averted if the Irish had been allowed to eat the food they produced. But they weren’t, largely because they were considered a little less than human. (What the Irish faced in the United States once they arrived here does not need repeating. See the image at the top of this piece.)
Is anyone other than the absentee landlords of the day and the country that had control over Ireland at the time responsible for the Famine? Of course not. Do we hold the descendants of those men guilty of the crime of genocide almost 200 years later? No. (It would be nice if the history books would be clear about what actually happened during the Famine, but one should not blame those people’s progeny for their sins.) So it is with white Americans who had nothing to do with slavery. Especially people who emigrated AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation was made. (1863)
We, the descendants of immigrants who arrived in the United States after the Civil War and were not merchants with any of the cash crops and shipping companies in the centuries before, had nothing to do with it. (My Irish ancestors were in Canada at the time.)
This is where we are with race relations in America. Using guilt and shame to try to convince a people largely over racism that they just aren’t unracist enough. That there are no signs that say “Blacks need not apply” does not seem to phase these people. Other ethnic and racial groups have been treated much more brutally than modern day blacks over the years – including blacks throughout our history. Those people got over it, started with nothing and succeeded in spite of the hatred toward them and their race(s).
This is where we are. Still enslaved to an extent. Only this time by limits that are largely self imposed among people who think that the country owes them something 150 years after their ancestors were set free by force.
If the race-baiters and people of that mentality would be intellectually honest and read up on the history of the slave trade, they would find that the issue is no where close to cut and dried over who was buying and selling who. Tribal chiefs in Africa were known to sell captured enemies to European men from a number of countries as well as other Africans. That is a fact that has been suppressed, just as the votes for the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were along party lines and the Republicans won has been.