“White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be achieved tomorrow, and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
From The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
(H/T Facebook – posted by Bo Young)
The year was 1964 and the Beatles were on a U.S. tour. They had only one stop in the Sunshine State and that was at the Gatorbowl in Jacksonville. Prior to taking the stage, they learned that it was a segregated concert. They refused to go on until the segregation requirement was lifted. It was lifted very shortly, and the band hit the stage. My guess was that it was lifted not because any Florida officials saw the light of their racist ways. In those days Beatle’s concerts were packed with tens of thousands of screaming white teenage girls, a demographic I am sure the city of Jacksonville did not want to piss off, talk about a potential riot.
Every once in a while, the topic for our Story Telling Group is very prescient and I find that to be the case today with Never Ending being our prompt. The phrase could I suppose apply to the coronavirus pandemic but really that has been going on in the U.S. for just a few months, half the time of a regular season for any of our major sports franchises. I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” here but I fully expect this to go on for easily another couple of years waiting on treatments that work, vaccines, and sufficient herd immunity. Still, something that goes for even a couple of years can hardly be called “never-ending”.
The current state of civil unrest and its root causes are however much more qualified to be designated “never-ending”. It is not of course the demonstrations taking place in all 50 states that are never-ending, going on for less than two weeks at this point, but rather the systemic racism that has been baked into American society dating back 400 years and perhaps quite a bit longer than that in South America and the Caribbean. And of course, the enslavement of native peoples began out of the box with Columbus’ arrival. So, by 1619 global slavery was a well-entrenched disease. I am including a link to an informative piece on African slavery in the broader Americas:
And a second link to the Pulitzer prize winning NYT piece the The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones:
It was 400 years ago, back in 1619, that 20 or so Africans were brought to Jamestown an English colony in what is now Virginia. They arrived in a ship called the White Lion and were actually taken from a Portuguese slave ship by privateers then eventually traded to Jamestown settlers for food. From the 20 souls posited in Jamestown as indentured servants’ slavery in America grew, per the www.history.com/news piece linked to above, to nearly 4 million people enslaved per the 1860 census making up nearly 13% of the US population at the time.
Slavery was outlawed in 1865 but Jim Crow and the KKK quickly filled the void and a protected right to vote for African Americans did not occur until 1965. One of the most jarring realities that strongly indicates that racism remains embedded in the US fabric is the stunning income disparity between white and black households. The white median income is 42 times that of the median black family and 22 times the median Latino family. From 1619 until the present day it truly is never-ending.
Personally, I am very sad that I have not participated in any of the amazing demonstrations and protests occurring here in Denver. The issue for me is COVID 19 and the fact that I am a piece of compromised protoplasm that the virus would quite possibly wreak havoc on. Having lived through and participated in the major social unrest of the late 1960s and 1970s I honestly feel that this may be different and could well be the spark for many urgently needed social reforms. Confronting the reality of institutional racism may be what lifts the lid on the pandora’s box of many of our current social ills. I remain cautiously optimistic and somewhat hopeful and I second the notion posited by James Baldwin above that white folks really need to confront our own shit.