Point of View Columns

Land of the Free and the Home of the Blind

When historians look back at the United States of America several centuries from now they will be amazed at how intractable and inscrutable the issue of race was in this country. They will also be amazed at the depth of commitment to self-deception that was adopted by the overwhelming majority of white Americans. And finally, they will be amazed that any white Americans were amazed when the daily grind of racism and racist behavior was brought to light – how they were shocked, absolutely shocked – like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca was shocked that there was gambling in Rick’s Café, even as he pocketed his weekly payoff.

Let us count the ways in which America’s true color-blindness makes itself known. Consider the eight of the first ten American presidents were slaveholders – to be clear, they owned, sold, beat, raped and killed black Americans. Historical accounts indicate that there were no “nice” slave plantations, only different levels of Hell.

Yet the profitable human bondage presided over by these presidents are either airbrushed out of history or they are given a pass due to the “way things were in those days”. This historical malpractice might be acceptable to white Americans, but it is a cruel and sinful slap in the face for every black American. Indeed, the acceptance of this sad history is so pervasive and perverse that it is a cause for challenge and argument to contemplate the moral bankruptcy of this particular status quo.

Consider that just a few weeks ago a memorial to the wholesale lynching of black Americans opened in Montgomery, Alabama to muted and limited national news coverage. This, despite the fact that this memorial documents the fact that over 4,000 black men, women and children were lynched in these United States between 1876 and 1960.

And consider that while this domestic reign of terror rained true fire and fury on black Americans, white Americans of every political persuasion typically stood by, if they did not actively participate, as these atrocities were repeated with demonic regularity. Every U.S. President during this era from the feckless Rutherford Hayes to the Roosevelt cousins to the inveterate racist Wilson to Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy, no American president or his supporters ever took a stand against the lynching of black Americans. And clearly lynching should be inextricably linked to slavery, America’s other original sin.

So it really should come as no surprise that when two peaceful black men were arrested for taking up space in a Starbuck’s that white Americans professed to be shocked at getting another glimpse at what a daily dose of racism looks like. Meanwhile black Americans are fully aware that the Starbuck’s treatment is just what the American Way looks like through brown eyes. It is a virtual truth that most black Americans have had their presence questioned – in a department store, hotel, first-class seat on an airplane, standing in the your grandmother’s backyard or just driving an expensive car – and the Starbuck’s Treatment is just part of what James Brown called “Living in America”.

The saddest part of this most recent evidence of the reality of racism in America is that now Starbucks will close all 8000 stores on May 29th for a day-long session on “bias training”. What is so sad is that in 2018 white Americans need to be “trained” to treat black Americans like human beings.

And what every black American already knows is that one day will not be enough. Not at Starbucks. Not anywhere in these United States.


2 thoughts on “Land of the Free and the Home of the Blind

  1. Antonette says:

    Thank you for this piece. You smoothly connected the tramatic history that black Americans had to face to further illustrate how the brutal past of America still causes harm. I appreciated how you emphasized that experiencing racism is “just what the American Way looks like through brown eyes.” It is important that you wrote this piece because some people have/chose not to see the racism that black Americans have to face daily, hence, your title “Land of the Free and Home of the Blinds.”

  2. Galen Kirkland says:

    Great piece, Wallace. We are all being tormented by a powerful White supremacist back lash. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t have the capacity to mobilize decent people to confront this challenge. They seem to think that they can’t afford to further alienate enraged racists. Tragic default.

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