As we commemorate (not celebrate) the 150th anniversary of the civil war in America, I ponder the words of the great southern historian and author, Shelby Foote, who once said, “You can’t know America unless you understand the civil war.” He was very accurate in his assessment. Many people lambaste African-Americans for “whining” about slavery. The truth of the matter is, the vestiges of this “peculiar institution” are with us to this very day. That’s why will NEVER be a post-racial society. Race and class are embedded in our DNA.
The first shot of the civil war at Fort Sumter is still being heard all over America. Our media, our co-workers, job and mortgage applications all want to know our race, ethnic background etc. It’s interwoven deep within our core as Americans. We are color-struck to the 10th power and don’t want to acknowledge or recognize it.
Sex is deeply woven into the complex issue of race and social strata. This is a pathology that is so ingrained that the mention of it brings controversy to the fore of the argument on the topic of race. Many southern segregationists main goal in maintaining Jim Crow, did so out of a motivation to keep black boys and men away from white girls and women. There was a deep concern that miscegenation would run out of control and create a “mongrel” race of mulattoes.
Of course, the same didn’t apply to white men and black women. It was a little known ritual in the deep south that you weren’t a man until you “bedded” a black woman (splitting the “black oak” as they liked to call it). Bet you didn’t learn that in your high school history class? We were presented with a “sanitized” version of the civil war.
Racist restrictive covenants in housing were the law of the land up until very recently. There was pending Fair Housing legislation that was being debated just before Martin Luther King’s assassination. Literally one week after his death Title VIII (Fair Housing) was passed to quell all the social unrest across the country immediately following his death. Of course, the legislation had no “teeth” in regards to enforcement. Suddenly however, everyone has amnesia and can’t remember America ever being so racist. It’s a fact, just the same. The deed to my home still has that language in it, thankfully it can’t be enforced because it’s been rendered moot by fair housing laws. In fact, most of my African-American friends who live in my neighborhood as well as suburbs all across America couldn’t have lived in them as recently as twenty years ago. Thank God for change!
Having worked in Equal Opportunity Enforcement for a large metropolitan city in the southwest, it was common that directors would make up work assignments in such a way to keep black men and white women from “consorting” on the job. Yes, it really happened. You can trace this type of behavior back to the civil war.
Of course, we don’t see crosses burning and right-wing terrorists wearing white sheets as they did in the good ole days. Wholesale terrorism against African-Americans erupted immediately following the civil war. Today they wear loafers, designer suits have MBA’s and are much more subtle in the racism that happens today. The end result is still the same, an entire class of people are marginalized and seen as less than. We see it in predatory lending, red-lining, blockbusting, gerrymandering, environmental racism and exclusion from voting due to criminal records etc. Social exclusion for the lower-classes has morphed into other forms of social control.
Of course my detractors will point out that we have a black president (Barack Obama). While that is a monumental accomplishment for our county, that is by no means the end game. Until the African-American community as a whole can improve it’s lot in life and it’s stake in the American Dream, we have a long way to go. While we all mourn the more than 600,000 men who gave their lives during the civil war to save and have a more perfect union, it was a step in the right direction to rid America of it’s “Original Sin.”