The countries of the New World were, for the most part, founded on the twin crimes of racism and genocide.
Europe was effectively out of land, the dominant wealth creation engine of the time, and there was plenty of it in the New World, that is if you weren’t particularly squeamish about how you got it. The Europeans and later the Americans decided on the most efficient mechanism, genocide. Then came a new problem, for unlike European fields which had been tilled for centuries, the land in the New World was rough, wooded and rocky. It would have taken generations to transform it into a productive asset. Again, the European-Americans chose the most efficient alternative–forcing someone else to clear it for them.
Most of the countries in this hemisphere have spent the last two hundred years trying to move past those crimes, with varying levels of success as the riots in Brazil and this week’s horrendous decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 both illustrate.
The question, at least for me, is how upset to get over all this. Is this my fight? I haven’t seen any mass protests or even loud howls of outrage from the African-American community. At the end of the day, rights are not given so much as taken. By the end of the Civil War, the majority of the troops were African-American, over 200,000 men in all. Blacks got their rights in the ’60s when hundreds of thousands took to the street. Blacks in the south don’t seem particularly upset over the Roberts decision, or if they are, it’s not making the news.
Perhaps this is no big deal anyway, but just part of the process and par for the course. Over the last two centuries, progress in race matters has tended to move in fifty year cycles–two steps forward, one and a half steps back.
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
However, after a short burst of prosperity for blacks, the white establishment systematically went about rolling back many of the gains achieved as a result of the war. Between 1890 and 1910, ten of eleven southern states passed laws effectively disenfranchising blacks, e.g. poll taxes and literacy tests. In 1890, the idea of seperate but equal emerged, although as someone who grew up in the segregated south, I can tell you that the facilities afforded African-Americans were not even close to equal. In 1913, almost exactly fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the first southern-born president since the war took office. Woodrow Wilson set about embedding the racial discrimination pervasive in the legal codes of the South into those of the nation.
A little more than fifty years after Wilson, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed. And now, forty eight years later, Justice Roberts has emasculated it, relying on spurious precedent. (If you haven’t read the excellent S&R post on this by Wufnik, you should.) It is Jim Crow for a new millenium.
1863 – forward. 1913 – backward. 1965 – forward. 2013 – backward.
Just like a pendulum, do we swing back and forth on this? If that’s what’s happening here, it’s great because the pendulum is swinging a little farther toward fairness with each cycle. It’s certainly more comfortable to think of this as a cyclical blip than a permanent setback. If this is true and it is not just calenderial coincidence, that means we have reached the nadir and better times are a coming. An optimist would say episodes like Paula Deen show that mindsets are changing, and for the better (although her book is reportedly #1 on Amazon).
I hope that’s the case, although I don’t find it all that comforting. Just as they did a hundred years ago, racists and their sympathizers are trying to undo progress. Do we have to wait fifty years to get back to where we were a few weeks ago?