By Beverly Gadson-Birch
The more things change in America, the more they remain the same. This article is in response to some of our white privileged folk who can’t understand why black folk just can’t get over slavery. Let me share some remarks that I constantly hear from white folk. “Slavery occurred some 400 years ago, why are y’all still living in the past? Didn’t President Abraham Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation 157 years ago freeing the slaves? Black folk aren’t never satisfied. We, meaning the present generation, had nothing to do with it. Y’all just need to get over it.”
Let me set the record straight for those who can’t seem to understand why black folk can’t get over it. Young privileged whites do not have a clue of the atrocities committed by their ancestors and the horrible impact slavery has had upon blacks. For slavery to go away is to acknowledge that it never existed. And, to acknowledge that it existed is for America to right the wrong. And, until America decides to justly compensate black Americans, referring to reparation for slavery, the sore will continue to fester and not heal.
It’s easy for the “privileged” to minimize slavery and the devastation it had, and continues to have, on the present generation if all they have ever known is privilege. For naysayers, let’s look at some examples that should make your skin boil. What if your family was sold–mother, father, sister, brother to different slaveowners, never to be seen again? What if all you did was work from sun up until sun down with Massa’s lynch men standing over you with a whip? What if you had to work in water bogged rice fields and died from Malaria?
What if your wife or sister was raped day in and out in your presence and you couldn’t do a thing about it? and, if you tried, you were whipped mercilessly or killed. Let your mind, if you have one white privilege, take you back to the cotton and tobacco fields. Can you imagine picking cotton and tobacco in snake infested fields under a blazing hot sun for fifty cents or a dollar a day? Let’s go even further back! What if you were taken from your home or homeland, Africa, never to see your family again? Then you are shipped to America in the wet bottom of a boat where you lay chained and unclothed, in the dark, for weeks. And, for those who became ill on the journey, they were tossed overboard, dead or alive, to the waiting jaws of sharks. How cruel was that? How heartless is it to hang another human being and stand around with your children and watch as if you are at a sporting game? That’s what your ancestors did Mr. White Privilege. Oh, there is more, lots more right here in Charleston!
Remnants of slavery are everywhere. On Sullivan’s Island, slaves were stored for months as they waited to be auctioned off. Slaves were also sold at the Old Exchange Building. Charleston is a beautiful city with a dark history. How can we forget slavery’s dark past when it’s forever staring us in the face? I had the occasion of touring Charleston last weekend with some out of town relatives. As we drove around town, over cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but think about slave labor. The next stop was the infamous Market where slaves sold their goods. The Slave Mart held a rich history as well. And, if I don’t remember anything else about Charleston, we toured the old hanging tree spot on Ashley Avenue. The “Hanging Tree” is thought to be where Denmark Vesey was executed in 1822. The original tree died and was replaced around 1980. Denmark Vesey was a free slave; but, of course, free slaves were never really free.
For those “privilege whites” who do not understand why blacks can’t forget about slavery, it’s because you are living a good life. You were taught that blacks are less than and not equal. Simply put! check out the many inventions by blacks. Intentionally, major aspects of black history and contributions have been omitted from history books. It would simply blow your mind if you really knew how blacks have contributed to the founding and growth of this country.
As we approach Black History Month, learn more about Black contribution to America. Blacks are great people with a great history. It’s hard to get over slavery when its tentacles are so visible and far reaching.