Thursday, July 9th, 2009...12:20 pm
US Slavery and the Modern Meltdown
All through history, people have been living off things they stole from others. From the “great” Egyptian and Roman civilizations, that featured people living in splendor off the backs of slave labor, to the British Empire, that went around the world with its Navy and its weapons, subjugating and enslaving vulnerable indigenous people and looting their lands of all available resources, to our own country, which, was, of course, built off slave labor (the White House was built by slaves,) and which has used immigrant and foreign labor in much the same way–in the most successful, bountiful societies, people have always stolen the source of their comfort.
The interesting thing about the United States is how close we are to slavery and how far we see ourselves from it. It doesn’t involve Blacks mostly, any more. Today, our slaves live in densely-populated foreign countries, so we do not have to see them or their suffering. But, the in-person slavery of Blacks can be seen clearly as a component of the current credit crisis.
“Jim Crow” is a term used loosely nowadays to mean the period after slavery where US Blacks still lived in subjugation. The federal government did not protect their voting rights, their rights to employment or housing or their property or commercial rights. During the period immediately following the Civil War known as Reconstruction, political attempts were made to give Blacks political parity with Whites. They elected representatives by majority vote, and, when they won, Whites rioted and forcibly drove Blacks out of crucial areas, committing acts of arson and mass murder all through the South. When the Supreme Court was faced with the issue of whether the feds had the right to prosecute in cases where the states neglected to protect its citizens, it ruled (in United States v. Cruikshank,) the feds did not. As a result, violence against Blacks was legally re-institutionalized in the South, the KKK became a fixture as respected as Disney, and Blacks were guaranteed another hundred years of servitude. So, Jim Crow, seen clearly, is just an extension of slavery, a crime that has never been made up for—as the land stolen from Reconstruction-era Blacks was never returned, and cannot legally be recovered (due to the statute of limitations,) just as Blacks cannot legally recover the fruits of their ancestors’ labors.
Jim Crow was a lot more serious than most think. It wasn’t sleeping in buses and drinking from a pipe rather than a water fountain. It was institutionalized subjugation, as real as Roman slavery.
But our American Dreaming never seems to end, so after the Sixties social revolution, after the feds took up their responsibility to protect the rights of Blacks (and women and, to a lesser extent, immigrants,) in the workplace and marketplace, what was to be done to make up for that new shift of balance between the financial benefits of subjugation and the comfortable lifestyle we were so used to??
Here I must go off on a little tangent: To a US citizen, there is a kind of cultural fantasy world of expectations. We expect to some day live in a house on a plot of ground. Many expect the plot of ground to be covered with green grass (thinking it looks nice, I suppose.) There are people who are ridiculously driven towards this materialistic dream, like a guy I know in upstate New York who lives in a roomy house beside a lake. He has a large lawn all around it, and he burns gallons of gasoline driving around the land, keeping the bright green grass freshly trimmed. Though he commutes 125 miles a day (each way) to work, he spends enough time at home to work around the grounds like a full-time landscaper. He doesn’t play golf on it, roll around on it, or do anything else useful with it, for that matter. It is his house, his lawn, his pride. When he dies, someone else will buy it.
When I was a kid, the nuns at school painted the Soviets as people who menacingly wanted to force us all to live in houses that looked exactly the same. Which is pretty much what we were already, in terms of the wanting-to-live-in-houses part, and, nowadays, you take a ride around suburbia and get a look at some of those residential developments, and they’re pretty much just what my little eighth-grade mind was picturing.
US culture expresses materialistic excess in many other forms, like buying big, stupid cars, clothes, and toys, driving everywhere, all the time, polluting the air like it is some kind of fourth disposal dimension that has no effect on us, and, generally, just having fun.
So, in order to continue this excess with less slaves around, what were we to do?? Coinciding quite well with the effects of the first toothy civil right’s legislation, Ronald Reagan ushered in a new way of thieving: borrowing from our children.
Over the next 25 years, US debt would shoot straight up to the stratosphere, to 11 trillion bucks, when it had never been more than one trillion.
We would honor other people’s rights to buy a house and car (just like us,) shop in the malls, and send their kids to college, yes, but it would not come out of our taxes. No, we’d just make credit easy—make the money out of borrowed value. Our children would pay for it. You might see this in a positive light, that we are so positive-thinking here in the USA that we believe for a certainty that our children will find ways to spin gold (though that wouldn’t solve the problem—now, if they could spin food or oxygen, that would be something to work with.)
I’m not saying that the recent end of Black slavery in the US has left us in this trouble, though. There are so many other contributing factors, as slave labor around the world is more expensive, and worldwide commodities are becoming more scarce. But, the legacy of Black slavery is a factor people here in the US just never see.
It is important to see so that we realize that our Dream is not and never was real. For the immigrants in the Early 20th Century that saw the Dream realized, it was really off the suffering and theft of others’ labors. When we corrected the problem domestically, our success was still heavily in debt to people living in poverty elsewhere in the world, working to create our wealth. Then, when this all ran thin, like a heroin addict, we took out credit cards in our children’s names, using their social security cards, and, like there was no tomorrow, fed our insatiable thirst for consumption.
To imagine a world free of slavery will be to dream of harmony and cooperation, not success and progress. Just as my desires are at the heart of my need to subjugate others, so my ability to be selfless is at the heart of my ability to live in harmony.
There were never the resources available to fund the Hummers, the large houses, or even the White middle-class standards of a generation ago. We have never lived with the thought in mind that if we, individually, live excessively, one of two things (or both) must result:
1. We will consequently require another person to live at a loss, or,
2. We will expend a resource, which is one small step towards the certain eventual consequence of our closed-system of a planet becoming uninhabitable.
We need a new Dream, one that encompasses everyone.