If you’re shocked that Blacks (along with our Red brothers and sisters) are at the bottom of every health, criminal “justice,” and especially economic category in this country due to racist disparities, you haven’t been paying attention. So let’s hold a quick history class session right now.
Although the headline of this article says racist disparities are as old as the U.S., they’re actually older because British colonial slavery on this land began in 1619, which is 157 years before the Founding Fathers issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Having begun today’s history lesson with that indisputable fact, let’s proceed, shall we?
1619: Following raids in Angola, 350 African men, women, and children were forced aboard the Portuguese “slave” ship Sao Joao Bautista headed to Mexico (a Spanish colony at the time) but was encountered by pirates on two English ships who kidnapped 50-60 of the captives. Approximately 20-30 of them arrived in bondage at Old Point Comfort, Va. on August 25 and were forcibly sold and leased- hence the beginning of the disparities.
1776: The Declaration of Independence- which led to the official creation of this nation- was formally adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, two days after its members voted to approve it. As of that date, slavery was legal in each of the 13 colonies, which is obvious since 27 of the 56 white male property owners who signed the Declaration enslaved Black people by holding them, shipping them, and/or investing in their forced labor.
1789: The US Constitution, which went into effect on March 4, not only endorsed slavery but also promoted it in at least five specific clauses. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 defined enslaved Blacks as subhuman, counting them as three-fifths of a human being. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 established the Electoral College, giving white southerners more influence than white northerners in presidential elections. Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 guaranteed federal military aid, thus protecting the South in case of “slave” rebellions. Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 continued the importation of Africans into American slavery for at least two more decades. Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 tightened the grip of slavery by requiring free states to return escapees to “slave” states.
1857: The U.S. Supreme Court, in the notorious Dred Scott case, ruled on March 6 that Blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” By the way, did you know that this decision has never been directly overturned by the Supreme Court and in fact was actually strengthened by the Court’s racist Slaughter-House Cases ruling in 1873 (despite Congress’ passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868)? Well, it hasn’t!
1865: Congress didn’t really abolish slavery by ratifying the 13th Amendment on December 6. Instead, it created the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration by stating that people can legally be held in slavery and involuntary servitude “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been convicted....” This was followed by the so-called Black Codes from 1865-1866 that legislatively transformed formerly enslaved Blacks into currently convicted Blacks with the stroke of a pen.
Mid-1860s through late-1870s: The Redemption Era was a concerted and successful blatantly racist effort by southern Congressmen to rescind all the racially progressive policies that had been implemented during the Reconstruction Era ending in 1877.
1896: The US Supreme Court did it again, this time on May 18 when, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, it sanctioned Jim Crow’s racist segregation by ruling that “separate is equal.”
1934-1962: Modern-day white suburbs and Black ghettos were created after the federal government backed $120 billion in home loans exclusively to whites in what’s known as “redlining.”
1954: The US Supreme Court continued doing it, this time on May 17 when it pretended to overrule Plessy v. Ferguson in Brown v. Board of Education (Brown I) by stating that the “separate but equal” doctrine is unconstitutional. If it really meant that- actually, if America really meant that- why is it that there had to be a Brown II in 1955 and then a Brown III in 1978 that halfheartedly and partially began implementing Brown I only as recently as 1998? But as of 2020, Brown I still hasn’t been fully implemented.
What do centuries of racist disparities mean? It means the following:
1. As reported at National Public Radio, “Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.” Also, “in 21 states... [the COVID-19 death rate] is substantially higher, more than 50% above what would be expected.” And as stated by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale University, “I’ve been at health equity research for a couple of decades now. Those of us in the field, sadly, expected this.... It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color.”
2. As noted in the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, Blacks, who constitute 13% of the U.S. population, constitute about 34% of the correctional population, are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites, and Black children represent 32% of all children arrested, 42% of all children who are detained, and 52% of all children whose cases are transferred to adult court.
3. As disclosed last year by the Economic Policy Institute, “In 2018, the median Black household earned just 59 cents for every dollar of income the median white household earned....” And “African-American children face the highest poverty rate at 28.5%.”
4. As revealed by the National Urban League, Black households in 2018 earned only $38,555 compared to white households’ $63,135. And in terms of post-high school education, “more Black college graduates (2.8%) earn degrees in computer science than whites (2.6%)..., [but] whites make up a majority of the workforce... while Blacks comprise less than 5% of the social media and tech industry.”
The disparities are deep and wide. And they’re all the result of systemic historic and current racism. What’s the solution? Check out this column next week and find out. Here’s a hint: It has a lot to do with self-respecting race-based economic boycotts.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
They are not necessarily intended to reflect the views of the Philadelphia Tribune.