“Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress. If he comes in ignorance, rags, and wretchedness he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar, and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence. In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to the pride and provokes malice.” – Frederick Douglas
Racism was a core foundational element in the creation of the United States. The creation of race and the subsequent division of humans by color was mission critical to the economic progress that the United States enjoyed during the period of colonization; it was an essential part of the financial and social gains enjoyed by religious institutions, the Spanish and English monarchs, and ultimately, the landowners and those who were identified as White though poor.
America’s racial caste system and the implications this system has had on Black Americans intersects all existing systems and structures. The racial caste system in America is the equivalent of modern day enslavement, or as argued by Michelle Alexander, the New Jim Crow. The impact of this system is significant. Dr. Joy De Gruy argues that centuries of slavery in multiple forms in the United States coupled with systemic and structural racism and oppression have resulted in multi-generational behaviors that mimic survival strategies of victims who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a result, these behaviors are passed on through generations because Black Americans are often indoctrinated into the same behaviors; Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome or PTSS is the psychological by-product resulting from prolonged systemic oppression, modern day lynchings as a result state sanction murder, and mass incarceration; the ongoing adaptation of Jim Crow laws in society impacts the psyche of African Americans.
Racial categorization has been used as the primary tool to support systemic White privilege. Blacks in return have continued to contend with ongoing violence, discrimination, and adaptions to new forms of enslavement without America acknowledging the impacts that past and current systems and structures have had on the psyche of Black people and African Americans in particular; America and Europe instituted a Black Holocaust and has yet to fully acknowledge how detrimental this has been on generations of Black s in this country.
As described by Sam E. Anderson, the holocaust visited on African people is just as real and as vicious as the Jewish Holocaust. It can be argued that the Black Holocaust is more detrimental because once slavery was abolished the cultural and ethnic sanitizing of enslaved Africans that began during enslavement, was further obliterated; Africans lost a sense of their nations, tribes, languages, and customs. In contrast, people of the Jewish nation and faith regrouped not only to prevent another such visitation on their people, but received land, compensation, and a re-establishment of their original nation and culture.
This is a critical component of understanding the Black experience in this country as opposed to that of a White immigrant group that has been able to assimilate or the Jewish Holocaust.
Most history text state that beginning in August 1619, approximately 20-40 million Africans were captured and enslaved. This figured only accounts for those Africans who survived capture, the holding pens, and the Middle Passage. According to Anderson, a more accurate count would be 50-80 million, which would include Africans who died over the total course of the Slave Trade; it is worth noting that this figure is inclusive of counts from the Asian, Arabic, and European slave trades. Africa is the only continent to be as savagely plundered as it was. North America could not have flourished without the slave trade. Huge profits were gained through the sale and back breaking labor of enslaved Africans as well as rum and cotton which went to support European economies.
Once captured, Africans were placed in slave “castles” which were known as baracoons (dungeons that were 10 x 15 feet and held 30-40 Africans. These baracoons were crowded and unsanitary. While waiting to be packed onto slave ships, Africans were then branded with the salve company’s emblem. This inhumane practice resulted in infections and sometimes death. On the slave ships, conditions were far worse. Africans were stocked on top of one another without the ability to move or relieve themselves properly. Rape of men, women, and children were used as a means of submission.
Slave ownership was a symbol of wealth as property ownership was a sign of one’s station in life and many plantation owners became wealthier as a result of slave labor. The length and type of labor that slaves were atrocious. Slaves were divided by skin color, gender, and age. Plantation owners used overseers to break in difficult slaves, emasculate and disempower male slaves in front of female slaves. They separated families. And treated lighter skinned slaves better than darker skinned slaves. Essentially, America established a clear system by which they dehumanized enslaved Africans and maintained control.
Even year after the Emancipation Proclamation, the enactment of Civil Rights Acts, the abolishment of Jim Crow, and the election of an African American president, Black Americans continue to face systemic oppression and institutionalized racism. While many European immigrant groups have had the capacity to assimilate and partake in the privileges extended to a White racial classification, Black Americans have continued to experience segregation in their schools and communities. There continues to be challenges in accessing health care, equity in wage, and brutality at the hands of law enforcement.
While Jews have received reparations, apologies, and international support for the creation of the Israeli state, Black Americans have continued to experience unyielding discrimination from a country that stole them from their land and culture of origin. African Americans continue to experience disparities in the achievement gap, wealth gap, and criminal justice system.
The Black Holocaust was and remains very real. And by naming it, we should not think that it deters from the progress that has been made in America or detract from the atrocities experienced by Jews. However, the Black Holocaust has not ceased in 2016 and THAT is an important distinction.