History of Black Oppression
By Shreya Sherkhane
Five decades ago, beginning from the 1950s, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. fought for racial equality in the United States. The cause of this revolt was substantially different compared to today as African Americans were denied basic human rights and freedoms because of discriminatory nature that kept the blacks separated from the whites. America is going through one of its biggest mass-led movement in history supporting black lives. The revolt erupted after the illegitimate murder of George Floyd, a black American man who died in the American state of Minneapolis after a police officer pressed his knee on his neck for 9 minutes that resulted in asphyxiation and he eventually died of a cardiac arrest. Demonstrations and protests were held across all fifty states and the globe against police brutality and lack of accountability. The hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #blackouttuesday were trending like wildfire on all social media platforms.
Let us begin by questioning the origin of race. The concept of “race” in America was solely created to determine and perpetuate white supremacy. The idea of white supremacy was largely invented in the United States as a way to prevent indentured servants and slaves from working together to overthrow the elites. The race is still a determining factor in social working groups both in and outside of the United States. Anthropologist Audrey Smedley notes that “scientific” ideas about physical appearance and racial difference in the 18th century were largely “folk” ideas used to justify already existent social norms. Racism was a result of a desire to perpetuate the system of discrimination and exploitation. As this went on, more and more distinctions were made of the black people from their white counterparts. In the 1600s, the race was more of a generic term that was used to allude to a household or a common ancestor. But when did race become less of a term for kinship and more as a societal prejudice? Between the periods of 15th to 18th century, millions of Africans were shipped to the Americas. This is known to be the transatlantic slave trade. This then spread worldwide; the Portuguese began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and made them slaves back in Europe. Out of the 12.6 million kidnapped, only 3.9. million survived after a harrowing two-month journey on the sea.
One of the most heartbreaking stories of structural racism that I came across is shared by black children. When an 8-year-old Lebert F. Lester II visited the Connecticut shore on a trip with his father where he started building a sandcastle. A young white girl joined him building the castle but was quickly summoned and taken away by her father. Later she returned, only to ask him, “Why don’t you just go in the water and wash it off?” Lester says., “I was so confused—I only figured out later she meant my complexion.” This is an accurate example of the innocence of children. Racism is a learned behaviour and is not inherent. It starts and stops at home. According to recent statistics, a black man is three times more likely to be killed by police or suffer police brutality than a white man. How do we stop this? Why does the killing of black unarmed humans continually happen? To answer this, we need to get to the root cause of racial injustice. We are looking at the wrong diagnosis and prescribing the wrong cure. The problem of racial violence is concentrated on just a few white supremacists and stubborn racists who refuse to budge from their conventional dogma. George Floyd was primarily asked to stop his vehicle because he handed a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. A white male later tweeted that a similar incident had happened to him as well, but instead of rendering him dead, the police handed the bill back to him as a ‘souvenir’ and he later told the story as a joke at a comedy club.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an avid supported for Native American rights. He led the civil rights movement and further went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as a manifesto for his Negro Revolution. During his revolution and the boycott of the judicial system that opposed the civil rights of the members of his race, he faced plenty of trials and tribulations. He was arrested and subjected to abuse and his house was bombed by rebels and his family separated from him.
These past times have seen a revival of orthodoxical notions and outdated theories on race. But regardless of how people identify themselves, race continues to be a complex topic of debate. Racial disparities are still deeply lodged in society and the system. How the American population remembers the horrors of racism and slavery is crucial and shapes what lies ahead.
Solly, Meilan. “158 Resources To Understand Racism In America.” Web log, June 4, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/158-resources-understanding-systemic-racism-america-180975029/.
“Martin Luther King Jr.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, June 5, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr..
“Martin Luther King Jr. Biographical.” NobelPrize.org. Accessed June 7, 2020. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/biographical/.