It’s time to face the fact that, to paraphrase Lincoln, the U. S. is a nation is of white people, by white people, and for white people. On July 4, we celebrate the 241st anniversary of the slave owner’s revolt.
The British empire abolished slavery in 1831, some 32 years ahead of the U. S.
White supremacy was the founding principle and remains the predominant force in the U. S. The countervailing trend has enjoyed brief moments of promise: the end of slavery, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, but those moments add up to about 20 years. Reconstruction was followed by 85 years of Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Movement was followed by 40 years of Mr. Backlash, as Nina Simone sings it, a period in which we are still ensconced, with just a hint of respite during the Obama years.
White supremacy and its cousin white privilege can be summed up in one salient statistic: in 2013, the median wealth of white families was 13 times that of Black families, $144,000 to $11,000. Here are some milestones along the way toward this grotesque inequality:
- The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 140 acres to white families, Blacks excluded because they weren’t citizens (!). Subsequent acts didn’t exclude Blacks by law, but required capital for tools, to which Blacks had no access.
- The New Deal provided Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and a minimum wage to all workers – except agricultural and domestic workers, most of whom were Black.
- After World War II, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provided developers with billions in loans to build such suburbs as Levittown and Westlake that explicitly excluded Blacks. This postwar residential segregation – unconstitutionally de jure, not de facto – is largely responsible for the wealth gap. (Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law)
While by all rights, the Black community is entitled to reparations for all of the above injustices, as well as for 244 years (1619-1863) of enslavement. But the last one – postwar residential segregation – stands the most chance of providing remedy. We need another court case on the level of Brown vs. Board of Education. The current court system, dominated by white supremacists, would not be friendly to such a suit. But it will take a long time to develop a solid court case, and, as the pendulum swings, the court will change over time. Meanwhile, what an opportunity to teach people about our racist history!