“Black people forget trauma easily, anything of malice done to them will be forgotten at some point by their feeble brains.” — Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of the United States of America- in his only book Notes on the State of Virginia (1784).
“I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” — Susan B. Anthony, a pivotal activist for women’s suffrage movement- said at a meeting with slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1866.
“Black people are too stupid to vote for me.” — President Donald Trump, 45th president of The United States of America- in a conversation with his former attorney Michael Cohen in 2016.
“I think one man is as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” — Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States of America, in a letter to his wife dated 1911.
“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.” — Bill O’Reilly when talking about Michelle Obama’s comment on how she “lives in a house that was built by slaves.” in 2016.
“This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” — Andrew Johnson, 17th president of the United States of America, in 1866.
These are a collection of comments that span hundreds of years that were made from various people that range from esteemed presidents, suffragettes, and TV personalities. The thread that connects them all?
Let’s start with Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson is a complicated, confusing human being. He’s praised for being a founding father- an architect of the America we know today. Still, he was also a brutal slave owner who both advocated for the abolition of slavery yet freed barely any of his slaves after his death. Why? How? Jefferson’s seemingly strong morals went entirely out the window when it came to owning black people, so what was his rationale? Well, Jefferson had A LOT to say about black people, none of it flattering.
Thomas Jefferson’s only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, was written in 1781 and first published privately in 1784. The following words Jefferson penned came after a description of failed legislation in Virginia that would have eventually emancipated young, enslaved African Americans. To quote D. Voelker:
“He [Jefferson] strongly believed that the freed slaves would have to migrate out of Virginia, not only because of hostility between whites and blacks but also because of important differences that he perceived between the two races. Jefferson decried slavery as a “cruel war against human nature itself,” which violated “sacred rights of life and liberty.” To wit, the evidence suggests that Jefferson believed that God created Africans with the same “inalienable rights” as deserved by whites.”
Jefferson speaks scathingly about the African race saying:
“They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning.”
“Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.”
Translation: “Black people are workhorses that are easily distracted.”
Perhaps, the most confusing aspect of Jefferson is that in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence he called American Chattel Slavery “cruel war against nature itself” saying:
“He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither.”
These do not sound like words coming from a man who owned slaves. I bring all this up to say the arguments of “Well, it was a different time!” and “Everyone owned slaves back then.” are complete and utter bullshit. If the man himself who coined the words “all men are created equal” can own human beings, then turn around and criticize the practice of slavery (and how cruel and barbaric it is), then we can deduce that people KNEW it was wrong. They (all American slave owners at any point and time) made up their own justifications for it to then MAKE it okay. It is easy to own people if you have pseudo-science, making up false claims of inferiority whilst lifting up your own people as the shining light of superiority.
12 heads of state — over a quarter of all American presidents — were slave owners during their lifetimes. Of these bunch, eight presidents held slaves while in office. These were educated, intelligent men- men that led America to the state it’s in today, yet they practiced something so brutal and inhumane. Cherry-picking morals, constant dehumanization of black people, and commodification of black bodies made the duality
Moving to the Suffragette movement of the early 1900s, anti-blackness was an ever-pervasive force.
Acknowledgment of intersectionality was painfully needed during this time but was ignored by the white women who championed the “[white] women’s voting movement.” Black women were wholly ignored by their white female counterparts in fear that white southern women would pull their support of the movement. While that was happening, these white suffragettes would scold white men for having the audacity to give their former male slaves the right to vote before their very own wives.
Anna Howard Shaw, a Methodist minister and president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, says precisely that:
“You have put the ballot in the hands of your black men, thus making them political superiors of white women. Never before in the history of the world have men made former slaves the political masters of their former mistresses!”
I do not believe in every case of intersectionality that it is race first, BUT it most definitely was in the Suffrage movement. White women used their whiteness to gain the right to vote while simultaneously ignoring black women and dehumanizing black men.
The 14th Amendment that was ratified in 1868 extends the Constitution’s protection to all citizens — and defines “citizens” as “male”. The 15th Amendment guarantees black men the right to vote. Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (among other suffragettes) refused to support the 15th Amendment while rallying along with racist Southerners who figured that white women’s votes could be used to cancel out the votes cast by black people (black men). Whiteness being used as a tool of progression is nothing new in American social movements, it just stings to read all the white female suffragists that speak of “the rights of women” knowing they weren’t referring to you. I mean, even Susan B. Anthony, in the quote mentioned above, used “woman” when she was clearly implying “white woman.” Once again, black women are left out of the conversation. The 1900s-1920s were seen as a progressive time for women’s rights when, in actuality, it was always about white women.
The civil rights movement between 1950–1968 was plagued with the same ideology- just a different language.
The underlying ideas of White America in 1900 and 1950–1969 were that black people were just as inferior as they’ve always been, but they’ve been allowed to somewhat rise in society. Not quite yet desegregate but often interact enough that interactions between white and black in a non-slave/boss capacity was becoming more and more common. The dilemma in this time was the split in the black community that came when one side decided being brutalized without fighting back was ludicrous and started to fight back.
Malcolm X was the figurehead for this kind of retaliation saying:
“[Concerning non-violence] It is criminal to teach a man not to
defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”
The other side was a side that decided peaceful protest and civil disobedience was the only way to true freedom. Martin Luther King JR was the figurehead for this kind of protest, saying:
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.”
I personally believe the “Malcolm X method” was the right way to go about things. Allowing yourself to be dehumanized, beaten, and spat on to “prove” your humanity and worth to your oppressor does not sit right with me. Also, if white people believed you were equal from the jump, there would be no need to convince them through non-violent means, they would have already restored you to be on par with them. The danger here is when the so-called ‘white moderate’ begins to tell the black people who followed the “eye for an eye” mentality “Why can’t you just do it more peacefully?” These people are referred to as white moderates because they would think of themselves as quite liberal, but they’d let black people know that they did not “agree” with their methods of liberation. Black Americans have been the victims of so much violence, terrorism, and general brutalization from white people throughout America’s history, this is common knowledge. But for white people to then turn around and say that black people seeking retribution/equal punishment for their pain was unacceptable? Please.
Martin Luther King JR says in his Letter From a Birmingham
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.”
I agree with that 100%. The absolute nerve you have to have to tell an oppressed person that you don’t agree with their methods of crawling out of their own oppression is astounding. When it comes to matters of liberation, there is no middle ground. You’re either with the oppressor and against the oppressed OR with the oppressed and against the oppressor. Only white America could terrorize a group for centuries then attempt to take the moral high ground when it comes to that group actually defending itself against their abuse.
I say all of what I’ve spoken to say this: White supremacy is a myth. White people are no better than any other race of people. White supremacy is also hypocritical. If the only way your race can be successful and ahead of all the other races is by systematically disenfranchising them by limiting their resources, education, and even bodily autonomy- you are not superior. You’re superior because of unfair domination, not due to honest ability. It would be the equivalent of bragging about winning a marathon when you shot your opponents in the feet before the race started. Real supremacy would be one race succeeding over other races when everyone is on an equal playing field. You can’t brag about being the most intelligent when only your race has access to the best schools and learning resources. You can’t brag about being the most athletically gifted without integrating the sport you’re playing. You can’t claim to be the “best race” when all of your “accomplishments” have come at the grave expense of other communities.