One Great Speech and Two White Whines

Michelle Obama 2016 Atlantic magazine called Michelle Obama’s speech last night one for the ages. It was.  Even Vogue got into the act.

“The story that has brought me to this stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

It doesn’t take any imagination to figure out that the Trumpers are going to take exception to this, because they have already:

“All I hear is bitch bitch bitch yes there where slaves in the usa but how many white people died to free the slaves? I get really sick of black people bitching about someone way back when in their family might have been a slave (not likely less than 10% can really trace their family to slaves) and now they want money for something that has nothing to do with them. Till you can get over the fact that long long ago there where slaves in the usa remember the only about 5% of the slave trade came to the usa the rest went to south america.” [IndJourn]

And, this morning on the Thom Hartman show some ignorant fool from Nevada called in to whine, “Why did she (Mrs. Obama) have to bring that up, it’s just divisive.” Or something to that effect. I can’t match the inarticulate nature of his complaint. Beginning with “I’m a 64 year old white man…”

So, here comes the rant

Get some history.  The first enslaved people were hauled to Virginia in 1619; there were about 20 Africans sold into slavery before the Pilgrims even landed on the coast of Massachusetts.  In 1636 the first American slave transport ship, ironically named the Desire, set out from the Massachusetts docks.  It’s not until 1865 that slavery is officially abolished in this country in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  That’s 246 years of slavery.

That would be 246 years of putting up with the likes of one slave owner who wrote in his diary for September 3, 1709: “My wife was indisposed again but not to much purpose. In the afternoon I beat Jenny [a house slave] for throwing water on the couch.” [EyewitnessTH]

Yes, the majority of enslaved people were transported to the Caribbean and South American regions. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. puts the number of slaves brought directly to the US at about 450,000.  So, irrationally, our first commentator leaps to the conclusion that only about 10% of the current African American population can trace their ancestry to a slave. Nice try, but not even close.  In order to make this leap of faith (and not fact) we’d have to assume that the children and grandchildren of those imported to this county against their will weren’t enslaved? Nope Dope, the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, likely multiple generations of progeny were enslaved like their forefathers and mothers.

And, why isn’t it easy for an African American person to trace the family tree? Because slave owners wrote things like “Henry, age 17, 5’4” in their records. [USArchives]  It doesn’t matter if 450,000 or 4 million people were initially brought to this country enslaved – slavery was wrong in the first place; and, there’s absolutely no way to assert that their children, their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children … were bought, sold, humiliated, beaten and badgered for 246 miserable years.

What matters is the fact that the great-great-great granddaughter of Melvinia Shields, a slave in northern Georgia, was standing on the podium of the Democratic National Convention last night talking about how she was living in the White House and her daughters (the great-great-great-great granddaughters of Melvinia Shields) were playing with their dogs on the south lawn.

However, the White Whiners aren’t finished. Notice the second part of the comment, the one with the “long long ago” phrase – there are a couple of blood boiling feathers attached to this chicken statement.  The assumption here is that the whole “slavery” issue is long ago and far away, and therefore not part of our collective existence.  This is an easy assumption to make IF and only IF we ignore the fact that on March 21, 1981,  Michael Donald, an African American resident of Mobile, AL was the victim of the last recorded lynching in America.  The record before then was even worse.

“Researchers said they determined that 3,959 black people were killed in “racial terror lynchings” in a dozen Southern states between 1877 and 1950. The new number includes 700 people who were not named in previous works seeking to comprehensively document the toll, the authors wrote. Some of those previous studies were conducted at a time when lynching was still an ongoing phenomenon.” [WaPo]

So, only 28 years after the last recorded lynching of an African American man in the United States, an African American mother is watching her girls leave in Secret Service vehicles from the White House to go to school.

Our 64 year old White Whiner was born in 1952, he was 29 years old when the last lynching took place in this country, and he doesn’t want to talk about slavery, race, or all that divisive stuff.  He’s white, and he’s uncomfortable when people talk about things white people did, and he certainly doesn’t want to be reminded that he’s obviously uncomfortable with African Americans.

As far as he seems to be concerned it’s up to African Americans to make him feel comfortable.  Let’s guess he’s upset that the African American President understood how the parents of Trayvon Martin felt, and how the Talk hadn’t been enough to save their son from a gun happy bigot.  Thin (white) skin and contemporary issues aren’t a good mix.  He’s upset that the African American President might understand how a small suburban police force could be so insensitive to the people they were supposed to serve?  How a toxic combination of revenue collection and racism could exacerbate an already tense situation?

Our 64 year old white whiner was 15 in 1967 and 21 in 1973, just in time to watch the Watts Riots (1965), the Detroit Riots (1966), and the Newark Riot (1967).   Far from understanding what precipitated these events, he appears to have decided that “hard-working Americans” means “white.”  “Those” other people (black) riot.  He was 28 years old in 1980, in time perhaps to vote for Ronald Reagan, and the “morning in America,” which dawned at the Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi.

Perhaps our 64 year old white whiner just doesn’t feel safe anymore?  The Hispanic population of his home town, Las Vegas, is now about 1/3rd of the total. 11% or so of the population is African American, and another 6% are of Asian descent.  Clark County isn’t the home to the 277,230 people in Las Vegas as it was in 1970; it’s now home to a very diverse 603,488.  Nor is it a place where racist, sexist, or ethnic “humor” is tolerated as it was 50 years ago.  He can’t say the N-word outside of a tight circle of like-minded companions. He can’t crack jokes about ethnic groups outside the confines of that same tribal group. He can’t complain about women in the work-force without risking censure.  He can’t feel comfortable with all that “political correctness” (read civility) requiring him to tolerate people he finds intolerable.  He can’t comprehend that arguing against the toleration of others is simply another manifestation of white privilege, white tribalism, white supremacy.

And, he can’t understand how the African American mother, the great-great-great granddaughter of an enslaved woman in northern Georgia, could be speaking of the promise of America, and the progress of this nation, when she mentioned the very thing that makes him uncomfortable – the fact of slavery, segregation, and discrimination in the United States of America.

“So look. So, don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great—that somehow we need to make it great again—because this right now is the greatest country on earth. And as my daughters prepare to set out into the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth.” [Atlantic]

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