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  • Benjamin Harvey

The Path to America’s Present Part One



A Short Prelude


To every tree, every flower, every weed or plant- there is a root. These roots are either buried deep into the ground or can be pulled out like a pebble from sand. But here, in America- the roots of our fruitful problems are as deep as the Grand Canyon and as widespread as the vines of Eden.

At the moment, I am reading The People’s History of America by Howard Zinn. As I read, I begin to pull the plant further out of the ground, seeing the roots more and more each time I flip the page. Although I read of the past, I see how it is that these roots developed to nourish the problems that we see in America today. Therefore, what I wish to do within this series of essays is take from the overarching existencies that Zinn reveals throughout the book, whilst doing my own research, and apply it to how it influences the very issues we see, or at least the hypocrisy that can be seen if one were to really look inbetween the lines.

The Path to America’s Present

Part One: From Savages to Criminals


It is common knowledge, or at least it should be, that neither blacks or whites were the first to live on this continent, as it was rather the people of Asia that came here, crossing the ice-bridge that we all have come to adore our knowledge of. Many thousands of years after their arrival, that is when the man we know and worship with his own holiday, Christopher Columbus, landed on one of the Carribean islands. I need not mention much about what happened to the Indians after Columbus’s arrival and of the Conquistadors assigned to the Native American Genocide, for all anyone has to do is look around and think of what might have been. What might have been if our ancestors weren’t as violent, if they worked towards peace instead of massacre. And for those who believe that these atrocities had to happen, for the betterment of human progress, I will take a note out of Zinn’s book to help explain:

The Native Americans were a peaceful and generous people, more than likely to help than to destroy those who came from the Old World. The arrivals of Spaniards and Englishmen alike saw the Native Americans greeting them with gifts and presents, from the shores of Hispaniola to the shores of Virginia. This sort of attitude, and the result of its abuse, can best be illustrated in one quote that Zinn includes in the book, taken from Wahunsenacawh, leader of the Powhatan, statement to John Smith and the rest of the Virignian colonists.


‘“I have seen two generations of my people die… Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food?... We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, and laugh and be merry with the English…’”(Zinn, 13)

But then comes the justification of these acts, the reasoning and belief used by most of the European countries who laid stake in the New World. The leader of this form of thought, the same kind that would cause the Europeans to justify their imperialistic ventures into Africa, was Juan Gines de Sepulveda. He states in one of his documents:


You can well understand, Leopold, if you know the customs and manners of different peoples, that the Spanish have a perfect right to rule these barbarians of the New World and the adjacent islands, who in prudence, skill, virtues, and humanity are as inferior to the Spanish as children to adults, or women to men, for there exists between the two as great a difference as between savage and cruel races and the most merciful, between the most intemperate and the moderate and temperate and, I might even say, between apes and men.”

It was believed that because they were more technologically advanced, worshippers of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and followed a more autocratic government that this gave them all the more reason to lay waste to the Native American’s and use them for inhumane labor. Sepulveda and others like him even saw this as them doing the Native Americans a favor.

Consequently, the Native Americans proved to be obstinate to this treatment and were too familiar with the land, thus making escape fairly easy. A great many also passed due to extreme exhaustion and their own physical susceptibility to European diseases. As a result, this then made the systems that were set into place like the Enconmienda turn out to be a failure.


From this, the Europeans' only solution to their labor problem, instead of just doing the work themselves, was to strip human beings from their families and force them to work on a completely different continent against their will.


As one should know, the genesis of the United States race problem originates from a singular day in August 1619 on the shores of Virginia. The sky was blue and the great sun bared down on the backs of the Jamestown colonists as they stood and watched twenty slaves walk off the ship in chains to go work on a tobacco farm, soon to become a plantation. While the British never enslaved the Native Americans, they used the same reasoning that the Spaniards did nearly a hundred years before for their enslavement of Africans. Michael Renwick Sergant, a merchant and prime figure in the British Pro-Slavery Lobby, used similar language to that of Sepulveda with the Native Americans.


“‘We ought to consider whether the negroes in a well regulated plantation, under the protection of a kind master, do not enjoy as great, nay, even greater advantages than when under their own despotic governments'”

While the Pro-Slavery Lobby was established two hundreds years after the arrival of slaves in America and fourty years after the colonies broke free from Britain, in the midst of the abolition debate within the county- it still shows that this sort of belief, passed down from generations, had a factor in the use of African slavery two centuries prior. Along with that, this was also an argument that would be used by the white plantation of America’s South, for they felt that by making these Africans, and the offspring thereof, their “property”- they were saving them from their own “savage” cultures back in their homeland. Nonetheless, they still regarded them as such and justified their abuse from that, seeing that they were more so a savage animal that could be used for labor than a human being.


But the British, along with other countries, used the Bible as another method for their reasoning. In particular, from King James, they used Ephesians 6:5-7, Titus 2:9, Genesis 9:18-27, and more. Although Genesis 9 goes into great detail of how Noah cursed his son Ham and his offspring since Ham had shamed Noah for his nakedness, something that the serpent had done to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. From this, the Europeans decided that this curse was the color of their skin, and therefore the Africans were the descendants of Ham, the cursed children. Little did the Europeans know, or dare think, that Noah was himself black, for his story did take place in Central Africa, and he was a descendant of the first man on Earth- Adam.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that the British, being Christian, believed that because most Africans were of the Islamic belief, this gave them all the more reason to enslave the Africans and make them their subjects.


From then forward, after all the justifications for the mass killings of Native Americans, the mass enslavement of Africans, there is one word that was used the most in both cases as a reason for these heinous acts, one adjective used to describe these two populations. Savagery.


Savagery, or referring to someone as savage, is oftentimes connected to the words “uncivilized”, “beneath”, or “inhumane”. But words have lineage too, for there is a family tree to the vocabulary that a person may use against another as time goes on. If we saw slaves as being a part of a “savage” group and being “uncivilized”- then what does a savage become after he, or she, is given citizenship? They become criminals.


From 1619 to 1865, a majority of the black population in America was enslaved until they were eventually freed as a result of abolitionists in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. Although this did not stop many from seeing them as inferior to the white race. While blacks could no longer, by law, be enslaved, this did not end any such creations of a system of laws that would separate blacks from whites. Everywhere that the black man looked since the day the Jim Crow Laws were set in stone, all a black person had to do in the South was see the words “Colored…” and know that they were not wanted, that they were not seen as equal or even as humans. They were seen as criminals.


And even if they did not break any of these laws, and merely were walking in the same neighborhood, doing their jobs, or even playing with their children- they still were seen as outlaws. Why? Because the Jim Crow Laws did not just segregate blacks, but it rendered them, to an extent, as illegal. Roughly half of the land, the land that was considered to befor the whites, whether by law or otherwise, deemed them as such.

Not to mention, black people, in and of themselves, were seen as a crime, for in the past they were not freed citizens, they were slaves to the white man. This could be seen in 1850 when the U.S. Congress strengthened the Fugitive Slave Laws, wherein if a black man was seen in any of the Freed States- they were considered to be an illegal runaway. Although after 1865, now they were all freed, but in the eyes of the South they were still seen as illegal runaways. Even today, a great many people of the Southern population refuse to forget the Confederacy because it signifies what should have been- a state wherein they still could keep their “property”. Property that was considered to have been stolen, and therefore rendered those of the black race who walked in the South, and North, as being illegal accessories to the crime of theft. But because Constitutional law rendered black people as citizens, they could not be referred to as illegal and could only be seen as such.


And for nearly a hundred years it was this way, as the white man still would call the black man a criminal for the mere act of living their lives, whether it was in defiance to his laws or not. Even though in 1963 the Jim Crow Laws were eradicated-this stigma did not cease to exist.

Today, we see the police still pulling over black people and reacting with inexcusable volatility, beating them down in the streets for crimes that if they were to be committed by whites would not be looked at as any concern by the light of day. They kill them and then look at the victim’s record and say, “See, he was a criminal.” Two white men even went as far as to kill a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, because they thought he was, “a burglary suspect.” This claim was taken from one fact and one fact only- Mr. Arbery was out on a run in their neighborhood. Therefore, they believed him to be a criminal.


President Trump has called the protestors advocating for black rights “terrorists” but white supremacists “very good people.” A white mass shooter wishing to start a race war is seen as “mentally ill” and escorted out of a black church with no physical damage done, but a black man by the name of George Floyd was choked to death on the street because he committed the crime of using a counterfeited bill (most likely without even any knowledge of it or whether he in fact had it).


Criminals are defined as those that break a law, who offended the government and its people, and criminals are killed when they are seen to threaten the property of others and are considered to be an imminent danger to society- whether they kill anybody or not. So why are blacks thought of to be criminals, to be a people that threaten their lives, when most whites look at them, most cops? Because that is what they are considered to be: a danger to society. A danger because they are a threat to the powers that be, the social pyramid that is still standing today, and to the very system that benefits the white descendents of this country. And for that reason and many others- they are thus seen as criminals.


RESOURCES


Sepulveda , Juan Gines De. “Democrates Alter, Or, On the Just Causes For War Against the Indians.” Sepulveda. Democrates Alter, Columbia University , 2008, www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/sepulved.htm.


Unknown, Author. “The Pro-Slavery Lobby.” Arguments and Justifications: The Abolition of Slavery Project, The Abolition Project , 2009, abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_112.html.


Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492-2001. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.



To read more articles from B. F. Harvey click here.

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