Slavery: Get over it?

That is not a great title.  I know.

Any of you listen to WPFW?  Do you listen to the talk shows?  Interesting stuff.  Post racial, eh.
Ambrose Lane, Sr. died recently — what a loss — and his show “We Ourselves” was a mainstay of WPFW’s morning lineup on Monday and Fridays for — I don’t know how long.  Decades?  Very informative.

By the way, have I mentioned that I hate call-in shows?  Well, not the shows themselves, but the call-in portions.  On TV I hate commercials.  I realize that they have to make money somehow and ad revenue is the model, but I hate the little manipulations and over the top content designed to shock you into paying attention and attempting to appeal to your base instincts to condition you to buy things you don’t need and that are probably bad for you.  I don’t use the word hate often but it applies to commercials.

Call-in shows, I can’t stand.  I don’t care what Joe in Milpitas thinks.  Not in the midst of an otherwise constructive radio program.  I just don’t like them.  Although…

It can be entertaining in a twisted way.

I used to listen to the conservative right wing, ridiculous radio shows.  Not because I agreed with them.  Just because.  Right wing radio on one hand, left wing radio on the other.  For a while.  Mainly angry white men with an axe to grind and displacing their shortcomings on to minorities, immigrants, gays, the poor, the rich, the educated, the government, etc.  That stuff will make you batty.  Plus there a lot of 10 minute long commercial breaks.  Ugh.  Commercials.

Now I listen to mostly liberal, lefty talk shows if I’m going to listen to radio.  A few conservative podcasts, too.  But I listen to WPFW now and just like when I used to listen to WEAA before I moved to NoVA, it definitely qualifies as WABM — Angry Black Man Radio.  Not all of it.  But a fair amount of it.  Angry black men with a chip on their shoulder displacing their frustrations on to white people, rich people, the government, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong.  WPFW and WEAA are great resources and I’m glad they’re out there doing their thing.  The discussions, even the ones I don’t care for, are worth having.  Heck.  I’ve got dials.  I can change them if I want.

But I swear it’s like digging up a time capsule.

I had a conversation recently about the state of education and African Americans.  The statistics are sad.  Pitiful.  Demoralizing.  Kids aren’t being educated.  Whole classes of children are being left behind and yet somehow advancing to the next grade.  A lot — too many — dropping out of school.  A few graduating.  Black men make up only 5% of college students.

Black Male Student Achievement: A Devastating Report

Ugh.  That’s depressing.  Prince George’s County’s statistics aren’t great.  Not at all.  And yet it’s a largely middle class county.  Black people running things.  It’s not making a difference for whatever reasons.


When I listen to some of the talk shows on WPFW I hear a lot of anger and frustration.  When callers call in it’s often about “the white man”.  Or the Zionists.  Or racism.  It’s all white people’s fault, apparently.  Like, the caller calls in and starts out calm.  If they start off with “Asalam-O-Alikum” or “Hotep” you can pretty much be sure that by the end of their comment they’ll be doing some soapbox yelling about the Black Man and the White Man and The System.

Today I heard a show about slavery.  It was part two.  On the ongoing effects of slavery.  A lot of interesting historical facts and insight about the end — the messy non-idealized end — of slavery.  The brutality of it.  Bad white people.  Chattel slavery, the Middle Passage, rape, etc.  Reparations.  They used the term PTSD, Post Traumatic Slave Disorder.

Hm.  For some reason it wasn’t ringing with me.  I mean, the facts were right on.  The indignation — yeh, I get that.  I feel that.  When I was a kid in middle school, our family watched the Roots mini-series together.  I felt a rage inside.  The next day in school I was so mad at white people.  And I was practically the only black kid in the school.  The white kids would use epithets around me and say things like, “Gary doesn’t mind if I say ‘nigger’ as long as I’m not talking about him.”

When I learned about Rosewood, the Omaha Race Riots, the Tulsa Race Riots, the East St. Louis Riot, the Atlanta Race Riot, the Chicago Race Riot, the Tuskegee Experiment.  And so on: Red Summer of 1919.

Heard my relatives’ stories.

Rage.  Internalized.

But listening to this show today I didn’t feel it.

Jack Johnson, the Prince Georges County’s Executive, was arrested the other day for corruption.  They got that dude on tape.  Stopped his wife at the door of their home with $75,000 in her bra.  A few people, a very few, are trying to defend him.  You know.  “How come the black man gets taken down like this when the White Man is allowed to skate?”

Boo.  Wrong.  Jack Johnson was caught on tape telling his wife — she’s on the county council — to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and to get $75,000 in cash out of an underwear drawer and walk out of the house.

Corrupt.  Period.  There have been plenty of politicians on the national level recently who’ve been busted doing one thing or another.  Taxes, bribes, corruption, prostitutes, escorts.  It’s just that a lot of them get off easy or serve their punishment and are accepted back into the public square.  But hey.  Former Mayer Marion Barry — he of the videotaped smoking crack with a prostitute fame — was re-elected after all that went down.


Black people (not all, of course) often fall back by default to blaming racism and white people as the source of the black community’s problems.  Or slavery.  The “legacy of slavery”, I mean.

Here’s what worries me.  Black communities are dwindling.  Historical black communities are dying.  Black kids are falling behind in education.  Poverty, crime, drugs, incarceration.  Serious issues.  At the rate we’re going, black people are going to be complaining about all the reasons — historical and otherwise — why it’s someone else’s fault.  Meanwhile, Hispanic immigrants, Middle Eastern immigrants, South Asian immigrants, African immigrants are starting to get traction in American society and the economy.

What’s going to happen then?  America still thinks of race as a black/white issue.  I understand why.  So do I most of the time.  Then I look around and notice that the country is changing.  Seriously.  Stop at the Starbucks in Falls Church.  Go hang out at the restaurants, shops and movies in Kingstowne near Springfield.  Go take a walk around the lake at the Rio in Rockville.  You may not hear English spoken at all as you mill about with families from all over the world now living in the suburbs.

And the test scores and graduation rates are higher than African Americans.  The Hispanic population, which is growing rapidly, is already starting to surpass African Americans in educational and economic statistics.

That’s deep.

And yet I just listened to part two of a show meant to remind us about the tragedy and horror of slavery and how bad it was.  (The next show is about reparations.)

Part of me thinks, so what?

We know — I know — how brutal slavery was.   Is.  But I’m talking about the America’s 400 years of chattel slavery.  I know that people continued to be exploited in egregious ways after the Emancipation Proclamation.  I know my ancestors were slaves.  Were raped.  Were beaten.  Weren’t allowed to learn how to read on pain of death.  Were pitted against one another.  Were tortured, mutilated.  You can find museum exhibits of implements meant to control slaves.  Iron masks and devices meant to pinch, cut or burn the tongue.  Lynchings, castration.  Families separated.  Rape encouraged.  People bred like animals.  Declared 3/5th of a human being.

I do NOT forget about the Jim Crow era.  I know that none of it was that long ago.  Yes, there are people alive today whose parents were slaves.  No joke.

Ethnic Notions
And everyone should watch “Ethnic Notions“.  It should be required viewing.

Please don’t read the comments, though.  Frakkin’ internet comments are the digital equivalent of call-ins.

No one should forget.  The same as WWII and the Holocaust.  The same as the genocide of the indigenous people of North America.  Remember.  And teach each other so that we learn the lessons of the atrocities.

But slavery that waned out a little over a hundred years ago isn’t making your kid play video games instead of doing his homework.  Slavery isn’t stopping your kids from learning how to read at their grade level.  Slavery isn’t making your kids watch 28+ hours of TV per week.  There’s no massa crackin’ a whip at their backs if they turn away from the TV to crack a textbook.

The Solution

Yeh, right.  Like I know.  I could spout some platitudes and all that but … you know.  I do know that if you’re waiting for some nebulous entity called “they” or “white people” to make things better you might as well just pack it in now.  If you’re counting on reparations, especially in this economy, to make things better you’re screwed.  If you aren’t educated in a global economy where a job can be shipped overseas at a lower cost … man.

I mean, yeh.  You’re right.  The playing field is not level.  It’s not fair.  But it never has been.  It never will be.

Some people naturally are thin or muscular or have high metabolisms.  Some people tend to be heavy and have biological predispositions for  hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.  If that’s you (or me) that means that you have to work harder to keep pace.  Sorry.  That’s just the way it is.  It’s your life and you do what you have to do.  Or you die tragically young with a McDonald’s milkshake in your hand complaining about those skinny bitches.

“Those … skinny bitches … never had … to … count caloriaaaiirrrgggghhh!!”


Add Yours
  1. Moon

    Lol @ the ending. I feel you on most levels. I do blame racism, rightly so, for a lot of inequities though. I think that Black people who are more amenable and non intimidating tend to not understand why more vocal blacks cry racism a lot.

    • garyarthuryoung

      I think it’s accurate to blame racism for a lot of inequities. Undeniably so. But I feel strongly that racism isn’t currently the problem. The boot on black people’s necks is the same boot on everyone’s neck.

      I mean, if everyone stopped being racist tomorrow we’d still have the same problems. We’re all being squeezed economically. Our society in general seems to be designed to maintain the status quo. The majority of us are meant to stay on the treadmill or hamster wheel. That seems to be the model. Stability. Running on the backs of the working class and an established underclass.

      I just looked up antonyms for amenable: defiant, noncompliant, stubborn.

      Anyone who’s defiant, noncompliant, stubborn and intimidating is going to rub people the wrong way. At first. Those are qualities of strong willed people, who are often effective. Often effective like a wrecking ball whenever an obstacle or challenge(r) gets in their way.

      You will get the stink eye before too long. It may be a prejudiced stink eye sometimes. But it’s inevitable, regardless of racial dynamics.

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