As we arrive on the eve of America's 237th birthday, there hasn't been much for African-Americans to celebrate.
The Declaration of Independence clearly states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." During the course of our country's often turbulent history, this quote has applied to one group of people while others have struggled to survive within a white hegemonic structure laid forth by the founding fathers and their kinfolk.
African-Americans have strived to gain their rightful place at the table to receive a slice of the American economic pie we created through our arduous, inhumane labor, but we continually receive the middle finger in return. Last week, the Supreme Court participated in one of the most egregious forms of judicial activism in our country's history by striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the majority of the southern states, who wanted to secede from the Union prior to the Civil War are rewinding their clocks back and working feverishly to enact legislation to dilute the power of the African-American voting bloc.
By extracting the heartbeat from the Voting Rights Act, the conservative-led Supreme Court will allow the south to rise again for all the wrong reasons. Much to the chagrin of most African-Americans, we're returning to Paula Deen's vision of "Americana." This ruling was eerily reminiscent of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling where separate meant equal under the law. Unfortunately, this southern methodology of "separate but equal" continues to be as American as apple pie. African-Americans have been experiencing disenfranchisement since we arrived onto the shores of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
While the Declaration of Independence was being written, African-Americans weren't even considered as human beings, though the first man to die in the fight for independence was an African-American man named Crispus Attacks. On the cusp of the Civil War, we were regarded as three-fifths of a person as a way to increase southern aristocratic representation in the House of Representatives and their voting power. After the Civil War, strides were being made in the political sphere with numerous African-Americans being elected to statewide offices and national congressional and senatorial seats, but southern whites launched an execrable assault on African-Americans in the form of domestic terrorism and the institution of Jim Crow laws.
Forty acres and a mule seemed like a noble concept, but with no federal enforcement, it was doomed to fail. At the start of 1900, African-Americans were already impelled into a new form of slavery in the south with the convict leasing system. Growing frustrated with the south, many African-Americans embarked on the Great Migration, but found the same institutional and racial barriers awaiting them in the north, west and Midwest.
From 1619 to 1965, African-Americans had accumulated no semblance of political or economic power in a country they built through their blood, sweat and tears. So -- that is two hundred and forty-six years of being denied access to full equality. How we've been able to rise above these injustices is a testament to our perseverance, dedication and spirit. But the fact remains, we've only been able accrue generational wealth for 48 years. It is reprehensible and hypocritical for a country to promote democracy across the globe to deny it to their citizens.
Through the past few decades, the utter lack of African-American political representation and economic empowerment has become a historic scourge on this nation. Since 1870, only four African-Americans have served as governors, eight have served as senators and one is our current president. If you'll ask someone like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, he would say we've made great progress.
In every instance, when gains have been made by African-Americans, they were met with a violent form of resistance or governmental legislation to undo the progression. For example, Black farmers have been decimated through discriminatory legislation from 925,000 to 18,000 in the course of 72 years. The wealth gap between African-Americans and Whites continues to exponentially widen daily. Not to mention the disparities in prison sentences for African-Americans. African-Americans constitute 40 percent of the entire prison population.
It seems like every day we're fighting discrimination whether it's through predatory lending practices, stop and frisk policies, parent PLUS student loan denials, the War on Drugs program, voter suppression efforts, multiple school closings, among countless other issues. For almost 400 years, we've been told that we're "other" and not fully American.
I hope on the eve of this Independence Day holiday, all African-Americans can agree with the profound words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "All we say to America is, be true to what you said on paper."
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