The Racism Red Herring

In the wake of the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States and the historic election of Kamala Harris as the first Black, South Asian, female Vice President, the Muses graced me with the idea for this article. My greatest hope for the next few years, months, weeks, and days, is that America can begin to walk the road of true healing and reconciliation between its people. Hopefully, this short missive can be a spark for creating that outcome.

So let’s dive into my brain, shall we? I think racism is a red herring. Merriam-Webster defines a red herring as “something that distracts attention from the real issue”. I think racism is a distraction from the real enemy of the people in this country, which is greed. A desire of some to gain wealth by any means necessary, including the disenfranchisement or exploitation of others.

Now stay with me here. I am not saying that having ambition or wanting to have nice things is wrong or anything like that. I wouldn’t be out here trying to hustle and sell my books if I thought that. America as a whole offers access to amazing entrepreneurial and financial advancement opportunities not possible in many other countries. BUT we can’t ignore the fact that this country was built upon slave labor, displacement of indigenous peoples and the mistreatment of other ethnic groups.

Now to my black people going “YEAH!!” and my white people going “Not all white people are evil!” I want to toss in some unbiased truth. Greed was not a flaw solely attributed to the European’s who conquered America. Let us not forget that tribal warfare and forms of slavery existed among both the Native American’s and in countries throughout Africa. I say this so we don’t resort to vilifying each other and remember that greed can exist in the hearts of ALL men. With these eyes I’d like to look at the history of racism in America, which is intertwined with the history of slavery.

Let’s start way back in the 1600s. One of my all-time favorite movies is Ever After, a Cinderella retelling starring Drew Barrymore. Toward the beginning of the movie she goes to save a servant from being ‘shipped to the Americas’. I never paid this line much attention until recently. During the establishment of the colonies in this country, European countries would send their poor or criminals over to work as indentured servants. Many of these people labored alongside Africans and were as low on the social stratum and had just as few rights. We were all the dirt beneath the rich planter elite’s boots. And the institution of slavery for life was not a guaranteed state for Africans at first. Some worked under the indentured system, gaining their freedom after a certain number of years, or were allowed to petition for their freedom.

The exact cause of the shift toward a more segregated view of black and white people is debatable, but some historians point to an event that shook the rich planter elite class to their core. Bacon’s Rebellion. In 1676 against the government of Virginia’s wishes, Nathaniel Bacon promised indentured Africans and Europeans, and enslaved Africans their freedom if they joined his militia. The purpose of the militia was to fight neighboring Native American tribes in retaliation for their raids against the settlement.

The rebellion showed the rich ruling class that poor black and whites could be united for a cause, which made them scared that one day the cause would be to fight them. So they started making some changes to their society. Creating the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705, giving white people more rights, and taking away rights from blacks. They started to plant this idea of a distinction between white and black people to protect their pockets and distract the lower class from the truth that when they come together, they are a powerful force that can evoke change. They wanted the poor whites to have a sense of superiority over the blacks (although of course at the end of the day they still were in pretty crappy circumstances) and ensure that they wouldn’t join forces with the blacks in the future.

If I can have a moment of honesty here, I have to admit this was pretty genius. I admit whole heartedly I hate feeling less than or like I’m the butt of someone’s jokes. Pride is a powerful thing and can make us do some shady stuff to make ourselves feel better. Be honest, have you ever shysted someone else to make yourself feel better? As harsh as it was, I can understand the rationalization of those poor white people accepting that small step-up, even if I don’t agree with it.

And let us not forget, this system of division through difference was even fed to and adopted by black people. Those with lighter skin, which denotes a connection with white ancestry, were made to feel like they elevated above and treated better than their darker skinned brethren.

Eventually, throughout history these distractions of racism and colorism became part of people’s identities. When those identities were threatened and emotions such as anger and fear ran high, it resulted in unimaginable acts of violence and hate. Needless to say, these distractions still exist today.

I am calling racism and colorism distractions, because if we go back to their roots, we are reminded that they were created by the rich planter class to keep the lower rungs of society squabbling with each other so they didn’t threaten their pockets or realize that they were ALL being bent over a barrel. In the words of Mr. Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” and they didn’t want the poor to stand up against them.

While ‘black’ and ‘white’ people hate each other, we are like crabs in a barrel holding each other down instead of linking together to create a chain to lift ourselves up. As long as we are focusing on our differences, we miss our similarities and don’t come together to create innovative changes that can benefit us all. We are stuck, scared to death about not having enough for ourselves and our families, and forget there is actually more than enough for everyone.

So bringing this full circle back to current tension in America and our future after this election, I urge us to peel the scales of racism from our eyes and realize that we are not each other’s enemies. We all love, hurt, and want the best for our families. We all want to be recognized for who we are. We all want to live our best lives without hinderance. And that together we can make that happen. TOGETHER we can be great.

Not saying it will be easy. It will take work on both sides. Continual mess ups and giving of forgiveness. But with that, I do think it is possible.

All right, that’s all I have for this one. Until next time, I wish you guys much love and peace!

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