By Justin Cotton
Slavery in American’s Eurocentric-biased and focused history has a very simple past. It started in 1619 with the arrival of enslaved Africans to the British colony of Virginia in 1619 and ended after the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation (see Figure 1).
Slavery in what became the United States probably began with the arrival of “20 and odd” enslaved Africans to the British colony of Virginia, in 1619. It officially ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865Nat Geo.
Post-slavery America, underwent another hundred years of segregation which was terminated with the Civil Rights Movement and Act of 1964. Many (white) Americans would conclude that this is the tombstone of slavery and equality for all people as stated under the Preamble had been achieved (see Figure 2).
However, slavery and its legacy has a much more intricate and complex history than depicted in these graphs which represent the mental timeline of many Americans. Since its “official ending” in 1865, it has undergone many mutations in order to adapt to the changing times (NYU). Immediately after its end, there were the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and sharecropping in addition to the previously mentioned periods (NYU). However, slavery did not end with segregation in 1965, it adapted to become mass incarceration and it is still perpetrated today (see Figure 3).
“America’s history” as instructed today is a throne of lies used to nullify the actions of white Americans through the erasure of history and telling of half-truths which in turn allows the continued perpetuation of slavery.
History by definition should be the recollection of events as they transpired (DuBois, 714). However, this notion could not be further from the truth. For millennia, history has been a fabrication of an “ideal truth”. A truth agreed upon by the survivors of that era whether that be through war or other means. As such, many histories have been lost and distorted, many intentionally due to the whitewashing of history (DuBois, 722) (see Figure 4 & 5).This alteration of history can be blatantly obvious for all indigenous people that white colonizers interacted with, ranging from the Natives in the Americas to African civilizations.
Likewise, this leads into the notion that “history is lies agreed upon” (DuBois, 714). American history in its current state downplays or completely disregards major events in non-white American history. By utilizing language and imagery that portrays these events in a positive light, it nullifies and erases the true history that happened (DuBois, 715). By essentially exterminating these people, it has allowed the white half-truth to be told with no context as to what truly happened. By exempting the rest of the history, “the story makes pleasant reading for Americans” (DuBois, 714). This creates a narrative that does not vilify white America and doesn’t allow current readers to learn about the atrocities inside of American history (see Figure 5). This history that is portrayed in the mainstream culture and media is not truly American history, it is white America’s history.
Subsequentially, white America’s effort to distort the narrative of Black Americans and reaffirm stereotypes has led to the creation of false whitewashed narratives. A prominent example of this is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln has been romanticized into this legendary figure of Black history and progressive white thinking in the 19th century. However, upon deeper analysis of the mystique behind his figure, his true colors are portrayed. In Abraham Lincoln’s Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes, Lincoln addresses a cohort of educated black men about relocation of Black people to Liberia. In this address he demonstrates that he was not an ally of African-Americans and used them as a political tool in order to gain Northern support in his presidential election bid. Lincoln states that Blacks can not coexist with whites in America and that they have no place here. He reinforces his viewpoint due to his belief that they will never reach equality with the white man and are not intellectual equals with the white man.
Furthermore, the amalgamation of these half-truths and historical ablations of black accomplishments serves as a vehicle to perpetuate the narrative that Black people are unintelligent and second-class citizens that experience minimal trauma and setbacks. Societal perception that Black people are on equal footing socially and economically as their white counterparts is wholly inaccurate. How white American history is able to downplay four hundred years of slavery, one hundred years of legal inequality, and the ongoing battle for social equality is truly astounding. This downplaying and mitigation of history however allows the continued persecution of Black people in the modern day.
Additionally, mass incarceration is the modern continuation of slavery in America. (Although slavery still persists in other regions of the world which also serve to profit white Americans.) This iteration of slavery is legal under the 13th amendment, which intentionally placed a loophole to allow slavery as punishment for a crime (Supermax). Mass incarceration draws direct parallel to the classic chattel slavery. Its oppressive nature is grounded on the basis of white supremacy as the prison complex and policing arose from slavery and slave catchers. By regulating Black Americans to a high-surveillance police state in impoverished and economically stunted communities, a pipeline to prison was created. Its role is two-fold. 1) To replenish and reconstitute a cheap/free labor workforce. 2) To ensure the continued oppression and regulating of Black Americans as inferior second-class citizens within America’s hierarchy. In conjunction with the “War on Drugs,” the Black community has continued to be ravaged by systemic oppression. However, this narrative of an anti-Black American agenda has been largely ignored and silenced in the mainstream media thus ensuring the continuation of the system.
Conclusively, history as it is told today is a fable that perpetuates the white supremacist ideals and the “ghost” of slavery still haunts African-Americans to this day. While progress has been made from the conclusion of chattel slavery, it has reemerged through history in various forms. Thus the effects of slavery are still felt in today’s society. While mass incarceration is the sociopolitical issue that slavery currently manifested into, without a change in the status quo white American society, black people will remain in literal and figurative chains.
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“Abraham Lincoln.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Feb. 2020, es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln.
Alexander, Patrick Elliot. From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel. Temple University Press, 2018.
Lincoln on Race & Slavery. Princeton Univ. Press, 2011.
Moore, Antonio. “12 Years a Slave and the Distorted Ending.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/12-years-a-slave_b_4888347.
National Geographic Society. “A History of Slavery in the United States.” National Geographic Society, 16 Jan. 2020, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/interactive/slavery-united-states/.
Pinto, Nick. “Why Can’t We End Mass Incarceration?” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/why-cant-we-end-mass-incarceration-166420/.
“The Propaganda of History.” Black Reconstruction in America: an Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, by William Edward Burghardt DuBois et al., Oxford Univ. Press, 2007.
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