Racism in America Still Present Today
Racism has come out of the shadows to rear its ugly head once again.
On the northern shores of Lake Ontario is a place called Pillar Point, New York. Standing on the shore you can look across to Sacket’s Harbor, which was a battleground on both land and water during the War of 1812, defending America against the British. Although there are many graveyards on Pillar Point, one, in particular, is filled with antiquated, wafer thin headstones. Etched in a grave marker is the following epitaph: “Reader behold as you pass by, as you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. Prepare for death and follow me.” Sylvia Beaman had died on 10/01/1828 and lived for 20 years and 26 days. She was married to Alba Beaman. The message I read that day is haunting, to say the least. There is a cold honesty in these chiseled letters and they hang on me like the harsh reality of life and death.
“Prepare for death and follow me,” is certainly not a pleasant thought, yet it is something many of us do dwell on. Of course, I can only relate my own feelings, but for me, I strive to live a good life and one in which people are treated as equals and respected. I surely do not want to hurt anyone either physically or emotionally. So it is a natural path I travel regarding the inclusion of all on the equal playing field of life. In accordance with that philosophy, I strongly believe that Civil Rights are just that…a right! While a proponent of free speech, I also wonder whether or not there should be some restrictions on hate speech or words that incite violence against certain people. In exploring the history of this country, I am reminded of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, where it states, in part, “All men are created equal.” However, eighty-four years later and in spite of those noble words in the Declaration of Independence, there were at least four million men, women, and children living under slavery.
RACISM AND BIAS
Now fast forward another one hundred and fifty-two years after 1860 and we find that whatever the reasons, there was a period of complacency by many that have allowed an extremist faction to rear the ugliness of their indifference and hatred towards African-Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, Mexicans, Immigrants in general, and just about anyone else who isn’t a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The distorted face of racism and bias has resurfaced since the election of President Obama and it continues to grow. With its resurgence, I too have become angrier and angrier at the ignorance and hatred that is still present within the United States of America in 2015…200 years after the War of 1812.
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK, AND THE JERRY RESCUE
I was born in the 1950s and spent most of my years in the Syracuse, New York area which was originally called Salt City due to all of the natural salt mines found along Onondaga Lake. Syracuse is also famous for the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and the Jerry Rescue. Some readers may not be aware of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Essentially law enforcement officials had the power to travel to northern states and apprehend former slaves who had sought freedom. If an official did not arrest a runaway slave, then they, in turn, could face monetary fines of $1,000.00. Additionally, any person found to have given food or shelter to a runaway slave could face imprisonment of 6 months and also a $1,000.00 fine. At the time, northern states were seeing as many as 1,500 former slaves a year escaping their southern owners and Syracuse became known as the “Great Central Depot” for the Underground Railroad.
THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT
Just one year after the Fugitive Slave Act Syracuse citizens were faced with a decision. Should the people stand with the law of the federal government or should they stand for the rights of a shackled man? Proudly, my hometown sided with the man known as William “Jerry” Henry. Hundreds stormed the jail with a battering ram and freed Mr. Henry from the marshal who was going to bring him back to the south. The event is now referred to as the “Jerry Rescue” and a statue has been erected in Syracuse’s Clinton Square commemorating this historic event. Prior to the jail break-in, Samuel Ward, an ex-slave told a crowd gathered in Clinton Square, "We have arrested him, confined him and chained him on purpose to inflict upon him the curses of slavery. They say he is a slave. What a term to apply to an American! How does this sound beneath the pole of liberty and the flag of freedom?”
MY EXPOSURE TO THE "OLD SOUTH"
“The pole of liberty and the flag of freedom” causes a cauldron of boiling emotions within me. I bore witness to the Civil Rights movement and experienced first-hand racism as a child. I watched in horror as police dogs were released to attack protestors under the guidance of Governor George Wallace in Alabama. I remember when farmers had their fields segregated with blacks picking on one side and whites picking on the other. As a child, I was horrified when a security guard in a Sears & Roebuck store in Georgia, grabbed me by my collar, raised me into the air and yelled, "Are you, stupid boy?" I was being reprimanded for drinking out of a “Coloreds Only” drinking fountain. In my young years, I had always thought the water was water. During this same visit, my great aunt who was most definitely the stereotypical white southern woman scolded me severely for talking to her “colored help.” You see, I had pulled a kitchen chair up to the sink to watch in amazement how this woman plucked a freshly killed chicken in preparation for dinner. My God, I had never witnessed anything like this. The words that were slung at me stung my boyish innocence like a lash across my soul. I didn’t understand it then and I certainly don’t understand it now. However, in a perverse way, those dark experiences have shown a light on my heart, mind, and way of thinking, knowing exactly how wrong, loathsome and disgusting racism was and is.
First President Obama wasn’t a citizen. Then he wasn’t a Christian, then his enemies tried to highlight his middle name and almost immediately the undercurrent of racism began to drown a nation in hatred. Our President has been disrespected during a State of the Union address. Some people have Mr. Obama drawn as a caricature of an animal. Judges, politicians, media pundits, and citizens have my president in doctored pictures wearing a turban, with a Hitler mustache and on it goes in a never ending attempt to diminish and demean the man and the office he holds. During the National Republican Convention, actor Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair which was meant to signify President Obama. It didn't take long after the convention for some to start lynching chairs from trees. Now we have been presented with the most disgusting and outrageous bumper sticker directed toward President Obama with the message, “2012 Don’t Re-nig!” Lo and behold the maker of this message claims it is not racist at all. Just as interesting is the fact this marketer of hate comes from Hinesville, Georgia the same place where my great-aunt tried to school me on the ways to treat “colored people” over fifty years ago.
COWARDS, CROSS BURNINGS, AND WHITE SHEETS
Although there may not be as many cross burnings or cowards hiding under white sheets as there once was, the hidden loathsomeness of racism and bias are still present and meant to repress a certain segment of society. We need to stop the backward slide we are on and again move forward in our thinking and acceptance of all people. Hail to the Chief!
Written By: Dennis L. Page