See It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Systems do what systems are designed to do. For instance, this seawall is a simple system designed to protect one element (land) from the other (water). Left unchecked they come together and change occurs. This wall is a system built to prevent significant changes to the coastline.

Our system, relative to black and white Americans, as stated in the colonial records and enacted through legislation, was designed to keep the two groups from uniting. Division by design.

The law [the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705] was devised to establish a greater level of control over the rising African slave population of Virginia. It also served to socially segregate white colonists from black slaves making them disparate groups hindering their ability to unite. A unity of the commoners was a perceived fear of the Virginia aristocracy which had to be addressed, and who wished to prevent a repeat of events such asBacon’s Rebellion, occurring 29 years prior.” [Wikipedia, An act concerning Servants & Slaves]

A unity of commoners is to be feared. To that end, African Americans were determined through legislation to be less-than-human, three-fifths to be exact. No other group in our history have been institutionalized, bills debated and passed into colonial law, as sub-human.  When we see signs that read “Black Lives Matter” it speaks to a systemic definition, a system that to this day is doing what it was designed to do. African Americans simply want their two-fifths recognized and returned.

To match the denigration of black Americans, poor (non-land-owning) whites were given a promotion, new rights and status. “Many of the European-descended poor whites began to identify themselves, if not directly with the rich whites, certainly with being white. And here you get the emergence of this idea of a white race as a way to distinguish themselves from those dark-skinned people who they associate with perpetual slavery.” [Facing History & Ourselves]

The system only works if pushing the black head down is the mechanism that elevates the white head. The police are merely servants of the system. To redefine the police, through funding changes or otherwise, will not address the root of the pattern. The system will reinvent itself in another form because that is what systems do.

America has a pronoun problem. As I write this I am sitting in my smoke-filled house in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Downtown is burning in reaction to Jacob Blake’s shooting. A quick scroll through the Kenosha Facebook page and I read again and again this question, “What do they want?” THEY. Not a hint of WE to be found. The system is working perfectly to prevent the unity of commoners.

Yesterday, I wrote to my pal David that nothing has changed. I was in Los Angeles in 1991 during the Rodney King riots. I watched Los Angeles burn. Today I am watching the destruction of downtown Kenosha. To understand the violence of the response you need look no further than the violence present in the two videos. In a routine traffic stop, Rodney King was pulled from his car and beaten nearly to death. Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot seven times in the back. In a situation where no club was necessary, a black man was brutally beaten. In a situation where no gun was necessary, a black man was shot seven time in the back. Is the burning of the city more or less repugnant and out-of-proportion than the violence that incited the flames?

My point: The violence is already present. It is the seawall erected through law to prevent the two groups, black and white, from coming together. Slavery was violent. Jim Crow was violent. This latest iteration is, not surprisingly, violent. It’s how the system maintains itself. The form changes but they system remains constant. The violence prevents the unity of commoners.

Finally, consider this: “With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.” [Wade Davis, The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone Magazine, 8.6.2020]

So, if you are one of the legion asking this question, “How can this be happening?” I suggest you ponder this: how could it not be happening. It’s by design.

If you are one of the many wondering what can be done, begin by paying attention to how YOU are participating in the design. And then, perhaps, all us can begin the difficult search to find a path to WE.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the SEAWALL

 

 

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