Some people have their fingers crossed, as they wait.
Those 23 and Me tests and Ancestry inquiries are all the rage. And you can almost sense that some people are hoping and praying their test results show some racial quotient that puts them in a traditionally oppressed class. That, too, has become all the rage.
That’s the problem with racial stuff. It’s all based on a somebody’s set of perceptions. Anyway …
I once heard about a college professor who did a week-long experiment in one of his classes, where he treated all the people with brown eyes differently than the people with blue or green eyes. He gave them lower grades than everyone else. He talked to them with contempt. He didn’t smile at them. He forced them to sit and study together in class. He gave no one with brown eyes credit for anything and he blamed them for everything.
By the end of the week, some of the brown-eyed students were fighting depression. They were all defensive and angry. They had bonded together and organized themselves in opposition to the teacher as well as the other students.
Here’s the problem: even after the experiment ended, they still couldn’t trust that this professor was dealing with them honestly. Did he secretly hate people with brown eyes? Did he do that experiment because he wanted to prove brown-eyed people were actually inferior? What was his base motivation? Why “brown” eyes? And if they got a failing grade (and had brown eyes) after the experiment ended, could they trust that his true prejudices weren’t the reason for the grade? The conspiracy theories developed and some of the brown-eyed people in that class didn’t trust the professor all the way to the end of the year.
The truth is no sane person has a prejudice against brown-eyed people. It’s just weird to even think that. The professor picked brown randomly. It was just an experiment. But if you’ve been a victim of that experiment, where you actually KNEW you were the target based on your eye color, you would feel what you feel, regardless of the facts. And what you feel would affect your existence.
In our country, we did that experiment on a grander and more horrific scale with slavery. So did almost every other country on earth. Slavery has been practiced on every continent of the globe. And, in fact, there are more people in slavery RIGHT NOW than there ever have been in history. But, you see, not all other countries have the guaranteed freedoms IN WRITING that we do. No other countries have been founded on the ideals of liberty and freedom. No other founding fathers made the bold, world-shaking assertions our founding fathers made: All men are created equal, etc, etc.
And so, American slavery has always been impossible to square with its founding. Even now, 156 years after it’s abolishment, we still talk about it as if it was still in effect.
Slavery is evil and horrible. Let’s get that out of the way.
But there are a few things to keep in mind about slavery in America: There were slaves in America beginning in the late 1600s. But they weren’t technically slaves in The United States. All the American colonies were essentially BRITISH colonies until 1776 (hence, the Declaration of Independence). The United States, as we know it, wasn’t formed and set up as a nation until 1789. And when it was formed and set up, the founders were ONE vote away from abolishing slavery right then and there. South Carolina held out and pushed the inevitable back for 74 more years.
Then, the United States fought the bloodiest war in world history (up until that point) to settle the question once and for all. And we thought we did.
Then, we passed the 13th and 14th amendments, hoping to settle the questions once and for all. And we thought we did. As an aside, we sometimes forget that black MEN got the right to vote in The United States 55 years before white WOMEN did…we’re a work in progress, friends.
Then, there were Civil Rights leaders and there was Civil Rights legislation. And, at every stage, we keep thinking we’ve settled the question once and for all. But have we?
Now, people are, once again, talking about reparations to the descendants of slaves. This is actually nothing new. People have been talking about this since the abolition of slavery itself; hence, the infamous 40-acres-and-a-mule field order. But none of the talk has really ever come to much of anything. That’s when you, as a “brown-eyed” person continue to not trust the professor.
Keep in mind that slavery reparations are always talked about when times are very good. Nobody seems to bring any of it up when the economy is tanking. Anyway …
Personally, I’ve always understood the argument for reparations. If you can prove you are a direct descendant of a slave, then maybe you should receive something from not only the U.S Government, but also from all the countries who bought cotton and corn from the plantations during those years. Were those countries not complicit in the business of slavery? How about the businesses who sold seeds or farming equipment to the plantations? Were they not part of the problem? And of course the lending institutions that loaned money for the purchase of slaves, should be a part of the discussion as well. Ship builders and shipping companies who built slave ships should be addressed for sure.
If we’re going to petition for something like this, we have to make sure everyone with dirty hands gets clean. Not just the U.S government. It was only officially involved for 74 years. And can we even do that, now?
Is it even possible to “repair” (which is what reparations means) the damages of slavery with reparation payments? Practically everyone on earth was involved, in one way or another, in the system. The bloodlines are so blurred by now, determining who would get what would probably be a logistical nightmare that would require an entirely different branch of government to oversee it. And would this widen the wound between the races instead of healing it?
I guess I just see, generations from now, the “Department of Reparations” being under investigation by some Attorney General (possibly a half black/half Pakistani woman), for abuses by the director (possibly an Asian Transgender), using the slush fund for trips to Aruba and expensive dinners out. And no one will even remember why the program exists in the first place. It will simply be another agency people can petition to get government checks that aren’t enough to cover what they actually need; an at-one-time-noble-attempt to assuage our guilt about that time we separated people who had brown eyes.
There are other people groups with legitimate claims of reparations, based on injustices done to their ancestors. Do railroad companies owe Chinese descendants back pay for their ancestors building the transcontinental railroad for pennies on the dollar of what white workers were earning? Do they owe me some cash for my Irish ancestors working off their indentured servitude status down in the “cut”? It’s certainly complicated.
But maybe the best, most healing thing we can do is move forward, understanding that skin color (like eye color) is the most random way on earth to exclude or include ourselves. Maybe, if we acknowledge our past mistakes but understand that we, now, are a mix of all of it, rather than simply “victim” and “perpetrator”, we can move forward better and more equal.
And maybe we can finally accept the fact that blue-eyed and brown-eyed people are the same…until they get separated. Maybe that experiment showed that the blue-eyed and brown-eyed people, alike, were simply being controlled by ONE guy (and idea) to whom THEY all gave their power.
Maybe they should’ve all simply said in unison, “That’s enough. We’re not participating in this nonsense anymore.”
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