by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University @Givers1023
For much of white America, the phrase Black Lives Matter elicits thoughts of confusion, anger and resentment. Confusion, anger and resentment over the perception that the phrase, Black Lives Matter, somehow suggests that Black Lives Matter more than All Other Lives – meaning White Lives. All Lives Matter, so goes the rebuttal of some white folks, and Black Lives do not Matter any more or less than the lives of any other American citizen. Another demand for special treatment. Another demand that black folks get their own house in order rather than drawing attention to police brutality directed against unarmed black men, much of which, after we “place things in context,” somehow, after “careful review,” is almost always “justified.”
Among the many problems with this line of reasoning, there is one that stands out:
White America, you’re right . . . Black Lives have always Mattered. For almost four centuries, Black Lives have Mattered a great, great deal to white Americans. We would be a very different country without them. But just not in the way you would like to acknowledge.
Black Lives Mattered so much to the British that colonized North America that they brought their first black slaves to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, just a dozen years after they arrived. By 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, there were approximately 4 million African slaves in the United States. Black Lives Mattered when white America needed black men to do the brute physical work one would associate with animals and later machines. Black Lives Mattered so much to Southern planters that, after tobacco reached its peak as a cash crop in the Upper South, about a million slaves were sold to the owners of cotton plantations in the Deep South, and forced to migrate to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where the hell that awaited them was even more unimaginable than it had been in the tobacco producing states. The Lives of Black Women Mattered even more than black men. Black women gave birth to even more slaves, whether they wanted to or not, and functioned as sexual slaves to white men who, for reasons that only Sigmund Freud might understand, degraded their existence and yet had no problem raping and pillaging them as they pleased. A young male black slave was valued for the physical labor he could provide and nothing more. A young female black slave, especially a pretty one, was doomed to an existence that no civilized person would want to think about. And so we didn’t.
After the Civil War, Black Lives Mattered so much that the South, after the federal government reached an agreement with the Southern states to abandon Reconstruction and return the region to white rule, reinstituted a system of Neo-Slavery called Jim Crow. So valuable was the labor of black men and women that Southern planters, industrialists, politicians, law enforcement and para-military terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan conspired to create a system of peonage and convict labor to dredge the swamps, pick the cotton, split the sugar cane, take care of the children, cook and clean for white folks, make the turpentine, crack the rocks, build the roads to take them to the glorious buildings that neo-slave labor largely built that rose up by the early 20th century and do anything else respectable white people believed was beneath them – and at the lowest possible cost. This system, in which blacks had no say, did not fall apart until the 1960s.