On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves held in the states that were engaged in a rebellion against the United States. President Lincoln realized at that point in the Civil War that the union had a long struggle ahead of it to preserve the union by defeating the Confederate States. Our country began with people in bondage and the proclamation sought to encourage further recruitment in the Union army to help insure victory by giving our men in uniform a moral purpose in the fight ahead.
A popular song during the Civil War was the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia War Howe. A line in the song rang out as follows: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea…….As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” Lincoln through his Emancipation Proclamation set men free.
The physical shackles of slavery were symbolically removed by the proclamation and the union was preserved. Although the shackles were eventually removed, one can be enslaved without being physically shackled. The sons and daughters of the former slaves of a bygone era are still not free. They are not yet free of the bigotry and injustice that our fellow citizens perform through our criminal justice system and by helping to perpetuate the poverty that exists among our community of color.
You would think that one hundred and fifty plus years removed from our wrongful enslavement of other human beings would be enough time to remove the stigma of the inhumane acts that our fellow human beings perpetrated against their fellow men and women. You would think that our attitudes would have changed substantially in bringing an end to the injustice and bigotry that the heirs of those former slaves still suffer from. No black man should feel compelled to warn his children of the danger that they face from the police because they just happen to have a better tan. Whenever the issue of racism comes up, the right wing always brings up the notion of black on black crime. It is as if the fact that it exists excuses our attitude and our bias towards people of color. Since in many ways we still experience segregation it is not surprising that blacks commit crimes against blacks. It should not be surprising that in our segregated white communities that white crimes occur against white people. Injustice is injustice no matter how you try to color the facts. To say that racism does not exist belies the facts. The old bromide that the right wing likes to throw into the discussions is that you can’t prove that racism exists. Well, since racism exists in peoples hearts, of course it is difficult to prove. But why should one be required to prove the existence of racism when the actions of people for example our police departments quite clearly indicate that racial profiling exists. White flight from the 9th ward in New Orleans still exists and the fact that parents choose to have their children in private schools is proof that whites still refuse to integrate with the blacks that live in New Orleans. Just recently, Justice Breyer, of the U.S. Supreme Court has taken under advisement the issue of Alabama placing their African-American citizens into just a few congressional districts to try to insure that white candidates will have an easier time being elected.
Discrimination is more subtle now, unless you live in a community whose police force practices that same type of behavior that the people from Ferguson, Missouri suffer from. Those people of color can expect to be singled out for tickets from a police force that has a quota for the amount of tickets that they are targeted to give out. They can expect to be harassed and physically abused by their local police. We should all be chastened by the report of the Justice Department on the factual substantiation of a history of abuse in Ferguson. How many more Ferguson like police forces are out there?
Instead of a post racial era being ushered in by the election of President Obama, we seem to be seeing the reverse take place . We hear and read hate speech appear from elected officials and we are taking note of the signs and language used in demonstrations that indicate that our fellow citizens are still not far enough removed from the days when men rode horses wearing white sheets and brandishing burning crosses.
It is sad, tragic and ironic that the forces of evil who seek to continue to use bigotry use symbols of Christianity and lines from the old Testament to perpetuate discrimination not only against blacks but also women and other minorities. The crosses used by the KKK were a Christian symbol. They were symbols of their belief that white, Protestant men are superior. It is no accident that people on the right wing are troubled by the new Pope’s continual reminders of Jesus’s teachings of love and compassion.
What America needs is a New Emancipation Proclamation! We need to rededicate ourselves to the proposition that Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence; and that proposition is that all men are created equal. We must work together to insure that all Americans have the opportunity to pursue happiness. All of our citizens whether they are part of our minority population or if they are women or if they are gay, must be given the right to due process before the law and equal protection before the law.
We are the most diverse country on earth. We are a country peopled by citizens who have come from every country on the planet, and with that fact comes the blessing of being a country that is inclusive of everyone. But with our blessings of being a unique country comes the human response of some who are not comfortable with diversity. Those who are not tolerant of the differences that exist between we human beings would prefer that our country be white and Protestant, but those days are long gone. It is way passed time for our fellow citizens to accept the inevitable decline of the power of white men. We must reject the notion that we are to fear immigrants. We still can be the opportunity country where hope exists and upward mobility will once again be possible for all Americans. We must fight to remain the beacon of light and hope for the world regarding liberty and freedom from bigotry and injustice. It is truly time to look at the content of our character and not the color of our skin.