Increasing Racial Gaps in Wealth and Income: The Real U.S.

The organization United for a Fair Economy has a good website with data-filled reports on issues like the racial wealth divide in the U.S. Here are a few excerpts from their most recent report on the “state of the dream”:

The official unemployment rate is 15.8 percent among Blacks and 13 percent among Latinos as of December 2010. The White unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. Including discouraged and under-employed workers would push these unemployment numbers up significantly.

They add this:

With fewer assets to fall back on in hard times, Black and Latino families rely more heavily on unemployment insurance, Social Security and public assistance in times of need. For example, a new analysis shows that well over half of older Blacks (59.1 percent) and Latinos (64.8 percent) depend on Social Security for more than 80 percent of their family income, as compared to only 46 percent of Whites.

They have some data too on the reality of African Americans and Latinos working disproportionately in the government sector (historically one impact of Jim Crow segregation), one reason that blacks are more likely than whites to be in today’s unions:

. . . Blacks are 30 percent more likely than the overall workforce to work in public sector jobs as teachers, social workers, bus drivers, public health inspectors and other valuable roles, and they are 70 percent as likely to work for the federal government. Public sector jobs have also provided Black and Latino workers better opportunities for professional advancement.

They provide data showing how the Bush era tax cuts regularly favor whites, especially those with higher incomes. Recent taxation law too is very racialized in the U.S.:

… income tax extension heavily favors Whites, who are three times as likely as Blacks and 4.6 times as likely as Latinos to have annual incomes in excess of $250,000, according to original analysis in this report.

They also take political aim at the white leadership of the Republican Party, essentially now, as I have shown in here, the “white party” of the United States:

The Republican tax cut agenda rewards wealth for those who already have it, and limits opportunity for those who do not. . . . preferential treatment of capital gains and dividend income further exacerbates the racial wealth divide. . . . Blacks earn only 13 cents and Latinos earn eight cents for every dollar that Whites receive in dividend income. Similarly, Blacks have 12 cents and Latinos have 10 cents of unrealized capital gains for each dollar that Whites have.

There is much additional information on income, employment, and wealth inequality in this useful report (available free in pdf at their website). The current trends in income and wealth inequalities for racial groups in the United States are very disturbing for the future of a supposed “democracy”–and its unrealized ideals of liberty and justice for all.

In 2008, Institute for Policy Studies researcher, Dedrick Muhammad, summarized glaring U.S. racial inequalities in a report similarly titled–“The Unrealized American Dream.” He showed then that the income gap between black and white Americans was closing extraordinarily slowly, for at the rate of change then black Americans would only gain income equality with white Americans in about 537 years. The wealth gap between black and white Americans would take 634 years to close. After his analysis, from 2009 to 2010, the income gap actually increased a little. In addition, the wealth gap has increased significantly over recent years. (See reference and my further discussion in Chapter 9 of this book.)

Entertaining While Black: Black Males in Popular Media

[Written with Brenda Juarez]
Regardless of whether they believe them or not, most people in US society are well aware of the many visceral stereotypes and images surrounding Black males. These negative representations of Black males are readily visible and conveyed to the public through the news, film, music videos, reality television and other programming and forms of media—the black sidekick of a white protagonist, for example, the token black person, the comedic relief, the athlete, the over-sexed ladies’ man, the absentee father, and most damaging, the violent black man as drug-dealing criminal and gangster thug.

These stereotypical one-dimensional characters in film negate the broader and deeper experience of Black life and the lives of Black men in particular. Reaching into people’s homes through the media, these negative images influence personal opinions, ideas and racial attitudes. As Dates and Barlow explain, “Images in the mass media are infused with color-coded positive and negative moralistic features. Once these symbols become familiar and accepted, they fuel misperceptions and perpetuate misunderstandings among the races.” Indeed, negative understandings of Black males are consistently used to justify the racial disparities they experience in exclusionary school discipline practices, underachievement in higher education, and rates of poverty, homicide, unemployment, and over involvement in the criminal system.

Capturing our imagination as a society, film exemplifies how media images provide us with a reality of misrepresentations that guides societal perceptions of Black men. Take the 2001 film Training Day, for example. Denzel Washington’s role as Alonzo Harris provides one of the most enduring and threatening depictions of Black men as violent criminals. The criminality of Washington’s character is underscored by the contrast to the antithesis of his character, Ethan Hawke, who plays the role of good cop, a moral and righteous man.

Will Smith, in successfully becoming one of film’s leading men, has strategically flipped Hollywood’s stereotypical white perceptions of blacks in the media as always violent and criminal. He is often seen starring as a protagonist fighting the good fight rather than the criminal to be apprehended. Although applauded for seeking and earning leading male roles in Hollywood, his often heroic and hyper-masculine characters play into the theme of protecting whiteness and its virtuous subthemes of justice and freedom such as in the films Independence Day and I Am Legend. In fact, in extreme attempts to avoid the villain prototype, Smith frequently plays the role of the “Magic Negro” archetype in the film The Legend of Bagger Vance and Hitch, for example, where his efforts to save and teach whites about what it means to be good facilitates a mystical theme in the minds of white people about the supernatural powers of a few exceptional Blacks, among a people perceived as being closer to nature.

News media has a similar effect on white consciousness as film in popular media. News, written and conveyed by purportedly unbiased and objective reporters, are nevertheless also influenced by negative images of blacks circulating in larger society reflected in popular American film. For instance, the Internet sports blog site Deadspin broke a story in April of 2011 that illustrates how news media representations of black male athletes reinforces the mythology of them as oversexed, aggressive rule-breakers. In this case, the story centers on a private confessional of a young black man that was leaked to the public.

A basketball player at Brigham Young University, a predominately white Christian school, Brandon Davies was suspended for breaking the honor code by having premarital sex. The elements were present that would make for a sensational story: race, religion, sex and sports. The news of his suspension came about in the midst of the NCAA tournament, and the school was heralded in Sports Illustrated as “America’s University” for upholding its values and standards in suspending him due to an honor code violation.

However, the news media, in its stereotypical portrayal of this young man, failed to report an important aspect of the story. As Deadspin noted upon closer examination of the honor code office at BYU, a troubling pattern emerged for athletes of color, especially African American men, going back to 1993. Athletes of color are more likely to be disciplined than white athletes despite their significantly lower numbers on campus and in the sporting arena. This creates the impression that only black men engage in illicit sex or other honor code violations while white men rarely, if ever, violate these standards, which holds a glaring resemblance to the criminal justice system where black males are convicted and locked up at much higher rates than their white male counterparts for similar crimes committed. As this story highlights, this trend is in part a direct result of negative media representations of Black males that strongly influence white perceptions and racial attitudes.

This is not to say that some African Americans don’t participate in their own marginalization, from music videos and reality TV to roles on the big screen. Yet, the parts they are offered leave black actors with limited options. Conventionally white screenwriters, who view the world through the prism of a white lens, write about subject matters that reflect their own narrow experiences living and existing in a highly racialized society.

As a result, the predominately white film industry (from producers to screenwriters to directors), in the market of pleasing their predominately white consumer base, lacks diversity in the depth of their characters. This would explain why most popular shows or cinematic themes of American life reflect the interest of white people with strong white themes and often very little representation of difference with respects to writing and casting. Based on past and current Nielsen ratings, the most popular shows consist of the likes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette, The Big Bang Theory, CSI, Friends, and Seinfeld.

Darron Smith and Brenda Juarez

Voters of Color and Obama’s Future

Journalism professor and New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall has a perceptive overview of some racial politics issues in the current presidential campaign. He notes the 16 groups Obama’s campaign is now focusing on:

People of Faith; Veterans and Military Families; Rural Americans; Seniors; and Small Business Owners.

And then the ones in his base are the rest:

African Americans, Environmentalists, Latinos, Young Americans, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Educators, Jewish Americans, Nurses and Women. … Obama is actively courting all of these constituencies: ending the deportation of many young workers who are in the United States illegally; endorsing same-sex marriage; loosening work requirements for welfare recipients; pressing Congress to keep student loan rates low; rejecting the proposal to build the … Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas; and promoting health-care reform….

He notes then that the problematical group is white men without college, and notes that Obama is doing commercials to appeal to these white men, many of whom have faced difficult unemployment conditions. But this is where his support is so low in the polls; he is getting only 28-29 percent of these white men without college degrees right now—the lowest percent ever in the modern era for the Democratic Party. In contrast,

Romney and the Republican Party must achieve the highest possible turnout level among whites. Republicans, including Romney, have adopted anti-immigration stands that have extinguished the possibility of boosting margins among Hispanics. … Demographic trends — the steady decline of the share of the population made up of non-college whites, from 86 percent in 1940 to 48 percent in 2007 – have made winning these voters by increasingly large margins crucial to the Republican Party….

Meanwhile, Obama is still getting strong support from his base, which includes growing numbers of voters of color.

The political “wisdom” of Democratic officials, including the Senator Obama, in running the 2008 campaign from a colorblind version of the old white racial frame–that is, ignoring issues of racism–could be seen in the significant proportion of white voters, some 43 percent, who voted for Obama in 2008. Without this significant minority of white voters, Obama would not have become president. The political “wisdom” of course contradicts a deeper morality of social justice, equality, and liberty, but then this country is not a just, equal, and free country. Even our best and most progressive politicians operate in the societal straightjacket imposed by our plutocratic and systemically racist political and economic institutions.

So, not surprisingly, in the 2008 election McCain did win 12 percent more of the white vote than Obama. CNN exit polls for 2008 revealed very significant variation in who voted for Senators Obama and McCain. Overall, whites made up about 75 percent of voters, compared to 12 percent who were black voters, 9 percent who were Latino voters, and the rest who were from other racial groups (mainly Asian). Yet only 43 percent of white voters went for Senator Obama, including just 41 percent of male voters and 46 percent of female voters. These percentages are significantly lower right now.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the voting patterns revealed in 2008 exit polls concerned the fact that voters of color cast ballots in very large majorities for Senator Obama. Some 95 percent of black voters went for Obama, and so did 67 percent of Latino voters and 62 percent of Asian American voters. In addition, one evaluation of counties with numerous Native Americans in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado estimated that roughly 62 to 87 percent voted for Obama. Most of these voters were very aware of the pathbreaking character of having the first major party candidate of color running for the presidency, and their significant turnout for Obama was critical.

If the election had only been up to white voters in the pivotal states that Obama actually won –Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia—McCain would also have won these states, and thus the national election.

Voters of color were thus essential to Obama’s win in these states. Of course, the minority of white voters who did vote for Obama in these and other states were also important in the coalition that put him into office. Fortunately for Obama, a significant minority of whites did gravitate to the point of being willing, in the middle of a very severe economic recession, to vote for a black man, with many perhaps viewing him as an “exception to his race.

But will they do it again. In my view it is clear Obama’s chances again depend very heavily on voters of color.

Racially Framed Social Science Increasing

Recently, two articles in important sociological journals have contributed further to the white-framed sociological discourse of race. The latest edition of Sociological Theory (June 2012) published Shiao, Bode, Beyer, and Selvig’s “The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race,” an essay that argues for reinvigorating biological understandings—more specifically, the “biosocial causation”—of race. A number of problems accompany this piece, the primary being its white-framed perception of races contorted by biologism/eugenics and a pained attempt to be “scientific.” Reverting to Eurocentric scientific racism is a sign of the times, increasingly used to de-legitimate the status, societal position, and social, economic, cultural, political-legal rights and empowerment of people of color.


Possibly more alarming than the Sociological Theory (ST) piece on race is a short essay in the July 2012 issue of Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews (CS) [pdf]. The Editor’s Remarks on Booker T. Washington and Robert E. Park’s The Man Farthest Down subtly frame racial discourse from a white perspective. Indeed, this type of “under-the-radar” white framing appears to be more problematic than more obvious forms discovered in the ST article, because it 1) often goes undetected, thus unchallenged; 2) reinforces dominant white-framed beliefs subconsciously and piecemeal; and 3) often passes as “universal,” “objective” (nonbiased), and therefore “race neutral” exposition.

To grasp the white framing of race operating in the CS Editor’s Remarks, it is helpful to have some background knowledge of Washington and Park. Both were extremely important in developing mainstream ideas about race in society (Washington) and sociology (Park). Washington was the most influential African American leader of the early twentieth century, who espoused a social philosophy of a black socio-economic self-sufficiency, evading racial conflict and criticism of white racism, and pragmatic accommodation to whites in power. After acting as Washington’s secretary, Park helped establish Chicago School sociology and lead the study of race in academic sociology. Park’s framework for understanding race, with its focus on the four-stage race relations cycle and Euro-assimilation, continues to define the sociology of race.

As the Editor’s Remarks observe, “the four-stage race-relations cycle [is] still taught to undergraduates.” Park is credited with shifting the study of race away from biological to cultural explanations of races and differences among races. However, this claim of Park’s departure from social Darwinism is largely refuted by a number of race scholars, such Ralph Ellison (1964), John Stanfield (1985), and Vernon Williams, Jr. (1996), among others. They point out that Park espoused racial prejudices when discussing whites and people of color and that his explanations of the segregation of races are intellectual tools easily used to justify white supremacy. Park assumed that all “primitive” races (i.e., people of color) aspire to assimilate to the social world and behaviors of the “civilized” white race.

Ethnicity, culture and assimilation paradigms developed by Park, and then Gunnar Myrdal, Milton Gordon, the Nathan Glazer-Patrick Moynihan team, and practiced by many contemporary sociologists, outline an unrealistic depiction of race. The study of ethnicity and culture routinely avoids discussion of ideational and material realities of race/s, the white-imposed hierarchy and systemic ordering of racial groups, and societal effects of institutional, structural and systemic racism. Ethnic and cultural studies are normally framed from a white perspective that neglects crucial socio-historical differences between European migrants and migrants of color from different parts of the globe and tends to position European cultures over other worldwide cultures. In the US, white ethnic groups have largely disappeared and assumed a generic white identity (see the ethno-racial categories listed in the US Census or any job application), whereas ethnic groups of color are subject to hyper-critique, problematic categorization and division, and stigmatization that is inherently Eurocentric.

Assimilation theory bespeaks a colonialist mentality and centuries-old white supremacist attitudes. Assimilation theory assumes Euro-domination and justifies Eurocentrism, a belief in dominance of European models of society and human relations (“civilization”), and social practices that reinforce white elites’ power interests, ideologies and cultural mores. It is clear that the stages of assimilation Park outlines mirror the steps of European colonization (see Lyman 1973, Steinberg 2007). As the assimilation theorist Milton Gordon illustrated with the concept Anglo-conformity, assimilation has long had specific meaning and connotation: assimilation to the European ideals, behaviors, and culture of Anglo-Saxons. While Anglo-Saxons once sat atop the racial hierarchy, a number of other white ethnic groups have joined the ranks of Anglo-elite and formed a broader based white power elite. Today, a more general conformity to whiteness or white racial framing has replaced the outdated and now too-limited understanding and practice of Anglo-conformity. Like ethnicity and culture paradigms, the assimilation paradigm largely omits serious discussion of racial conflict, the societal effects and human costs of racism, and the well-organized racist ideologies and practices of the group that has the most power to define race, whites, and especially elite whites.

Washington and Park’s ideas about race reflect key elements of white-framed sociology and support a Eurocentric perspective of race. Despite his contributions to the black community, Washington failed to discuss the fundamentally unequalized racial structures and racism in the US. Elite whites’ funding for the Tuskegee Institute, the black educational institution Washington founded, demanded he remain silent about systemic racism and the powerful whites and white institutions that uphold racist society. Instead, in return for whites’ financial, political and media support, Washington downplayed and misrepresented struggles of African Americans, highlighting problems of black agency (individual and group) rather than societal problems associated with systemically racist social system and the racist institutional structures created by whites that prop that system (W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903).

It is surprising that the CS Editor’s Remarks reintroduced Washington and Park’s sketchy writings on race, considering the many holes in Park’s sociological theories and Washington’s social philosophy. Park explained away Eurocentrism, while Washington downplayed it. It is contemporary sociologists’ job to see through and then discredit out-dated, ethnocentric race theories of Park and the propagandist, apologist racial rhetoric of Washington.

Racist “Poll Taxes” Again: Shades of Jim Crow

The U.S. has numerous anti-democratic institutions like our Supreme Court, Senate, and electoral college. One would think that the wealthy and well-off whites–who mostly run our political and economic institutions–would find them skewed more than enough in their direction without all the new anti-voting legislation. Numerous Republican state legislatures’ recent attempts and successes in making voting more difficult intentionally extend this well-off-whites’ control.

A savvy columnist at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, has done an interesting detailed analysis (“The GOP’s crime against voters”) of these attempts at voter suppression:

The Republican-led crusade for voter ID laws has been revealed as a cynical ploy to disenfranchise as many likely Democratic voters as possible, with poor people and minorities the main targets. . . . Late last month, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, was addressing a meeting of the Republican State Committee. . . . . he mentioned the new law forcing voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Said Turzai, with more than a hint of triumph: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”

The number of people affected in this state is quite large, for some 758,939 registered voters there right now

do not have the most easily obtained and widely used photo ID, a state driver’s license. That’s an incredible 9.2 percent of the registered electorate. Most of the voters without driver’s licenses live in urban areas — which just happen to be places where poor people and minorities tend to live. More than 185,000 of these voters without licenses, about one-fourth of the total, live in Philadelphia — which just happens to be a Democratic stronghold where African Americans are a plurality.

If this significantly reduces the vote of modest income and working class people, especially people of color, then President Obama may have a difficult time winning the state, especially given current estimates of a close race there.

Significantly too, the new law about IDs in Pennsylvania, as in some other states, officially tries to prevent voter fraud from use of false IDs, yet no one has found actual evidence of that kind of voter fraud.

Attorney general Holder just today at the NAACP convention in Houston put this comment into his talk there, about the new voter ID law in Texas:

Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not. . . . Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.

I grew up under such poll taxes in Texas, where they were designed to keep black voters from voting. We need to bring back some difficult memories of our racist voting history and openly racist political system for public discussion today. The white racial framing today intentionally ignores this relatively recent racist history of keeping voters of color out of the electoral system. Are we moving backwards today on these matters?

The Real Question to Ask About Our Supreme Court: Why?

Maybe I have missed it, but in all the many pages and web pages I have read on the Supreme Court and its decisionmaking over the last couple of weeks, I have yet to see any serious discussion of its highly undemocratic reality and operation. The bigger question beyond recent decisions about health care or immigration, or even about the conservative power on the court or that power’s undemocratic and often anti-progressive decisions, is why “we the people” allow, and have always allowed, such an undemocratic body to have so much power over our country. This the part of the discussion about this court that I offer in my new book, White Party, White Government (Routledge 2012):

Yet another undemocratic political institution–in addition to the U.S. Senate and the electoral college–created by the white male founders is the U.S. Supreme Court. Intentionally created as an unelected body with little democratic overview, over time the Court has gained even greater unsupervised political power, much of it in effect legislative. In an early and unanimous Court decision (Marbury v. Madison), the Supreme Court justices, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decided the Court had the power of final judicial review, a legal theory that allows the Court to decide whether congressional legislation is constitutional, thereby allowing a few unelected justices to invalidate legislation by the more representative U.S. House.

Only the elite Supreme Court has the power to regularly interpret, and in effect periodically amend, the Constitution by a majority vote. In this way, the Supreme Court (and often other high federal courts) can legislate without needing the consent of the legislative branch, while the latter’s legislation is always subject to a judicial veto. Indeed, the Supreme Court has vetoed congressional legislation some two dozen times as unconstitutional and, even more often, interpreted congressional legislation so as to weaken or destroy the congressional intent behind that legislation.

Almost all such eviscerating decisions have been made by the Court in the interests of some segment of the ruling elite. As analyst Richard Kluger has noted, across the world “no other government reserves the last word for the judiciary to pronounce.”

Unmistakably, the elite founders intended for most important changes in the U.S. Constitution to be in the hands of elite white male judges, and not even in the hands of a majority of white male voters. For most of U.S. history a majority of the Supreme Court justices were southern slaveholders, segregationists, or judges sympathetic to the latter’s views. From the 1790s to the 1950s, the all-white, all-male Supreme Court was very important in protecting the extensive system of racial oppression dominating the lives of Americans of color, most especially slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

And here is what I am adding in a new edition of my white racial frame book:

As of 2012, a total of just 112 people, 108 men and 4 women, have ever served as powerful Supreme Court justices. More than 97 percent have been white, and 93 percent have been white men. Given this extremely biased demographic reality, the dominance of a strong male-oriented (patriarchal) version of the white racial frame in many U.S. court decisions and in much U.S. law, now over more than two centuries, is certainly unsurprising.

Such data signal, among other things, how disingenuous and racism-evasive so much white male complaining about “loss of power” in the US today really is.

And we have been, and are, a “democracy”? Rule by all the people, really?

Frederick Douglass: What, to the American Slave, is Your 4th of July?

On this Independence day it is well to remember yet again a probing and candid speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” given by the formerly enslaved and probably greatest 19th century American, Frederick Douglass, at Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, at the peak of North America slavery (indeed, about 230 years into that era).

In this era Black Americans were usually not allowed at 4th of July celebrations in the slaveholding South, apparently because many slaveholders feared that they might get an idea of freedom from such events (as if they did not already have such an idea!). Also, Black residents were often discouraged from attending such festivities in the North.

It is in this very dangerous and hostile national racial climate that the great Douglass–increasingly, a leading intellectual of his day and the first Black American to receive a roll-call vote for US President (later on, at the 1888 Republican national convention!)–was asked by leading citizens of Rochester to give an address at their Fourth of July celebrations. He gave them this stinging indictment of racial oppression:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

But later adds:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words from the high places of the nation as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the Jaws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish them selves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon all those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass with out condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

And then concludes with this:

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign.
To man his plundered rights again

Sadly, our system of racial oppression still persists, even as most white Americans are in denial about its deep and foundational reality. Yet, there remain many people like Frederick Douglass today who still fight to remove this “yoke of tyranny” from us all. May they flourish and prosper. We should remember those now and from the past who fought racism most on this day to celebrate freedom.

Some forty-two years later, in the last speech (“Lessons of the Hour”) he gave before his death—at an AME Church in DC, on January 9th, 1894—Douglass made these comments as he watched southern and border states hurtle toward bloody Jim Crow segregation, the new neo-slavery system:

We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened and Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds and beasts, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead. I repeat, and my contention is, that this “Negro problem” formula lays the fault at the door of the Negro, and removes it from the door of the white man, shields the guilty, and blames the innocent. Makes the Negro responsible and not the nation….. Now the real problem is, and ought to be regarded by the American people, a great national problem. It involves the question, whether, after all, with our Declaration of Independence, with our glorious free constitution, whether with our sublime Christianity, there is enough of national virtue in this great nation to solve this problem, in accordance with wisdom and justice.

He concluded thus, his very last words ever spoken in public:

But could I be heard by this great nation, I would call to to mind the sublime and glorious truths with which, at its birth, it saluted a listening world. Its voice then, was as the tramp of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time honored tyranny, to judgment. Crowned heads heard it and shrieked. Toiling millions heard it and clapped their hands for joy. It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages. Apply these sublime and glorious truths to the situation now before you. Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of compliant or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.

[Reposted from blog archive]