Yes, folks, there’s a lot of Black History in the U.S. In fact, the extent of Black History, in the Arts, Education, Industry, Invention, in Religion, and whatever else you want to mention is remarkable. It does leave one a bit chagrined that people are surprised to find that it is remarkable. We have to be honest that those among us of darker skin have been and still are routinely singled out with the expectation of inferiority, and often there is surprise when the “colored” ones are successful, talented high-level performers. Instead of remaking that such a person is an extraordinary human being, the remark is made, “and did you know he (she) is Black?” The remarks are infuriating, but are very common.
For those who would be interested to delve deeply into the examination and the history of the race divisions and race prejudice in the U.S., I highly recommend the well-written and highly informative book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. She first examines the early treatment of the African slaves in the U.S. She shows how the society immediately set the slave aside as not only just inferior, but obviously well below even the least performing, least educated and least wealthy “while” people who lived in the new British colonies. It was very convenient for the slave sellers and the slave owners to create a lower caste of black folks. She details how the caste system was codified into the laws of the colonies and the American States. She shows how it became and remains a foundational element of the U.S. American mentality.
A substantial part of the book examines and compares the caste systems of India, the U.S. and that system developed and implemented by the Nazis in Germany against the Jews. She discusses how the Nazi commission to codify the laws against the Jews actually used the American laws against blacks, and even rejected many of them as too strenuous. The laws of the American States dealing with Black folks were extremely harsh.
Isabel Wilkerson gives us a deep look into the issue of “white privilege” and shows how it developed and morphed over the centuries, becoming codified after the Civil War into Jim Crow laws. She reviews the sordid history of lynching and the destruction of African American communities. She shows how studies have confirmed that those who are segregated into groups that are considered inferior tend to mimic what others think of them. She makes it clear that getting beyond the caste restrictions will take great individual and group effort. She does, however, not detail her recommendations on how to get beyond it.
American society expects Black folks to work harder to achieve success. It is ingrained into the caste system that there have to be good justifications to allow one to escape its constrictions and restrictions. Unfortunately, it is our history, our harsh caste system, and a generally accepted world view that still allows us to feel comfortable looking at color of skin as a meaningful determinative of worth.
It is enough to make one very sad. Yet through the sadness we see a brilliant history, brilliant possibilities and a great reservoir of happiness that has remained in the consciousness, the talents and the soul of the Black community. I do greatly venerate that, and I applaud the herculean effort that Black folks have given to making our American culture the envy of the world. Someday we will live up to our greatest dreams of inclusion, and someday color of skin will hardly be a footnote, if it is recognized at all.