[Another post from my old blog, with new images.]
American Slavery is hard to wrap your mind around. For me, reflection on this topic is not enough. The concept does not exist in any real way in most people’s being. Intellectually, sure. But the knowledge and the idea of slavery does not translate to anything that goes deeper than skin for most people, myself included.
I do not have the skills to remedy this. I know that. There is a vast sea of information on the web about slavery. In draft form, this entry contained some of those resources. But instead of linking to them here, I think I’ll try something different. I want to try a little “social math” that I spoke of in a previous entry. Or maybe it’s more like “embodied math.” I don’t know. But I’m gonna try it.
There will be nothing to link to in this entry. Maybe a little later I’ll repeat it, adding links and resources like a good blogger should. But for now, take a chance with me and actually do the physical activity that I am asking of you here. After you’re finished, if you would like to help me out with my math or my anatomy lesson or my history (I could certainly use such help), then drop me a comment or email and I’ll make the necessary corrections. If you’d like to perfect my little activity, add more markers, etc. I’d welcome that too.
If you’d just like to comment to tell me to just stop whining and get over it, well, that’d hurt my feelings, but I’d get over that. (Your comment and my hurt feelings, not U.S. slavery.)
Just, do this. For me. For kicks. Out of curiosity. OK?
OK. Spread your arms and hands out to either side of you, parallel to the ground, as in a nice early morning streatch. Ready?
Start with the tip of your middle finger on your left hand: This is 1619, more than 400 years ago, when the first Africans were brought to what would later become the United States of America as slaves. (Some prefer/think more historically accurate the term “indentured servants.”)
Wiggle your fingers on your left hand–your pinkie…ring, middle, and index fingers and your thumb, flex your wrist a few times, bend your arm at your left elbow, and start up your left bicep. Slavery (and it is, very definitely, now slavery) is going on all this time, now well entrenched in the “new world.”
Now do a little windmill motion with your outstretched left arm. That good stretch you feel in your shoulder area is right around 1776, the birth of our nation.
Keep your arms spread out. Keep traveling across. Now you’re at your mid back, your spine, and it’s about 1828. The new nation is not yet 100 years old, but it is prospering. Slavery is in full force. America has yet to go to war with itself. Keep stretching.
You’ve crossed over and you’re on your right shoulder now. It’s 1861 and the American Civil War has officially begun. Just a tick farther on your right shoulder and it’s 1865 and all Blacks are officially freed.
Keep your arms spread out. Travel down your right arm to your right elbow. It’s about 1924. Jim Crow is in full effect. Just a tick earlier before your elbow was the destruction of a Black town in Tulsa and the defeat of an anti-lynching bill in the U.S. Senate.
Your arms may be tired, but I’m almost done.
At your right forearm it’s about 1954, and in the nation Brown vs. the Board of Education is decided, with the goal of ending school segregation “with all deliberate speed.” A little further down your mid forearm on your way to your right wrist, in the same general itch-spot, is my birthday in 1964, the assassination of Malcolm X the following year, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. three years after that.
Keep your arms spread out. Your right wrist now. That’s about 1978. This year marks the case of Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, and “reverse discrimination” is determined to be against the law of the land.
Take a quick break for a minute from your stretch and crack the knuckles of your right hand. Now get your arms back outstretched. Here, just before your fingers, is about 1991 and the nation witnesses the police-led beating of an African American man and the riots the following year as the accused police officers are acquitted.
Almost done. Keep stretching.
Finally you’re at the tip of your right pinkie. That’s today, 2005. I’m posting this blog entry and you’re reading it. And your stretch is done.
—Well, not quite.
If you just stretch a little further, from the end of your right pinkie to the end of your right middle finger, you’re at 2028. That date is important because its the estimate given by the nation’s Supreme Court for when racial considerations in college admissions will no longer be needed in this country. We’ve got to get started today and work like the dickens to meet that goal. But it’ll be worth it and it should be possible if we just put our backs into it. The hard—and long—march to complete racial justice will then be achieved. Glory glory.
And all in less than half the length of a middle finger.