12.12.2007

Why I Am Here

The other day I had some precious and rare free time to myself in the afternoon and flipped the tube to the History Channel, which I find usually has something interesting on when I don't feel like watching reruns of 'I Love New York'. I was not disappointed.

On July 30, 1866 a group of African American soldiers who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War congregated at the Mechanics Institue in New Orleans, Louisiana to try and get some information about benefits they had been promised to by the United States government from Union Army officials who had set up temporary offices inside.

A group of former Confederate soldiers, already stirred up and irate because of Republican party efforts to abolish the Black Codes laws in the south (particularly Louisiana), learned of the gathering and attacked the African American soldiers outside of the institute. Not satisfied with that the mob kicked in the door of the Institute and attacked the Union officials who were inside.

Most official accounts of the incident lists casualties of around 30-40 African-Americans killed along with 7-10 Union soldiers but there are many other accounts of that afternoon, detailing among other things the savagery of the attack and how bodies were carted away from the scene of the massacre before they were identified, which indicate the actual number of casualties was much higher.

Race. A man made concept that has no basis in scientific fact, but nonetheless is a topic that has been debated, warred over, romanticized, etc. about by humans since the beginnings of written history. It's the topic that in America everyone thinks about but no one wants to seriously address.

The historical account I cited at the beginning of this post was an event that I had previously never heard of. It took place during the Reconstruction period of U.S. history when there was much racial tension throughout the whole country especially in the South between recently freed slaves and defeated Confederates. This was just one of many incidents, some of which have never been reported.

Someone not of African descent who happens to read this post might feel like this is just another typical 'black-revolutionary-whitey-keeping-me-down-fuck-the-man-and-Mr.-Charlie' blogger who is too busy trying to blame my (and other black peoples') own personal laziness on society and white people to see the role we have played in our own demise as a people. They may say what does what some fucked up white person who was not related to them did over 100 years ago have to do with them? They know they don't have feelings like that because they treat all human beings the same regardless of race. They don't even see race and if someone else sees it or brings it up then it is they who are racist not themselves.

See the problem with that stance is that the stuff that happened over 100 years ago still happens today. Oh no I'm not necessarily refering to the lynchings, random unprovoked murders, Jim Crow laws, and strict segregation enforced with hostility (even though some of those things do still happen today). I'm more talking about the mindset that fueled those actions. And if you think there are no white people around today with the same mindset that most white Southerners had back then, are you serious?

If you need an example look no further than the numerous racist comments proliferated throughout the internet in the wake of Michael Vick's indictment. Even I, who am by no means naive to the current state of race relations in this society, was amazed at the volume and tone of some of these comments. A lot of those posts were charachterized by undisguised joy about the downfall of a rich, black athelete and generalized derogatory comments about the nature of black males.

So I guess this post is meant to be kind of an answer to the non-African-American reader who thinks that it is mostly African-Americans keeping the issues of race alive and wonders with righteous indignation why it is so quick to be mentioned whenever there is some contraversial issue that hits the headlines. It is brought up because it exists.

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