0125blog

Back to Business

With the horrors of the Trump administration over, for now, it’s time to touch back on solid ground, sweep away that pink cloud, toss off the rose colored glasses for Joe Biden and get on with the business of a very troubled nation, not that it wasn’t always troubled, but the wounds have become so much more visible.

You can’t understand where the country is or where it’s going unless you understand where it’s been even though many people find it altogether uncomfortable to face injustice and would rather wish it away or deny it.

It’s not a wonderful life and never has been for millions of people. That is not counting the victims of the plague but rather those who have been and would be further victimized by a frightening percentage of white supremacist, anti-Semites and others in the country whose numbers were starkly shown by the millions who voted for Trump.

I want to talk about how the history books have sanitized our country’s shameful history of slavery and ethnic cleansing which reverberate today, whether it is in the ongoing racism that shows itself in election laws intended to block people of color from voting or the shameful state of the native Americans and reservations, the overly high rate of deaths from COVID-19 among native Americans and people of color and the ongoing battle between big oil and holy, native lands.

My question is when do you cross the line between education and flagellation? Is it even constructive to talk about the darkest times in our history that would seem to go up against our most basic beliefs? Certainly there are many who would continue to bury themselves in delusion and refuse to acknowledge the reality of our bleakest times and the effects they have had and continue to have.

My answer is that we cannot understand the flavor of today’s United States without tasting the toxicity of slavery and annihilation in all of its horrible and perverse ways. It is in the white man’s DNA and has been there since the country was formed. We are so obscenely devoid of education about the realities of slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression and then the genocide and Holocaust of native Americans. The enormity of it is breathtaking. And yet, we are left with only vague often homogenized information and more often than not, simply lies.

There is little argument about the value of teaching young people in graphic detail about the horrors of the holocaust by Nazi Germany and the near destruction of Judaism while we continue to devote times of the year to reflect back and say never again. But not so much for people of color and native Americans.

The numbers are breathtaking and impossible to fully grasp in their enormity and their cruelty. The peak of slavery came in 1860 when there were 3,950,546 slaves or 13 percent of the total U.S. population of 31, 443.321, with Virginia leading the way that year with 490,865 slaves. New Jersey peaked in 1800 with 12,422 slaves.

A common misconception is that in many areas slavery was somewhat benign with slaves and slave owners living together in a system that both understood as necessary and symbiotic. We see pictures of smiling black children, of black women serving dinner to their white captors and other false characterizations of life on a plantation.

The truth was starkly and sadistically different.

A story in Atlantablackstar.com described the ways that slaves were mistreated while the white world remained blissfully ignorant, not unlike the “banality of evil” in Nazi Germany described by the philosopher and writer, Hannah Arendt. The brutality of the Nazis at the death camps was no worse than the treatment of the slaves or the native Americans.

During slavery, white male plantation owners, their sons, brothers and other male acquaintances raped Black women without fear of punishment.

Thumbscrews, cotton screws, metal and wood neck collars with protruding spikes, and metal masks were secured to slaves, sometimes for months at a stretch to remind slaves about what happens to defiant slaves.

Enslaved men and women were whipped or beaten and their wounds would be burst and rubbed with turpentine and red pepper.

The whip was the instrument most commonly used against the slaves.

Heavy iron shackles were used to bind the slave’s wrists and ankles. The shackles were not only to resist movement but also another sign for defiant blacks.

Slaves were regularly hanged or lynched, at the will of their master, most often for alleged revolt but also for any cause cited by the master.

Enslaved Africans were often burned at the stake for participating or being suspected of participating in an uprising.

Black men would often be killed if they were accused of rape and castrated if accused of attempted rape.

Blacks who resisted were tortured with their hands, arms and legs cut off, or other body parts disfigured.

Enslaved men and women were commonly branded for identification and later for punishment.

According to history.com, from the time white Europeans arrived, the government authorized more than 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on native Americans. By the end of the Indian Wars in the the late 19th century, fewer than 238,000 native Americans remained, down from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492.

Some of the worst acts of genocide include:

The Gnadenhutten Massacre

In 1782, a group of militiamen from Pennsylvania killed 96 Christianized Delaware Indians, in a sign of their bloody contempt for native people. Militiamen beat their victims to death with wooden mallets and hatchets.

Battle of Tippecanoe

Indiana Territorial Governor (and later President) William Henry Harrison in 1811 ordered settlers to attack and burn Prophetstown, the Indian capital on the Tippecanoe River. The attack came while the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, was trying to stop tribal in-fighting.

The Creek War

The War of 1812 mutated to the Muskoke Creek War of 1813–14, in which the British and Spanish soldiers supported Creek factions who were trying to stop American encroachment. U.S. Gen. Andrew Jackson sent in the militia which later slaughtered 186 Creeks and the Creek were forced to cede more than 21 million acres of land to the United States.

Forced Removal

From 1830 to 1840 , President Andrew Jackson led the forced removal of 60,000 native Americans from land that Congress deemed to be necessary for the American settlers, so-called, “manifest destiny,” relocating them from the east to a new territory west of the Mississippi, in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Mankato Executions

Dakota Sioux people were restricted to reservation lands on the Minnesota frontier, starving and desperate. A raid of nearby white farms for food led to the Little Crow War of 1862 and deaths of 490 settlers. President Lincoln sent soldiers and after a series of mass trials, more than 300 Dakota men were sentenced to death. Lincoln commuted most of the sentences, but military officials hung 38 Dakotas at once, the largest mass execution in American history.

The Sand Creek Massacre

On Nov. 29, 1864, a former Methodist minister led a force of 700 men in a surprise attack on peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos on their reservation at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. The U.S. troops massacred as many as 160 native Americans, mostly women and children.

Custer’s Campaigns

George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh Cavalry attacked and slaughtered 103 Cheyennes and their Arapaho allies on the western frontier of Indian Territory on Nov. 29, 1868. Custer died after leading an attack on the largest gathering of warriors on the high plains on June 25, 1876, near Montana’s Little Big Horn River.

Wounded Knee

In December 1890, several weeks after the famed Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed while being arrested, the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry massacred 150 to 200 native Americans at Wounded Knee, S.D. For their mass murders of disarmed Lakota, President Benjamin Harrison awarded about 20 soldiers the Medal of Honor.

Over four centuries, nine out of 10 Native Americans perished from war or disease. Currently, native Americans are dying from COVID-19 at extraordinarily high rates across the country.

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer