We must lift the knee that has been on the neck of Black Americans for 400 years

Jun 17, 2020 | Blog


JUNE 14, 2020 05:45 AM

Thelma Jackson. Handout photo for Sunday’s Black History Month story.

As a 74-year-old Black woman living in this area for 50 years, I have experienced a lot of things in my lifetime. Growing up in the Deep South under segregation and Jim Crow laws, I know too well the pain and anguish of a people who finally reached a tipping point whereby the human spirit cries out: Enough!

The brutal murder of George Floyd two weeks ago affected me and so many others very deeply. Even though he was one of many in our recent history who were victims of police brutality and other racialized acts of violence, I can’t describe the emotions that were conjured up in me and millions of other Black Americans and others in this country and around the world when that video went viral.

The knee of the white police officer on the neck of Mr. Floyd represented the racial hatred, oppression, discrimination, bigotry, and inhumane treatment that have been a part of American history from the very beginning. The conventional history of our country does not tell the true story of the 400 years of brutal treatment of Black people, and how the enslavement of kidnapped and bought Africans serve as the basis of American capitalism.

Wealth development of white people whose ownership of enslaved people and slave-related business dealings is clearly documented. There has never been reparation for the centuries of “free labor” that built this country, nor even an official apology from the U.S. government for this atrocity! It’s time to make amends to Black people in this country for these centuries of mistreatment.

Slavery gave America a fear of Black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our criminal justice system. Recently, our state Supreme Court stated in an open letter to the state’s judiciary and legal community that “We continue to see racialized policing and the over-representation of black Americans in every stage of our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our institutions remain affected by the vestiges of slavery: Jim Crow laws that were never dismantled and racist court decisions that were never disavowed.”

The silence and complicity of most white people has been deafening. In this age of technology, the naked truth has been exposed. I am so thankful for our young people and allies who have made their voices heard in the streets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited me and my family’s participation in these protests due to our safety concerns for virus transmission. Black people are dying at three times the rate of whites. This fact added to the anxiety. The pandemic has shown the structural inequalities in our society: access to quality health care; education and employment opportunities; housing discrimination; denial of criminal justice; environmental abuse of many neighborhoods; and other issues that have come to light.

The past 3½ years under the presidency of Donald Trump have been a nightmare, particularly for most Blacks and other people of color. We are looking at bare threads and tatters of the Constitution and our purported democracy.

Black Americans were “freed” from enslavement with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 with nothing: no money, land, education, jobs, houses, or any means to survive. After having been stripped of all personhood — name, culture, language, family, heritage, wealth, pride, and history — Black people have succeeded against all odds. We, as a people, have made a “way out of no way.” As far as we have come, how much further might we have gotten had we not had a knee on our necks?

It’s time for this country to live up to its creed. Our founding ideals of liberty, justice and equality were the height of hypocrisy when they were written by men who were themselves enslavers of other human beings. The fight for civil rights, voting rights, economic freedom, educational opportunities, equal justice, and wealth development must go on.

At this point in our nation’s history a “new normal” must emerge. Let’s take advantage of these twin crises and not just march and protest, but also demand the deep changes needed to make a better world for all future generations.

This originally appeared in the Olympian on June 17. Dr. Jackson is a pioneer supporter of charter schools and chaired the Board of SOAR Academy.