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The Supreme Court Last Week

There was a lot of attention, deservedly so, about the Court's decisions last week in relation to marriage equality. There was less attention about a disturbing decision made by the court regarding the Voting Rights Act. This NYT graphic shows why the voting rights act matters and why the Court's decision last week opens the way for a resurgence of racism. All of us who believe that all people, regardless of race, are God's beloved children need to prepare ourselves to speak up, speak out, stand up, and get out on the streets when necessary, as many are already doing.

My friend Joshua DuBois' article on black men in America could not be more timely. Quotable (the whole article is incredibly important):

THE EARLIEST chapter in that story is a tough one. I’d rather skip it. You’d rather that I skip it. But as Ralph Ellison once remarked, channeling Faulkner, our complicated racial past is “a part of the living present”; it’s a past that “speaks even when no one wills to listen.”

The facts are a bit overwhelming, but not in much dispute. Africans were imported to the United States as purchased goods beginning around 1620. By 1770, when Crispus Attucks, a free black man, spilled the first drop of blood in the cause of the American Revolution, nearly 18 percent of the American population—almost 700,000 people—were slaves. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, that number had exploded to over 4 million.
Beneath these sterile facts lay a grisly reality. Blacks were systemically dehumanized for hundreds of years, a practice that had unique social and psychological effects on men. They were worked and whipped in fields like cattle. Any semblance of pride, any cry for justice, any measure of genuine manhood was tortured, beaten, or sold out of them. Marriage was strictly prohibited. Most were forbidden from learning to read and write. The wealth derived from their labor—the massive wealth derived from cotton, our chief export throughout much of the 19th and early 20th centuries—was channeled elsewhere.
But, because slavery ended 150 years ago, we often assume that this dehumanization is ancient history. It is not. As Douglas Blackmon of The Wall Street Journal meticulously documents in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Slavery by Another Name, blacks were kept in virtual bondage through Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, and, quite often, a form of quasi-slavery called peonage, which endured well into the middle of the 20th century.

Here’s how it worked: black men (it was usually men) were arrested for petty crimes or no crimes at all; “selling cotton after sunset” was a favorite charge. They were then assessed a steep fine. If they could not pay, they were imprisoned for long sentences and forced to work for free. This allowed savvy industrialists to replace thousands of slaves with thousands of convicts.