I was going to post about how my critical self likes to take stock of my failures at the end of every season, but I think the cute, self-deprecating, sad overview can wait. Because where I really fucked up was in not writing about the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in what was to become this country by what were to become the admired White settlers of Jamestown, in colonial Virginia. You can look it up. The image above and quotes that link to excellent work are in the NY Times feature, The 1619 Project.
Slavery is not a blight on this country’s fine history; it is not a shameful period of time with a beginning and an end. It is this country. The United States is a country of brutality and greed, where we have always put profit above people. Our government has had to be forced, by disruption and death and citizen disgust, to make every expansion of human rights that we have grudgingly, eventually agreed to. Maybe that’s the way it always happens. I’m not enough of a student of history to say for sure. But when I read that Trump’s “least racist person in the world” line is about as close as he’s ever come to accurately quoting Thomas Jefferson, who repeatedly insisted that, “nobody wishes more than I” for abolition, while enslaving Black people and profiting financially and sexually from their exploitation, should I really be surprised? Should I be shocked that the legacy of slavery infects our very language? Should I not expect that our country would lead the way in pushing humanity towards extinction?
There is some debate that the Anthropocene (the geologic era of human influence) would more accurately be called the Capitalocene (the geologic era of capitalism), because it is not humanity that has warmed the planet to the point of crisis, but carbon-fueled capitalism. And what is capitalism but the pursuit of financial gain at the expense of everything else? (But the invisible hand, you say, what about the invisible hand?? The invisible hand is, in my view of the moment, nothing but an excuse to pursue wealth uninhibited by ethics. You, capitalist, don’t have to worry about whether what you are doing is wrong, because the market will correct you if it is. Look at the world and tell me that isn’t bullshit.)
But the heedless racing toward mass extinction is only one example of our culture of slavery. Capital punishment is another. As is mass incarceration. Bryan Stephenson (maybe the new Buddha/Jesus?) writes in the above 1619 feature, “Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment.” A country of slavery would also be expected to hurl barriers in the paths of non-white humans trying to seek safety therein; to use food and deprivation as weapons; to deny health care, etc. The idea that those lucky enough to buy themselves a good life have somehow earned it is as backward and unscientific as the belief that Europeans are of a different and superior species to Africans.
Slavery is an economic system in which countless lives are destroyed in order to fill the treasure chests of a few, and those lives are vilified in order to justify the destruction. Whether smearing the victims as racially inferior, lazy, greedy, better off, ignorant, foreign, stupid, dirty, insignificant, or violent, it’s all the same. It’s all a way to make brutality palatable and selfishness noble. And it will destroy, if not all of us, then certainly the lifestyle that it has created.
I’m feeling despondent today, but not depressed. Yay for me! Boo for you.