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When Will All Americans Be Free?

“Reap what you sow” (Galatians 6: 7-8). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you” (Matthew 7: 12).

If whites fear angry blacks (many do), and if blacks distrust whites (many do), then we must take an uncomfortable but honest look at the causes for anger and fear in this country. After many years, our feelings have morphed into beliefs. Unexamined, these beliefs fail to address truth and, thus, fail to heal. What can white Americans do to repair injustices and restore trust?

Why All the Anger?

Before beginning the healing process, we need to understand the cause of the anger crying out from black communities. According to summer of 2015 Yes! Magazine, anger among blacks bubbles up from deep wells of legitimate resentment. Before dismissing this anger, consider the historical facts below:

  • At the beginning of the Civil War, slaves accounted for 48% of all wealth in the southern states. The value of slaves exceeded the combined worth of banks, factories, and railroads.

  • President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in 1862. Unfortunately, the $300.00 reparation paid for each slave was sent to the slaveholders instead of the slaves.

  • When the Civil War ended, General Sherman promised the newly emancipated slaves “forty acres and a mule” to begin their unfettered lives. President Andrew Johnson vetoed that promise.

  • At the time of the Great Emancipation, African Americans brought home 0.5% of the nation’s wealth. By 1990, the increase had only reached 1.0%.

  • Social Security did not include domestic workers or those who labored in the fields. This eliminated thousands of African Americans.

  • The 1933 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation helped more than a million families, but none of the loans went to black families who wanted to move into white neighborhoods.

  • In 2013, the mean average income for white families was reported to be $58,000 compared to only $36,000.00 for African American households.

Why Should We Care?

When fear-based beliefs rather than rational, self-reflective thinking rules societies’ decisions, everyone loses. According to Sharon Morgan, “…hurt people hurt (other) people”. The motivation to heal this divide comes from the realization that as long as black and white Americans live separately, and unequally, no one remains safe. African Americans (especially males) fail to experience the concept of safety. In their frustration, they react by hurting back. Because we love this nation, we must “Do unto others as we want others to do to us.” We must teach the unaffiliated black man to value his place within this nation. We must teach the bigoted white man to recognize his responsibility to work toward unity. We must reform our beliefs to recognize that all men are brothers within the far greater community. Only then will we know peace.

Thankfully, the separate restrooms, drinking fountains, and seats at the back of the bus do not exist today. But we have not yet created a nation that is free from hatred and bias. Sins, perpetrated by an entire nation, which covered 246 years of slavery, and involved four million African Americans, require that each of us must now actively engage in nation-building considerations.

  • We must search out hidden, internal prejudices. For example, my lament: “Why must I tell a story about a ‘black’ person when the story could remain intact without the adjective?” Or the oft-used “code” for bigotry: the substitution of words that allow the speaker to reference prejudice.

  • Whether our particular ancestors owned slaves or not, we must begin the process of admitting, then forgiving, a shameful history. Guilt assigned, without offering genuine forgiveness, produces nothing but more hatred.

  • As a nation, we must correct the inequality in our schools, our hiring practices, our health care, and our housing. The paying of reparations could smooth the path toward equality for all.

  • Above all, we must call on a Divine Power to heal our hurting hearts.

Finally, as we continue to accept the shame of slavery, we must realize that until we change beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors, we will continue to suffer the pain and discord that plagues this nation. Rabbi Dr. Yanklowitz states: “Reparations are not punitive; they’re restorative.” Restoration requires a systemic change in attitude, time invested, financial concerns, and an effort. Doing nothing at all promises only an even costlier price tag.

Works Cited:

Morgan, Sharon, T. DeWolf. “Healing History’s Wounds, One-o-One.” Yes Magazine! Summer 2015.

Neumann, Jeff, T. Loeffelholz Dunn. “Just the Facts: A Nation Built on the Back of Slavery and Racism.” Yes Magazine. Summer 2015.

Yanklowitz, Shmuly. “Righteous Debt.” Yes Magazine. Summer 2015.


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