Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black People, and How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended

Racism: Open and Underhanded

Today one of the most common, and underhanded, forms of white chauvinism (racism) is to admit--with a little arm-twisting or even upfront and willingly--that Black people's situation is one of being far worse off than whites but then to blame Black people themselves for this situation. Looked at in terms of Black people's overall experience in America, what this amounts to is the dirty trick of admitting that in the past Black people were subjected to oppression and discrimination in this country but claiming now that is no longer the case. "They have been given their chance to 'make it' and they have failed--so it must be their own fault and it just shows that they are inferior." So this racist argument goes.

This same kind of argument has been used to put down Black people--to add insult to the injury of slavery and other forms of oppression--all throughout their history in America. At any given point in this history, the oppressors and those who side with them have tried to deny that there is anything unjust in the treatment of Black people at the time, while perhaps admitting that there was some injustice in the past.

Always the blame is put on Black people for their depressed condition. And always this is a lie--camouflage that covers for the whole economic and political system in the USA and those who run it, the ones who are in fact to blame.

Let's cut through their boring--and lying--"history" and deal with the real story. In doing this we will see that the forms of discrimination and oppression may have changed at different times in the history of this country but one thing has remained the same right down to today: Black people have been continually subjected to discrimination and oppression under this system. In looking at this we can get a much truer picture of the problem and thus a much clearer understanding of the solution.

Slavery and Capitalism

Everybody knows that Black people did not "come to this country seeking a better life." They were kidnapped from their homes in Africa, dragged in chains and loaded onto slave ships--treated not like human beings but like things, commodities to be traded and used to enrich others. Tens of millions of these enslaved Africans died before even reaching America, so terrible were the conditions on the slave ships. Those who survived the trip and were then sold to plantation owners were treated like pieces of machinery. Slaveowners commonly referred to the slaves as "talking tools." That is how Black people were treated for the first 250 years of their experience in America.

Bob Avakian, the Chairman of our Party, has pointed out that the reality of the USA has always been that the government protects the property of white people, especially wealthy white people, more than the rights of Black people. And, as he says:

"It must never be forgotten that for most of their history in what is now the United States of America Black people were the property of white people, particularly wealthy plantation owners."

And the political leaders of the time--the "founding fathers" of the USA--defended slavery and upheld the interests of the slaveowners against the slaves. This is true of "the father of his country," George Washington, who was himself a slaveowner, and it is true of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States--men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Quiet as it's kept, the Declaration of Independence condemned the King of England for encouraging slave revolts--and rebellions by "Indian savages"--and this cold fact alone screams out the real deal on people like Jefferson who had the nerve to write in that Declaration that "all men are created equal." And these same men wrote into their Constitution that Black people only counted for three-fifths of a human being!

To many of these white overlords the enslavement and even the extermination of non-European peoples was so "natural" that they didn't even disguise what they were doing. For example, the French political philosopher Montesquieu greatly influenced the writers of the U.S. Constitution. Along with what he wrote about politics and law, Montesquieu had this to say:

"If I had to justify our right to enslave Negroes, this is what I would say: Since the peoples of Europe have exterminated those of America [the Indians], they have had to enslave those of Africa in order to use them to clear and cultivate such a vast expanse of land [in America].

"Sugar would be too expensive if it weren't harvested by slaves. . . .

"It is inconceivable that God, who is a very wise being, could have placed a soul, especially a good soul, in an all-black body. . . .

"It is impossible that these people are men; because if we thought of them as men, one would begin to think that we ourselves are not Christians."

Here again we see that the African peoples, and the native peoples in North America, were treated as something less than human--as though they were "beasts" or "savages" who never had reached and never could reach the "high level of civilization" of the Europeans. The fact that, both in Africa and in North America, there were highly developed societies and cultures long before Europeans came to dominate these places--this basic truth was denied and "written out of history" by the European conquerors and enslavers.

New Forms of Oppression Under Capitalism

Even though slavery was finally ended, after almost 250 years, Black people were still subjected to vicious forms of oppression--and still blamed for their own oppressed condition. First of all, Black people's own major and heroic role in fighting against slavery is denied or downgraded by the "official histories." The facts are that there were over 200 slave revolts, including the more famous ones led by Nat Turner in Virginia and Denmark Vesey in South Carolina, as well as other revolts that were covered up and "written out of history" by the slavemasters. And what about the Civil War that finally ended slavery? Once they were allowed to, masses of Black people flooded into the northern (Union) army in that war and fought courageously and with great sacrifice on the front lines--even though they were still subjected to segregation and discrimination, even down to the level where their pay as soldiers was only about half that of the white soldiers! Nearly 200,000 Blacks fought in the Union army and one out of every five (almost 40,000) gave their lives in this fight--a much higher casualty rate than for whites in the Union army.

It is a lie that "Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves" because he was morally outraged over slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves (and not all the slaves at first, but only those in the states that had joined the southern Confederacy) because he saw that it would be impossible to win the Civil War against that southern Confederacy without freeing these slaves and allowing them to fight in the Union army. Lincoln himself said clearly that

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Lincoln claimed it was his "personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free," but at the same time he said that the idea of "Negro equality" was nonsense ("a low piece of demagogism") and he insisted that whites were, and must be, superior to Blacks.

"There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. . .and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race," said Lincoln.

Lincoln spoke and acted for the bourgeoisie--the factory-owners, railroad-owners, and other capitalists centered in the North--and he conducted the war in their interests.

The Civil War came about because of the clash between two different economic and social systems--slavery, based on plantation farming in the South; and capitalism, based on factory and other wage-labor centered in the North. Things had gotten to the point where these two systems could no longer peacefully coexist within the same country. The slaveowners and the capitalists were battling each other for control of the country, they were battling each other as the USA expanded westward. This expansion was carried out by slaughtering the native peoples ("Indian savages," they were called) and grabbing their lands and waging a war to steal a huge chunk of land from Mexico. The slaveowners needed more land because their plantation system of farming was using up the land so fast, and the northern capitalists especially wanted the gold, oil, and other rich resources to the West. All this exploded into the Civil War.

To isolate and defeat the southern slaveowners, the northern capitalists had to promise the slaves their freedom and had to promise them (and poorer whites in the South) that they would get land and rights when the war was won. For a few years after the Civil War, some parts of these promises were kept, but even then the U.S. government used its federal troops to put down Black people (and poor whites who sometimes joined with them) who tried to get their promises paid in full. And before long, Black people were forced back onto the same plantations they had slaved on.

Now if they weren't actually slaves, things were still not all that different. Now the masses of Black people were exploited as sharecroppers and farm laborers, still working for The Man from "can't see in the morning till can't see at night." They were held down by debt they could never seem to get out of, and they were terrorized by scum like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and a whole set of laws and codes--all working to chain them in new ways to the plantation system.

Where was the U.S. government and what was it doing about this? It was doing what it has always done--protecting and enforcing the interests of the ruling class. The northern capitalists had gotten what they wanted and needed out of the Civil War: domination over the whole country and greater openings for the expansion of their capitalist system. Equality for Black people and an end to the plantation system--keeping the promises made during the Civil War--was in conflict with these capitalists' interests. So the promises were broken and brutal force was used to keep Black people poor, exploited, segregated and discriminated against, treated like peons on the plantations, now under the ultimate control and domination of the capitalists. And what excuse was given for this--what Big Lie was told then to try to justify this? The lie that Black people were "not ready" for full freedom and equality!!