SAINT-FORT: Concept of national forgetting renders black history moot
Opinions Column: Charged Up
As an institution, America is prone to national forgetting. As an act of radicalism, this society purposefully puts the horrendous acts of the past, in the past, without blinking an eye. The Japanese internment camps of the 1940s are purposefully forgotten. Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is purposefully forgotten. More than 200 years of slavery are purposefully forgotten — because hour-long lessons during the month of February cannot accurately portray the amount of exploitation and suffering that black people endured during those centuries.
Being ripped from their established towns and cities in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mali cannot be covered with a set of notes. Being forcibly packed and shackled into slave ships by the hundreds can’t be discussed using a PowerPoint. Living malnourished amongst feces and menstrual blood, only to be delivered to a foreign land and auctioned off like chattel, is a phenomenon that can’t be explained through a tri-fold project. But all of this is forgotten. It’s summed up once a year in a lesson that many students dread, as it continuously takes the same shape of a series of notes and painful photographs that so many have developed an acute numbness to.
From 1619 to 1865, black people were enslaved. Rutgers was founded in 1766. Slavery ended in 1865. For a near perfect 100 years, black people were imported and treated like horses and cows while this institution carried on with the business of “revolutionizing” education. The institution of slavery is just as old as Rutgers, comparing 246 years of forced labor and mistreatment to 249 years of “revolution” offers up an unprecedented perspective.
After slavery ended, that is, when Juneteenth came about and all of the states finally received word that the terrible institution had officially been shut down, segregation began. The Jim Crow era and tales of forced segregation are not only relevant to the South — black people had to ride on the back of the bus in Newark too. From the end of slavery until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black people endured 100 years of debasement, pain and injustice. We were forced to adapt to living in a society that was not created for us. We were forced to adhere to the status quo of a nation that did not account for our existence as fully functioning members of society.
Black people were purposefully disadvantaged through voter ID laws, residency clauses and a myriad of statutes. These adjudications were delivered in such a drastic manner that lawmakers could care less if poor whites were harmed, so long as black people were oppressed. And after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, up until today, White America has given us black people the go-ahead, right? For the last 62 years there’s been no such thing as institutionalized or even individualized racism. This nation's tendency of national forgetting renders all of that moot. Hundreds of thousands of people were ripped from their homes and enslaved … but it wasn’t that bad. Thousands of civil rights protesters were beaten, blasted by water hoses and chewed by dogs … but it wasn’t that bad. Every week, if not every day in America, an unarmed black person is gunned down by police or vigilante citizens … but isn’t that bad. Why are black people complaining?
But when Beyonce uses her national platform to pay homage to the Black Panther Party and call attention to the systematic injustices that black people face in America on a daily basis, it’s a problem? And when her back-up dancers, a group of black women, demand justice for Mario Woods — a young man who’s death, at the hands of what was essentially a police firing squad, was video taped — there’s an issue?
An anonymous quote characterizes this situation with grace, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That is exactly why many white individuals in America are up in arms with the out poring of melanin-charged black self-love and affirmation we’re seeing today. Black people in America have no choice but to challenge and transform the status quo, by any means possible. Trayvon Martin was our Medgar Evers, and his death, along with the deaths of so many others, has set off a permanent movement that will not end until changes are made.
Black people have a short history with America: We were slaves, we were segregated and now we’re being “included.” The summation of nearly 400 years of torment and harassment in three short clauses is the result of national forgetting. Our history is rich and runs deep, but European slaveowners have forced us to forget it. Yet as a radical and truly revolutionary act, we’re remembering — and we’ll never forget.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and political science with a minor in public policy. She is a former opinions editor of The Daily Targum. Her column, “Charged Up,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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