As we celebrate African American History Month, 2017, millions of Americans continue to “baptize” President Trump with sustained, massive protests against his racially divisive rhetoric. Some of those protesters correctly decoded Trump’s rhetoric by carrying signs that read that what Trump is really saying is: “Make America hate again.” On the occassion of African American History Month, let’s look at the past that Donald Trump, and his billionaire class, want to take us back to. And most importantly, let’s draw lessons from that past that will help our movement today.
In the year of 1640, three indentured servants, “Victor, a Dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory,” and “the third being a Negro named John Punch,” escaped from their master. When they were captured and brought to court, they received “the punishment of whipping and thirty stripes apiece.” In addition, the two Europeans each had their indentured service extended four extra years. However, John Punch, the African, was sentenced to indentured servitude, “for the time of his natural life.” (Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, P. 468. July 9, 1640—Punishment for Runaway Servants.)
There was no statute in British Common Law causing the court to make this decision. But the effect was clear. Those men entered that courtroom united by bonds of class and left with those bonds effectively torn apart.
The slave owning ruling class of 1640 feared that any cooperation between African and European slaves would lead, not just to running away, but open rebellion. They solved their problem that very same year by passing the first laws mandating slavery as the permanent condition of Africans. These laws would later spread throughout the colonies.
The American Revolution, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement were all leaps in American history. And yet we are still haunted by the legacy of slavery.
As Americans, we have been conditioned by our ruling class to be race conscious instead of class conscious. Unequals could not unite. However, there is a permanent economic equality of absolute poverty growing, most obviously seen among the homeless and those not far from it. They possess neither property nor privilege. There, unity is most possible. Their survival depends on it.
Trump and his corporate class friends are trying to resurrect the ghosts of racial hatred handed down by the slave masters of old. Their goal is the same: end resistance and rebellion. As humanity enters the next historical leap brought on by the technological revolution, let us forever bury those ghosts with class unity and build a society of true equality where the human needs of all are met.
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