Listen to the Podcast – Save the ‘not my family’ proclamations for someone who’s stupid enough not to understand the connection between the economic history of the United States and the hundreds of years worth of unpaid labor of Africans and African-Americans.
If your family came to the United States after slavery, you are not exempt from understanding how their integration into an American system based on slavery affects African-Americans to this day.
To be clear, slavery didn’t end in 1865. It was simply rebranded in the same way that failing companies change their name and logo in order to continue operation. Chattel slavery became forced prison labor/debt peonage/sharecropping/etc.
Your family was able to come to America because of the unpaid labor by millions of African-Americans who created the foundation of what attracted your family to this country. Your family didn’t get off the boat and walk into a completely virgin forest with no sustaining governmental structures, did they? No.
Families coming to America for employment were only employed if employers could afford to hire workers. That hiring was done by people with the power to employ other individuals. And to be in a position to employ other individuals, one had to have some form of capital.
Enslaved Africans and African-Americans were the tools used to create a massive amount of wealth in America. These tools were managed by a parasitic financial and governmental apparatus meant to extract as much resources and knowledge from the culture of African-Americans as possible, while also using their bodies to build empires and breed more enslaved laborers.
The wealth amassed by the owners of capital was passed down through generations of white people who were, subsequently, in a position to employ your ancestors. That same wealth was also used to purchase the goods and services provided by businesses started by your ancestors.
These businesses, by the way, were allowed to be started, maintained and legally bequeathed to the next generation without government-funded encumbrances in the form of laws and law enforcement entities.
At the same time your ancestors were struggling to create a life for themselves, African-Americans were legally and illegally kept from building, managing, owning and transferring anything of real value — as defined by this Capitalist system — to their succeeding generations.
When your ancestors came here, they were able to get employment through employers who’d already used generational wealth to start a business. Some of those employers were former slaveholders or secured loans from persons or entities who were former slaveholders. As a result, the employer became financially stable enough to hire your ancestors who came to America after emancipation.
Those grand stories people tell of their ancestors coming to America with $5 in their pocket and not knowing the language inevitably means that the wealth they accumulated came courtesy of the American economic system. In other words, immigrants arrived in America and started businesses financed with the help of money already circulating in the U.S. economic system.
In comparison to African-Americans, immigrants got left the fck alone for the most part to build their communities and trade amongst each other until their organizations were powerful enough to deal with — and protect themselves from — the larger predatory American economy.
I’m not addressing individual cases here. If your ancestor got caught up in the system of debt peonage or prison labor it wasn’t comparable to the number of African-Americans who were routinely swept up into that system — sometimes simply for being unemployed (read about vagrancy laws).
Moreover, were they targeted for injection into that system because they were Italian? Polish? Irish? Many African-Americans were “coincidentally” incarcerated right before the owner of some big industrial company came to town looking to hire prison labor.
Absent the enforced enslavement of people from Italy, Poland or Ireland, I don’t want to hear how your ancestor was “just like ____”. Like every community in the American system who generally gained power, with the exception of African-Americans, they ultimately became economic predators too.
+ Your Fam Didn’t Own Slaves… But Did They Want To? +
Not every white family in America could afford to own other human beings. However, it’s irresponsible not to realize that aspiration affected how non-slaveholding families felt about the legality (or illegality) of owning other human beings.
These aspirations were irrespective to the realities of competition. People always hate unfair competition unless unfair competition puts them at an economic advantage — like how the owners of enslaved people didn’t have to pay salaries and could breed them like animals.
Many white people who were citizens but were too poor to own slaves joined white militias like the KKK after 1865 because “free” African-Americans were now their competition in the job market.
While all of this is happening, the owners of capital used African-Americans to power the economic system of America. Over the years, that fact made America an attractive place for immigrants seeking refuge from poverty and war.
If your relatives emigrated in the midst of these atrocities, money flowed into their immigrant communities from people and organizations which had directly or indirectly benefited from the forced chattel enslavement of Africans and African-Americans.
Just as an enormous amount of wealth was amassed from the enslavement of African-Americans and transferred to succeeding generations, so too was a crushing amount of poverty and the inability to create lucrative networks of people with the power to protect themselves from predation.
+ Wealth and Poverty +
Wealth and poverty is a two headed beast: one cheerfully nihilistic, the other starved and struggling to breathe. No, they are not adversaries. Both would need a comparable amount of power in order to be adversaries. Poverty sustains wealth, and wealth creates poverty. That beast is the foundation of our current system.
Wealth can’t exist without poverty. This parasitic dependence on the suffering of people is how America became attractive enough for your ancestors to come here. And they came here by the millions from all over the world.
When a Japanese businessman named Takao Ozawa used the courts to file for citizenship in 1922 against the Naturalization Act of 1906, did he argue about how immigrant restrictions were wrong? Did he challenge how the flawed foundation of the American economic system initially determined who was seen as “citizens”?
Ozawa argued that Japanese people should be classified as white and thus should benefit from the same privileges as other white immigrants. Bruh. *side eye*
The judge in his case, of course, ruled that only Caucasians were white and Japanese people were of an “unassimilable race”.
The point is Ozawa wasn’t emigrating to America to challenge a system built on the backs of enslaved African-Americans. Ozawa wanted to become an American citizen in order to be part of and to benefit from the same system which allowed for debt peonage and sharecropping.
When your great great grandmother came here, she became part of this beastly system which, to this day, has yet to sufficiently rectify hundreds of years worth of injustices against generations of African-Americans.
When your great great great grandfather came here, he became part of a system where the descendants of thieves and savages maintained power by leveraging the benefits gained from their ancestors’ use of African-American people.
So don’t pretend as if the system of chattel slavery had nothing to do with you or your ancestors who came after 1865. The American economic system was created by hundreds of years worth of extraction from black bodies to create white businesses, banks and organizations. Those businesses, banks and organizations made America an attractive place for your relatives to set up shop.
Your ancestors came into an economic system made stronger because of chattel enslavement. They were paid for their goods and services with money whose value was stronger because of it. And, they were allowed to pass down their businesses and maintain networks of people without the same amount of legal and illegal hindrances faced by African-Americans.
If and when African-Americans finally get redress from the federal government, you don’t get a pass. Benefiting from the American system — not simply being an American citizen — means you are part of an economy based on injustices done by the government against African-Americans. Their descendants still live among you, buy from you, and live in neighborhoods designed for them (thanks to redlining and economic starvation) by this system.
No, sweetheart, you are not exempt from this.