A History of Slavery and Black Lives Matter in the USA

Slavery is the most dehumanizing thing a person can experience. Slaves have existed since ancient times, so this is an old problem. However, the situation in America regarding slavery involves wounds that are still fresh. Lasting harm has in part led to to the present phenomenon known as Black Lives Matter.

No wonder slavery is such a taboo word, considering the fact its history is 160 years old. Slavery existed in America from 1620 until 1895, a period in which millions of people were exploited till death.

The first people that were enslaved were the Native Americans. However, because of disease that was brought to the New World, they died very quickly. After that, the Europeans were brought to the land, but they also quickly died because of the weather. The third and final option were black slaves.

Black slaves were considered the “ideal candidate.” They were accustomed to the weather; they were skilled with weaving, agriculture, carving as well as heavy labour. These qualities only made the situation worse since it encouraged the capture of more slaves, as well as breeding, leading to the same circle of pain.

Besides being controlled, dehumanized, unprotected by the law and mutilated, enslaved people were denied the right to education since it was easier to control an illiterate group of people. Instead, they were told that the Bible stated they were innate slaves.

After the Revolutionary War, the North began to pass laws making slavery illegal. By 1804, slavery was outlawed in all northern state but it continued in the South and the years leading up to the Civil War are underscored by the hard work and tireless efforts of the abolitionist movement to end slavery everywhere in the United States. The basic beliefs of the abolitionists were that slavery violated the principles of American democracy and the natural rights of man.

The Civil War began in April of 1861 and lasted a little over four years. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation made all slaves in the rebel states free and made it clear that the Union was fighting for the abolition of slavery. Slavery was officially abolished on December 18, 1865. Emancipation was made permanent through Constitutional Amendment, and the abolitionist movement in America could finally claim victory.

In the decades after, there were efforts to ensure black people had the same rights as everybody, but when the North ended its occupation of the South, many of those efforts were ignored and segregation began. Schools, railroad cars, restaurants, and even movie theatres – almost every aspect of society – were segregated into black and white. Although they were supposed to be separate but equal, the facilities and services for black people were almost always inferior.

Martin Luther King Jr. is probably the most well-known leader of the civil rights movement, and his campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience was able to gain wide support from the public. The passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would end segregation, but the fight for racial equality would continue and many groups and movements would come after.

However, the defeat was not taken easy for the white people because they introduced restrictive black codes and regressive contractual arrangements appeared. Frustrated by the decision taken by Abraham Lincon, people started to form different organizations which promoted white supremacy, the best know being Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was an American white supremacist group targeting African Americans.

All of this weas because of the colour of the skin, an aspect which cannot be changed by anyone. No one decides that they want to be black or white or yellow. You are born like this; you don’t choose it. In her book, activist Angela Davis states, “being targeted by the police for no other reason than the color[sic] of one’s skin is not mere speculation. Police departments in major urban areas have admitted the existence of formal procedures designed to maximize the numbers of African-Americans and Latinos arrested even in the absence of probable cause.” All this injustice; all these oppressions boiled up and led, eventually to the rising of multiple rebellions, one of which eventually led to the abolition of slavery. However, even though slavery doesn’t exist now, the wounds that were created by this, not so long ago, are still very fresh and will be very hard fix.

Nowadays many people avoid talking about racism and race. They prefer to ignore this subject, looking at it as a taboo word. It is not a taboo word. Racism is here and it is more alive than ever. Even though the government, corporations, media are trying to sweep racism under the rug and pretend that it is a problem of the past, it can still be seen nowadays that things haven’t changed overnight and that the behaviour and the attitude regarding this issue will not improve on its own. Racism is an injustice that is still increasing, even nowadays, all over the world, affecting the life of many individuals.

According to the MacMillan dictionary, racism is “a way of behaving or thinking that shows that you do not like or respect people who belong to races that are different from your own and that you believe your race is better than others”. Many white people still can’t deal with the idea that black people should have the same rights as white people and so, the disputes, the tensions that appeared in time have finally bubbled up and exploded. Cases like Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, who was shot in the head and killed in 2010; Rekia Boyd, who was 22 years old and was shot in the head in 2012; Tamir Rice, 12 years old, who was killed by police in November of 2014; Megan Hockaday, 26 years old, was shot and killed by the police after a domestic dispute call in 2015; and George Floyd, 46 years old who was killed during an arrest in 2020, to name just a few. All these cases present the attempts to install fear among the black community. Even though nowadays we find ourselves in a world where black people are far better than they were 100 years ago, the equality is not there yet.

George Floyd’s whole death was caught on camera and brought attention to this issue is recent months. As Will Smith said “racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. Ongoing cases like this appeared daily throughout US, whether they were filmed or not. So, because of the fact that black communities were tired of living in fear they decided to take action. Thus, Black Lives Matter (BLM) was born.

Alicia Garza, along with her two sisters Patrisse and Opal, created the BLM movement. While many people started to join BLM in order to make a change. The movement was seen as “a call to action” and a “response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.” BLM is an international active movement which aim to eradicate racism targeted against the black communities, who do not benefit of the same rights and equity which can be found in the white communities.

As Martin Luther King Jr stated, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” In a world filled with technology and opportunities and things we couldn’t even imagine 100 years ago, racism is showing that even though we have made progress in all domains (science, medicine, technology, etc.) we, as people, are not able to evolve and to learn from the mistakes of past and to try to become better versions of ourselves. It looks like we are drowning in a world that is empowered by racism and it becomes harder for us to find the balance and peace.

After the death of George Floyd and other young people of colour, BLM raised its voice louder than ever, appearing on every social media, news channel, magazine and newspaper. However, questions and complaints started to appear: “Why is it called Black Live Matter and not All Lives Matter?”, “It should be All Lives Matter.”, etc. Due to these publications, many people started to demand that the BLM movement should be called “All Lives Matter” movement. However, the name of this movement was not implying, in any way, that the other lives didn’t matter. It was saying that black lives also matter and that there should be no more injustice.

In conclusion, it is sad to see how much the black community has struggled and still struggles because of a factor which cannot be controlled. The only thing that still gives us hope is that people are learning from our mistakes and let’s hope these mistakes will not happen again.

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