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Happy White Independence Day

Where do Black people fit into Independence Day history?

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The British were the first to promise freedom after the war to any slaves who fought with them instead of the colonists, and freedom is quite the motivator to take up arms…as noted by the white colonists who were taking up arms to “free” themselves from British rule.

Throughout the colonies there were slaves fighting alongside the British because they’d rather be free and heavily taxed (assuming they were even aware of the political landscape and why their white masters were going off to war) than continue to live as property in a “free” country with the same ol masters.  One lasting record of the Brits’ promise to free slaves is The Book of Negroes, a list of slaves who signed up to fight for Britain and were then shipped off to freedom in Nova Scotia and England by Lord Dunmore after they lost the war.

How’s that for making good on a promise?

Britain wasn’t the first to have the idea to free slaves in exchange for participating in the war.  It was also discussed in the colonies.  Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers, was in favor of allowing slaves to form their own troops to fight alongside the colonists, and those who fought would be freed after the war.  The legislature was obviously against that because arming slaves – after what they’d been through – was a frightening prospect.  Plus, the South needed its economic engine to keep chugging along (Northern colonies were more receptive to the idea).  By the end of the war when manpower was running low, some colonies would allow free Blacks to serve and some would offer freedom to slaves who fought, but most plantation owners went back on that promise after the war was over.

In the end, more Blacks (free and slave) actually fought alongside the American rebels in the hopes that they’d receive freedom or a bounty or a pat on the head or even a thank you after it was over if the Americans prevailed.  The Americans did win…and the majority of those slaves went right back to the fields for another eighty years unless they managed to escape in the confusion of the war.  The revolution did turn some individual slave owners into abolitionists, especially in communities of Quakers where slaves were freed after the war because they recognized the hypocrisy of fighting a war for freedom from another country while you kept humans as property in your “new” country.

So when some uber Patriotic white guy you went to high school with (who is still your Facebook friend for some reason) posts a status update at the fireworks show tonight about his ancestors fighting for freedom, remember that ours did too.  And most of them didn’t even get a thank you.

 

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History

The 19th Amendment gave white women the right to vote.

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.

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Need to see less “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote” and more “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving WHITE women the right to vote.”

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.

Also want to point out that Black women worked right alongside white women for equal suffrage, but they were working for women AND Black people. When Black men got the right to vote in 1870, Susan B Anthony was upset white women didn’t come first. The American Equal Rights Association was working for equal suffrage for all — including Black people — so Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton left because Black men got the right to vote before white women, and they started the National Woman Suffrage Association.

1694

So let’s recognize the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment but keep in context that the white women who benefited from it did so with the groundwork of Black women working alongside them that they subsequently abandoned in favor of whiteness.

(Oh and in case anyone needs clarity, the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, but the end of Reconstruction made it effectively null and void because states just threw up barriers to voting anyway. We had voting rights on paper, but not in practice.)

 

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History

A brief history of psychiatry as a weapon against the powerless.

Psychiatry is a great help to many people but psychiatry has frequently been used by those in power to rid themselves of inconvenient undesirables.

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“Hysteria” as a diagnosis is almost 4,000 years old. Back in Ancient Egypt, women whose behavior deviated from accepted norms were given medications by doctors for their hysteria. Only women could be hysterical, which is why the name itself comes from the Greek word for uterus — hystera. Women who behaved abnormally were thought to have problems related to the uterus wandering around the body, being in the wrong position, or having various defects. Egyptian doctors would put medication on the vulva to encourage the uterus to return to its normal position. Greek doctors would give women medication to make the uterus healthy. Later, Christian doctors would perform exorcisms to relieve the womb of demonic possessions. Some of the behaviors that led to a diagnosis of hysteria were an inability to have children or the lack of desire to get married.

So, if you were a woman living in pre-modern times who had a miscarriage, had a stressful menopause, or didn’t want to be stuck to a man for the rest of your life, you may end up with a strong salve between your legs, medications that make you sick, or a priest telling Satan to get out of your uterus.

The first recorded instances of hysteria were around 1900BC, and from then up through the 17th Century, hysteria was considered a physical illness that a doctor could diagnose. In the late 1600s, there was a shift in the scientific community and hysterical women were now thought to have a mental illness instead of a physical one. Since mental illness was (and still is in many ways) poorly understood, women who behaved badly were put into asylums. Men in medicine diagnosed women with hysteria for a wide range of symptoms from seizures and hallucinations to being annoying and not knowing their place in society. If you’re a man whose wife doesn’t follow the societal norms of the time, you get her diagnosed with “female hysteria” and a doctor prescribes some pills to knock her out or you have her sent away, either to the country to get some air (if you like her), or to an asylum to be locked up (if you don’t).

Psychiatry was a convenient resource to rid men of women who questioned their authority. One of the most famous cases is that of Christine Collins, a single mother whose son was abducted in 1928.

christine collins

The nationwide publicity made the LAPD look bad and, after they found the wrong boy and tried to convince Collins it was her son, the captain of the police department had her committed to a psychiatric ward.

Captain Jones called her a lunatic and claimed she was trying to get the state to take care of her child and believed she was just trying to embarrass the police department. He threw her into a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles County General Hospital on a “Code 12” which allowed police to get rid of troublemakers by throwing them into psychiatric hospitals.

(cont. Crime Museum)

Collins was eventually released and sued the department twice (winning the second one, though she never received her payment ordered by the court), and California made it illegal for the cops to put someone in a psych ward without a warrant.

“Drapetomania” was a mental illness invented by a pro-slavery physician in 1851. Drapetes is Greek for “runaway slave” and mania is Greek for “madness or frenzy” so we have another illness with Greek root words to make it sound important thrown at a disenfranchised community. Samuel A. Cartwright was a typical white man in the antebellum South who believed Blacks were inferior to whites, and it was one of his missions to “prove” it scientifically in order for slave-owning whites to have a factual line of reasoning for keeping Africans and their descendants in chains.

samuel cartwright

A slave running away from captivity wasn’t just another human longing to be free — that slave was afflicted with drapetomania. Blacks were supposed to love slavery, and it was up to slave-owners to ensure that by treating their slaves like children.

If treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night — separated into families, each family having its own house — not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbors, to receive visits or use intoxicating liquors, and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed — more so than any other people in the world. If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.

(cont. PBS)

On the other hand, if treating them like children didn’t work, you should cut off their big toes so they can’t run. Or just whip them. Those are the only two options — infantilization or brutal violence. (x)

Slaves who wanted to be free had a mental illness, but what about free Negroes? They needed a mental illness as well, so whites could justify their brutal treatment of all Black people. Cartwright had an answer for that too: dysaesthesia aethiopica, which basically meant all Black people were lazy unless prodded by whites to be productive. Slaves were naturally lazy, but if you gave them a structured workday and just enough food and a clean place to sleep, you could keep dysaesthesia aethiopica at bay. One of the symptoms was skin insensitivity, so the slave should be washed, oiled, whipped, then put to work in the sunshine. (x) Another symptom was skin lesions…which would be caused by whipping, so Cartwright built a nice circle for himself there.

There was no hope for free Negroes. They were all lazy because they didn’t have any white people to tell them what to do.

On the other side of that coin, too much initiative could also result in a diagnosis of mental illness. In 1958, the University of Mississippi was still an all-white institution of higher learning, and Clennon Washington King, Jr. sought to change that. He applied as a graduate student, but he never made it past registration.

clennon king

In the summer of 1958 King attempted to enter the graduate program in history at the University of Mississippi. No African American had ever applied to the university, and the white power structure struck back quickly and devastatingly. When King arrived in Oxford to register, Gov. J. P. Coleman, members of the state highway patrol, and several plainclothes officers greeted him. After forcibly removing King from the registration area, state authorities carried him to jail. Two physicians then declared King insane, and he spent nearly two weeks in a state asylum before his younger brother, civil rights lawyer C. B. King, secured his release.

(cont. Mississippi Encyclopedia)

Inconvenient Black people are still sent away when white people are uncomfortable. I started thinking about the abusive history of psychiatry this weekend when I saw a story from a Black man who worked at Cards Against Humanity and was locked up by his bosses because he wanted to keep the n-word out of the game.

nicolas carter

Nicolas Carter was the only Black person in the original writing room, and he spent much of his time at CAH censoring himself because he needed the job. Speaking up can get you fired. Once he got a job elsewhere and CAH became a secondary source of income, his disposition changed. Not only was he less stressed about money (and therefore in a more positive headspace), he wasn’t as afraid to bring criticisms to the floor because he wasn’t afraid of losing his job.

That positive attitude alongside his newfound ability to tell white people when they were wrong landed him in a psychiatric ward.

From what I’ve been able to gather, Andy, Jo, Jack, and Eunji felt that my behavior had changed so dramatically that I must have been facing a mental break. One of the side-effects of having money was my mood improving, who could have known, and the combination of me saying what I really thought and being happy didn’t seem like my normal self to them.

Andy reached out to my sister who was a senior in college. He told her that I was going to be disciplined at work for my behavior and could lose my job, which so frightened my parents that they drove from New York to Chicago overnight. My dad came to my apartment and asked me to “see someone.” I agreed, since I was imagining a therapist on a couch asking me if I was suicidal. He drove me to Illinois Masonic, where the combination of my parents’ concern and the collateral of a co-worker who was operating with the head writer were enough to have me forcibly kept there.

I was admitted on a Friday at 6pm so I didn’t see a psychiatrist until Monday. She was tall, blonde and flanked by two med students. When I told her I had been in a stressful home environment growing up due to poverty and the fact that my parents told me I had to be better than the white boys to compete, she told me that was preposterous. Why would two anti-racist scholars teach their son to see white boys as competitors? Anti-racists would teach their son that race didn’t matter at all. I asked her if we could bring a single person of color into the room besides me to illustrate how common I felt it was to be taught this, she said no. She later listed my concerns as “spontaneous delusions” on “racial topics.”

I had realized I needed to lie to get out after my conversation with the psychiatrist, so I spit my 5mg Abilify pills into the water fountain and said I was grateful until they let me out after five days.

(cont. Medium)

4000 years after women were vaginally medicated for not wanting to have children, 150 years after Black people were whipped to cure the mental illness of laziness, 100 years after a woman was locked up for knowing a runaway boy was not her child, and 60 years after a Black man was put in a mental institution for the crime of wanting to go to a white school, we have a Black man admitted against his will because he didn’t want his bosses to put the n-word into a card game.

Psychiatry is a great help to many people (self included) but psychiatry has frequently been used by those in power (usually white men) to rid themselves of inconvenient undesirables. If your experience with psychiatry falls along those lines, remember you’re not alone and that there are caregivers who recognize this and will treat you with the respect you deserve. Do your research and seek recommendations from people you trust. And if you know someone who needs emergency assistance, make sure you do your research before you turn them over to a profession with a history of gaslighting and marginalization.

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History

The Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a monument to America’s freed slaves.

Here’s something you didn’t learn in US History: The Statue of Liberty has nothing to do with immigrants or (voluntary) immigration.

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Here’s something you didn’t learn in US History: The Statue of Liberty has nothing to do with immigrants or (voluntary) immigration.

Ellis Island opened 6 years after Lady Liberty was erected and the “tired, poor” immigrant poem by Emma Lazarus came two decades later.

The Statue of Liberty was conceived as a gift to the US by Frenchman Édouard de Laboulaye (and a group of his French abolitionist friends) to celebrate the end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. She originally held a torch in one hand and broken shackles in the other (the chains still made their way into the final piece — at the bottom where her feet are) because Laboulaye loved America, but he loved the country even more after slavery was abolished.

To raise funding for the massive project, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi pitched the Statue of Liberty in the broadest of terms. What started as a gift to America specifically to commemorate the end of slavery became a token to the idea of “liberty” in general. Plus, by the time the Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, Reconstruction was over, the progress of Black America had been violently crushed to a complete stop, and we especially didn’t want an enormous token to “freedom” dedicated to us in the country’s largest city. Black journalists and publications viewed the monument with disdain and the leading thinkers of the day rightfully turned away from the original intent behind the piece because the chains holding Black people hadn’t really disappeared at all.

She’s been a monument to immigration since.

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