Where the American revolts come from


The protests and riots that have been taking place in the United States for days after the death of George Floyd, the African American man killed by the police in Minneapolis, are not understandable in all their reasons and implications except within the wider context of the systematic oppression and discrimination of African Americans in the United States, and in their historical origins. We publish an extract of This is America, a book written by Francesco Costa, also deputy director of the Post, which tells how the United States of America has become the country it is today, through eight exemplary stories of the great changes of the last twenty years. The following extract is taken from the chapter that tells the story of the city of Flint, the city that has been distributing toxic water to its mainly African American citizens for years since 2014.


Although the United States Declaration of Independence famously declares that “all men were created equal”, the Founding Fathers thought of men with skin of a specific color; and the defense of slavery from the growing hostility of the British was indeed one of the reasons – and that which is less talked about in the United States – for which the Americans sought that same independence. Slaves were not considered human beings: their condition was hereditary and perennial, and individual slaves could be exchanged, dismembered, sold, maimed, bought, raped, pledged, given away. Nothing could belong to the slaves, not even their children; everything could be done about them, and everything was done to them. The few African Americans who managed to redeem themselves from cages and chains, literally, were often killed with impunity; their businesses destroyed, if they dared to open one; their fortunes plundered.

This trend continued for a long time after the formal abolition of slavery – following a war in which hundreds of thousands of people had died to defend it – thanks to the legal imposition of a true apartheid built for the purpose of continuing to treat blacks as subhuman , and isolate them from public life. “Separate but equal“The Supreme Court ruled, but there was nothing equal. Informal segregation was omnipresent – everything existed in two versions, from schools to phone booths, from parking lots to cemeteries, and only one of them was dignified – and so was the violent submission of blacks, who could not testify against a white man, who had to make him space on the sidewalks or at the bar counter, which were subject to all kinds of bullying. No real emancipation could be allowed. After preventing blacks from learning to read and write for centuries, it was established that only those who knew how to do so could vote. When the federal government undertook to support the real estate market through state-guaranteed mortgages with the New Deal, it determined that these concessions would not go anywhere: neighborhoods inhabited largely by African Americans were highlighted in red on the maps – hence the name who took this practice, redlining – and they wouldn’t have perceived anything.

Still in the middle of the twentieth century, successful African American entrepreneurs were killed and robbed without consequences, while those who dared to rebel were lynched. Things have changed slowly and surely, fortunately, but they are still far from normal. The functioning of the judicial system over the years, for example, still reflects this asymmetry: there is not a single type of crime that does not yet see a gigantic disproportion of penalties and sentences to the detriment of blacks; and the progressive instrumental tightening of the rules has made it possible to sentence even thirteen-year-old boys to life imprisonment for having committed non-violent crimes. Almost all blacks: like the majority of detainees in the United States, the country that proportionally puts more people in prison around the world, despite the fact that African Americans make up 13 percent of the population. Meanwhile, stories of black people killed by police at a roadblock or in the middle of the street circulate weekly, without consequences, and many states continue to seek rules and quibbles to limit the participation of African Americans in the elections.

In a nation that is only three hundred years old and has spent two hundred and fifty years of submitting blacks with all the power of the state – the civil rights law is only from 1964 – such a systematic segregation and with such deep roots spontaneously reproduced Flint when his economic system collapsed: most whites got away or left, most blacks stayed and nobody took care of the city, except to commissariarla and ignore almost two years of protests while people drank toxic waste. Deindustrialisation has hurt all of Michigan, but in a few places it has hurt as much as Flint: and while Flint was sinking, and his children suffered irreparable damage, a few kilometers away there was still some way of standing, in cities that they had at least clean water and no asphalt. As Richard Manning, a journalist and writer from Flint wrote, what happened is a kind of small social experiment: it’s not that places like Flint were the only ones to have problems in Michigan or in the Midwest, but those are the places in whose border was pulled. In places like Flint a kind of outsourcing of problems has been practiced for decades, so everything that worked has been gradually taken away and everything that hasn’t worked has been abandoned there, so every crisis has been followed by another crisis, each disaster was followed by another disaster, making the city irrecoverable and thus effectively making it unrecoverable.

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