“If some groups are simply meant to be at the bottom, then there are no questions to ask about their deprivation, isolation and poverty. There are no questions to ask about the society which produces that deprivation, isolation and poverty. And there is nothing to be done, because nothing can be done: Those people are just the way they are.” – Jamelle Bouie

I have read more and more recently about people claiming that the observation of America being a nation where some have been oppressed is a lie. As efforts by people of color to express their true views of America have been read by more people, there is now a popular backlash to that way of thinking.

These people falsely claim there have never been oppressors and oppressed in this country. My question for them is how else do you explain it? There is historical evidence that in 1641 Massachusetts wrote the first law making the enslavement of Black people real in the English colonies. Many other colonies followed suit and the Founding Fathers saw no reason to outlaw the practice when they formed the government and drew up the Constitution over two hundred years later.

If the enslavement of millions of Black people for over two centuries was not oppression, then what was it?

Is it possible that my ancestors, who were held in bondage in Virginia and Mississippi were not oppressed? According to people who claim oppression has never been a part of America’s history, my family must have been treated pretty well. The people who made a fortune transporting millions of Africans to these shores, selling them like cattle, raping women and girls whenever they chose, using their human “property” as collateral for loans to pay off debts, forcing them to work for free until the day they died – according to these oppression deniers, were not oppressing anyone.

When some of these same people forced the nation into its bloodiest war to protect the institution of slavery, then murdered Black people at will during and after so-called Reconstruction, were apparently not being oppressors in the view of these oppression deniers.

I finally watched the 1944 film “Gaslight,” where a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy. She begins to notice things she cannot explain, like missing pictures, strange footsteps in the night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. This attempt to convince her that her reality is somehow fictional is where the term gaslighting comes from.

“Psychology Today” defines gaslighting as: an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.”

These folks who are trying really hard to tell people of color that oppressors and oppression are a figment of our collective imaginations are attempting to gaslight us, but we have seen these games for far too long to be tricked.

I feel that they are trying just as hard to gaslight themselves and other White people, because of the guilt they feel about the abhorrent behavior of people America calls White throughout American history.

Somehow the lynching of over 500 people in Mississippi was not a form of oppression. The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, tells us that “The lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported campaign to enforce racial subordination and segregation.”

They have documented 4,400 racial terror lynchings in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II according to their Lynching In America report. Both race-based slavery and racial terror lynchings are a couple of examples of America’s oppression of Black people.

There are so many more examples, that it would take volumes of books to describe them all. The people who perpetrated these horrific forms of oppression left behind copious amounts of evidence of their bad deeds, because they felt no shame and feared no retribution for their crimes against humanity.

Back in the early 1990s, I began an attempt to trace my family history. I looked at old U.S. decennial census records, trying to find my ancestors. Prior to 1870, most Black people in this country were enslaved and never listed by name in the census. That created a huge roadblock in my efforts to trace my lineage, and for millions of other Black people trying to connect with their past.

We have been erased. Our true names, where we came from in Africa, our traditional cultures, religious belief systems, and languages were stolen from us, which is another form of oppression.

When I read about wealthy conservatives and liberals who support this way of suppressing the authenticity of oppression in U.S. history, it is very alarming. These people use their wealth, social media platforms (Like X, formerly known as Twitter), and influence to pander to a very racist way of interpreting American history.

They have paved the way for a person like Vivek Ramaswamy, who at one time was a viable candidate for the GOP nomination for president, all while supporting this belief that history of oppression is a myth. The idea has come closer and closer to being a mainstream view among a lot of White people as they push back against DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts across the country.

Wall Street hedge fund manager Bill Ackman has become one of the loudest voices attacking DEI efforts and he is supposedly a liberal. “With friends like this, who needs enemies? Dr. King warned us in his Letter from Birmingham Jail to watch out for these types.

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the White moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the White moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

I see evidence of oppression of Black people in the thousands of Jim Crow laws which was so well documented by the brilliant attorney Pauli Murray in her detailed report, States’ Laws on Race and Color. These laws are just a few examples of how oppression was legally sanctioned.

Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, permitted or required separate schools for Black and White students. Delaware, Mississippi, and North Carolina provided segregated schools for Indian and White students.

As late as 1951, fourteen states mandated segregated railroad facilities for Black and White passengers. These laws were not just state laws, oftentimes cities and towns had ordinances on the books requiring segregation. Missouri required by law separate parks and playgrounds for Black and White children. Arkansas mandated segregated racetracks, Louisiana, and South Carolina mandated segregated circuses and tent shows. Mississippi and South Carolina required segregated hospitals and thirteen states had segregated mental health facilities. Mississippi and South Carolina would not allow Black nurses to work with White patients.

Penal institutions were segregated in ten states. Seven states had segregated facilities for Black and White orphans. Over thirty states at one time made it illegal for Blacks and Whites to get married. State militias in Indiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia required segregated battalions. In Georgia, only Black ministers could legally officiate weddings for Black couples. Arkansas would not allow Whites and Blacks to be listed on the same tax lists. Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington made it illegal for Asians to own real estate under so-called Alien Land Laws.

Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina placed restrictions on the number of acres of land Asians could own. Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska made it illegal to sell firearms to Indians. South Carolina made it illegal for Whites to get a license to operate billiard and pool halls to be used by Blacks, and the same law applied to Blacks who wanted to have White patrons in their billiard and pool halls. Skating rinks and bowling alleys in New Jersey were segregated by law.

If these laws were not a form of oppression, I do not know how else to describe them.

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Patrick Record (Ann Arbor News via AP) and Bill Hudson (AP)