Saturday, June 20, 2015

For Charleston

God wept; but that mattered little to an unbelieving age; what mattered most was that the world wept and still is weeping and blind with tears and blood.  - W.E.B. Du Bois
Almost as sad as the terrible murders that recently took place in South Carolina is the fact that no one is really surprised.  In America, this is the sort of thing that happens.  We are a divided people, we are angry, and we are heavily armed.  In a larger context, this is a part of the inevitable karmic consequence of a nation that was built on the principals of slavery and genocide, on the exploitation of natural, cultural, and societal resources, and on unchecked militarism and nationalism.

European powers initially established rival colonies on the North American continent, each of which existed merely to be exploited and utilized for the perceived benefit of foreign kings.  Competition between the European powers was intense, and any means necessary were considered acceptable to support their colonies, including the eradication of the native population and the use of slave labor. Eventually, the colonies rebelled and started a bold and inspiring experiment in democracy, but in less than 100 years they fell into a divisive and bloody civil war, and that seemed to be the end of that.

But following the war, a resurgent capitalism took hold, and the young nation gained in strength and power. However, W.E.B. Du Bois, who taught here at Atlanta University, recognized the exploitation and bribery inherent in the new American capitalism.  He also saw something larger happening, something happening not only to poor blacks but also to poor whites.  "There began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor," he wrote in 1935.  To Du Bois, whites as well as blacks were in a sense becoming the new slaves. 

Today, many Americans feel betrayed and powerless, and blinded by patriotism, propaganda and a sense of privilege, don't see that it's the system that's betrayed them. We hold others responsible for our misfortunes.  The others may be immigrants, or those of other races, or those with different political opinions. But we can't see what W.E.B. Du Bois saw nearly a century ago, that it's unchecked and unrestrained capitalism that's disenfranchising the masses. 

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