Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander, and the founding of the US

The murder of Trayvon Martin and jailing of Marissa Alexander aren’t just about racism —they’re about slavery.

Many groups of people face racist violence and discrimination in the US, but what African Americans, or any other people deemed to be “Black” face runs even deeper. This whole damn country was founded on these principles: Black people are the property of white people, and Black people count only as 3/5 of a human.

And these rules aren’t just legacy, but are still our lived realities, every day. White people get away with murdering Black people, every day, every day, every day. And Black and Brown men, imprisoned in large numbers in rural parts of many states (and hey, I’m talking up North here —stop blaming this on “the South”!) count as “population” to determine local congressional seats in the counties where they are imprisoned, not in their homes, yet aren’t allowed to vote for those seats. I think that’s pretty damn close to counting as only 3/5 of a human, don’t you?

Some days I think that if there weren’t for-profit prisons and strong prison guard unions the State wouldn’t even pretend to care about Black-on-Black crime; they don’t actually care about those killed. They only care about two motives: making profit, and maintaining white supremacy. Imprisoning people for Black-on-Black violence serves both of these, the latter by the myriad ways having been imprisoned destroys lives by making employment impossible, breaking up families, destroying education, denying the right vote and on and ugly ugly on.

Imprisoning white people for killing Black people might serve the profit motive, but maintaining white supremacy trumps profit, every time. To have found Zimmerman guilty of murder would be to say that Trayvon Martin was fully, legally, human, and that’s not how this country was set up.

Imprisoning Marissa Alexander definitely serves both profit and supremacy. What in the world would the US do if Black folks thought they had the right to take up arms to defend themselves? And this question goes to the heart of how the US was established to protect a slave-holding social system, for the deepest fear of that system was that the enslaved, who outnumbered the owners so greatly, would rise up.

I’ve already seen many many comments about how “The system is broken” or how this was a “travesty against justice.” But THIS IS HOW THE SYSTEM WAS SET UP TO WORK. And while the acquittal is a travesty against the abstract concept of Justice, it is exactly what the US justice system was set up to do —maintain the vision of the founding fathers. Who held generations captive in violently enforced slavery, raped women held in slavery, and sold their own children from these rapes as slaves.

Where, in those founding principles, does anyone possibly think Trayvon Martin’s murder would matter?

And, finally, because I found this on Facebook this morning and it so brilliantly sums up the situation, a quotation from Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom:

The slaveholders, with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity of the poor laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much a slave as the black slave himself. The difference between the white slave and the black slave was this: the latter belonged to one slaveholder, while the former belonged to the slaveholders collectively. The white slave had taken from him by indirection what the black slave had taken from him directly and without ceremony. Both were plundered, and by the same plunderers. The slave was robbed by his master of all his earnings, above what was required for his bare physical necessities, and the white laboring man was robbed by the slave system of the just results of his labor, because he was flung into competition with a class of laborers who worked without wages. The slaveholders blinded them to this competition by keeping alive their prejudice against the slaves as men, not against them as slaves. They appealed to their pride, often denouncing emancipation as tending to place the white working man on an equality with negroes, and by this means they succeeded in drawing off the minds of the poor whites from the real fact, that by the rich slave master they were already regarded as but a single remove from equality with the slave. The impression was cunningly made that slavery was the only power that could prevent the laboring white man from falling to the level of the slave’s poverty and degradation. To make this enmity deep and broad between the slave and the poor white man, the latter was allowed to abuse and whip the former without hindrance.


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