Yes, black America: there has never been a time when America has not kept you down. Your ancestors, betrayed by their African neighbors, were shipped here as cargo. Your forefathers were chained and whipped, your foremothers raped. Your people were bred like cattle and then those families torn apart. They were murdered for any reason, or none at all, as it was claimed not to be murder.
Short of extermination, a people cannot be treated more badly than was yours.
And white America fettered your ancestors with more than iron. It did this because it was both intelligent and fearful. And so it chained your people with ignorance. It fed their bodies because it had need of them, but starved their minds as best it could. Your ancestors were denied literacy, and math, and history and philosophy and science. They were denied education.
They were denied education because the thought of it terrified their slavers. When elephants can be yoked, even the strongest human body is easily chained. But the human mind…how does one cage knowledge and imagination? It gives the slaver nightmares.
And so education was denied to black America. At first many slave owners claimed that education was impossible, that your ancestors could no more learn to read and write than could a donkey. This claim was duly tested. After that, it was decided that educating black America must be made illegal. This was said to be for the slaves’ own good. Why burden them with such cares and concerns? And besides, what use is education to a man fated to pick cotton all his life? Apart from the joy of having a strong mind fitted to a strong body.
Which was, of course, the slaver’s nightmare.
But still, some rare few slaves–less unfortunate than all the rest–were provided an education. Some rare few owners–less benighted than all the rest–could not deny favored slaves who yearned to learn, and know. This outraged the other owners, who saw their nightmare take flesh.
Fredrick Douglass was the nightmare come true. He was the American Prometheus, stealing education rather than fire. He shared this stolen treasure with black America, and like Prometheus was tortured for his crime. But unlike the Titan, Douglass escaped his torment. He escaped and immediately married his love, Anna Murray. They raised five children together, and during that time Dougless turned his education against his former tormenters and toward their final nightmare: Abolition.
The abolition of slavery came, as it had to when white America finally heeded the Bible instead of merely reading it. But while the oppression of black America waned, it did not entirely vanish. In southern America, “Jim Crow” laws lasted a century after slavery was ended. Education could no longer be denied black America, but much of white America hindered it. This, black America, was for the same reason that slavers forbade your education and tortured Fredrick Douglass for daring to seize it: to keep your people down.
Jim Crow was finally put to death, the final coffin nail driven in 1965. But the new form of oppression had already begun. The very government that struck down Jim Crow had itself begun to hobble your people. In place of the chains that had been struck off, now crutches were offered. Crutches for minds, crutches for families.
This is said to be for your own good. It is said by those who accept no crutches for themselves.
Crutches have their uses. But suppose you, after severe injury, can finally walk again on your own two feet. If someone then offers you a wheelchair…saying that it is for your own good…you would be foolish to sit in that wheelchair. And you would be mad to stay in it. Crutches and wheelchairs should be used as little as possible and cast aside as quickly as one can.
Affirmative action is a crutch for the mind, and welfare is a crutch for the family. And this is how, today, the oppression of black America continues. Where once education had been denied, now it is offered with a crutch. This is said to be for your own good…by those who permit no crutches for their own offspring.
Fredrick Douglass would have gratefully accepted the education while spurning the crutch in disgust. And if you were so foolish as to try and hobble his children…he would have beaten you half to death.
Black America, in the past your families were ripped apart by force. Today it is welfare that tears them asunder. Your mothers are bribed not to marry your fathers, and bribed further for every new fatherless child. This is said to be for your own good. It is said by those who provide their own children with two parents.
If you had offered Anna Murray-Douglass money to send Fredrick away from their children, what would she have done? She would probably have laughed, as indeed it is funny…as a joke. But if you persisted in trying to destroy her family, that laughter would not have continued. And if you told her it was for their own good, she would have known you as either mad or evil.
Though the instrument has changed, yes, black America, yes, your oppression continues. In the early days you were hobbled by iron chains. Today you are hobbled by crutches, and what can white America do about it? It is one thing to help strike off another’s unwanted chains. It is quite another to take a crutch away from someone wailing to keep it. And so the crutchs will remain until you refuse them, or America can no longer afford them. Would it not be better to refuse them?
Black America, you once cast off your chains. Now cast down your crutches.
Rise, and be healed.