WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
Eighty million native people of color lived in the Americas in 1492; 65 million primarily white people lived in Europe; 46 million people of color lived in Africa.
In December of that year, Christopher Columbus landed on the Caribbean island of Haiti, which he then named Hispaniola, or Little Spain. It was the first recorded contact between Europeans and the indigenous Americans who called themselves the Taino. The Taino were divided into five kingdoms around the large island, and their estimated population ranged from 1 million up to 3 million.
The exact number of Taino people at first contact can never be known, but it is known that after 50 years of massacre, disease, forced digging in gold mines and being enslaved and shipped to other islands to work plantations, the Taino population was reduced to 500 people. The Taino then disappeared from the face of the earth. The first genocide in America by Europeans was complete.
Over the first century and a half after Columbus’ voyages, the native population of the Americas fell by an estimated 90 percent, from an estimated 80 million in 1492 to 8 million in 1650. While a majority of the deaths were caused by outbreaks of Old World diseases, many millions were also killed by the European invaders.
A second genocide visited on native Americans was well under way. It arguably continues today in Brazilian rain forests and on American Indian reservations.
From 1500 to the end of the slave trade in 1860, at least 12 million Africans were abducted and taken to the Americas. It’s estimated that an additional 1.5 to 2 million died during the ocean passage. About 500,000 slaves went to North America, while the majority went to South America and the Caribbean. Still, by 1850 there were 4 million Africans in the United States. Of the 4 million only 10 percent were free and 3.6 million were enslaved. In 1850, the 4 million made up 17 percent of the total U.S. population of 23 million, but they constituted over 37 percent of the population of the South.
The American Civil War abolished slavery and gave new freedoms to one sixth of the population. If the nation had moved on from there, honoring the rights of all people of all colors, we would live in a much different world today. But it didn’t work that way. Reconstruction lasted from 1863 to 1877, when it fell apart under heavy pressure and constant attacks by Southern Whites. The Democrats of the time were the party of White supremacy and they used every tool to diminish Blacks.
Economic pressure, governmental pressure, social pressure, intimidation, threats and violence were the norm. Lynching andother forms of murder were common. A third genocide continued.
A key part of the post-Reconstruction repression of black Americans was the use of white government forces — be they sheriffs, policemen, guardsmen, or judges – to visit daily and deadly violence on black citizen. Whites creating the violence went unpunished. (Does this sound eerily familiar?)
After the end of Reconstruction, lynching intensified. Lynching involved criminal accusations, often false, against a black citizen, an arrest, and the assembly of a lynch mob intent on subverting the judicial process.
Victims would be seized and subjected to every imaginable manner of physical torment, with the torture usually ending with being hung from a tree and set on fire. More often than not victims would then be dismembered. It’s hard to imagine human beings committing such vile and cruel acts against other human beings.
Over 4,000 people were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. The vast majority were Black. That was over one lynching a week for 73 years. All in a nation that declared itself dedicated to liberty and justice for all.
Today, black Americans make up about 13 per cent of our population, but are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites. Typically, 30 per cent of black victims are unarmed compared to 19 percent of White victims. Finally, 99 per cent of all black killings by police are not prosecuted by the legal system. Only the most egregious videos seem capable of forcing police to punish their own, and then often only after protests and demonstrations.
Since 2015, American police have killed over 1,000 people every year, with over one third being people of color. It appears that institutionalized dehumanization of these people, be they black, Hispanic, or Native American, encourages the police to pull the trigger quicker. As a culture, white European-descended Americans have always dehumanized and demonized others. We have always slaughtered others for their land, their gold and silver, and finally, just because they don’t look like us.
Larry Bennett, recently retired Brewery Ommegang creative director who is active in local causes,
lives in East Merideth.