As a history major at Utah Valley University, and single mom raising two teenagers, I believe it important for my children to understand and acknowledge the historical roots of present-day racism. We cannot heal our racial differences as a nation if we do not grapple with the fact that our country was founded on principles of white supremacy.
Defenders of Confederate statues wrongly claim that it was a lack of compromise, and not slavery, that led to the Civil War. Our tendency to sanitize our historical memory of slavery has brought us to a point where we believe we have left slavery behind us. Many white Americans believe the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement ended racism. For that reason, it has become difficult for us to acknowledge the ways in which the legacy of slavery persists.
Our history demands an honest reckoning with the legacy of slavery. Racism is not just prejudice. It is a structural inequality rooted in our nation’s founding. Our Founding Fathers created a Constitution that protected slavery. The notion “all men are created equal” has not always meant all people.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of We Were Eight Years In Power, contends that the wealth and prosperity of this country were founded on the backs of black bodies, which he calls plunder. The economic disadvantages African-Americans experience in our own time are rooted in our history of appropriating black wealth. African-Americans still face discrimination in wages, housing and education. White Americans have imposed this structural inequality on them for centuries.
Our first step towards grappling with the legacy of white supremacy is to listen. I am currently writing my senior thesis on the concept of reparations. Long before the Civil War, black voices were agitating not only for their freedom, but also for just compensation for the damages caused by slavery.
In 1783, a freed slave named Belinda argued in Massachusetts that she, “by the laws of the land, is denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, a part whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude.”
Surprisingly, the court agreed and granted her reparations. Ironically, white judges in 1783 were able to do what many white Americans have difficulty doing today. They listened to Belinda and acknowledged the injustice she experienced.
Laura Kyte, Vineyard, is a Realtor and a history student at Utah Valley University.