|400 Years: A Benchmark for Critical Assessment
This year is the 400th anniversary of Africans being brought to this country as an enslaved people. The anniversary is hardly a celebration.
However, it is an opportunity to look at our captivity and assess our progress as a people. It is impossible to make this assessment void of an
in-depth critique of American racism.
Most of us from African descendants don’t consciously or intentionally count our years here in North America as a people. It’s challenging
enough to get through the day. Still, we must continually confront our past, learn the lessons of our foreparents and chart our future.
A little-known piece of news from the Beltway last year was the signing of the historic act for African Americans. Congress passed and
trump signed the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act designed to acknowledge the four centuries plus of Africans being
forced into U.S. chattel slavery. The Commission Act, originally introduced as HR 1242, seeks to educate the public about how and why
Africans got to these shores. It encourages groups to organize and participate in a year-long commemoration activity.
What the Act and the commission fail to consider is the need for a serious investigation into how the application of U.S. law has impacted the
lives and futures of those whose lineage is traced to Mother Africa. There should be a compilation and examination of serious academic and
anecdotal works that sum up our progress (or lack thereof) over the last 400 years. Recommendations should be advanced that bring about
political, economic and educational parity in a timeline that doesn’t sacrifice another generation who can’t reach its full potential due to
by Jamala Rogers
In August 1619, the arrival of “20 and odd” Africans at Point
Comfort, Virginia was recorded. Africans were free, world
travelers w-a-a-ay before —this has also been recorded. Here we
are in 2019 still in the shadows. Most of our contributions,
struggles and aspirations remain in relative obscurity or selectively
spotlighted when necessary. Our existence is tenuous and our
collective future seems to always hang in the balance.
These 400 years of mutating slavery is worth uplifting for a
critique. It includes the captivity of a people and our enslavement.
It includes Jim Crow and slavery by another name (forced, mainly
unpaid labor). It includes all forms of segregation and second-
class citizenship. It includes mass incarceration. Many of these
manifestations are still current and often co-exist with one another.
Full citizenship of African Americans remains elusive because of
the systems of oppression that are propped up and legitimized by a
corporatized government. These are all the changing faces of
slavery that choke the progress of a nation of people and blame
them for their societal-inflicted failures.
This long and storied history is worthy of more than one
conversation for one year. It’s unfortunate that an ill-planned,
underfunded commission will trivialize the benchmark. This goes
beyond highlighting Black inventors or token Black billionaires to
justify that there’s a level playing field. As important as it is, it
goes beyond the archiving of our poignant history.
Anniversaries, whether painful or joyful, should always be times
of reflection. Racism and all its harmful manifestations aren’t
confined to Black folks and their communities; it impacts the
entire society on many different levels. Our unique and traumatic
pathway to an elusive citizenship compels the nation to review
everything from emotional healing to economic reparations. This
is an opportunity that can’t be squandered.