Slavery’s Long Shadow
American whites have long projected our ‘shadow selves’ onto minorities, accusing them of things that we ourselves do, far more. In doing so, we justify a perpetual policy of both aggression and self-defeat. Worst of all: we are utterly blind to this fact. Here’s the (real) data.
The majority of Americans never got over slavery. As in, we still lament its loss. We still think of minorities — and black Americans in particular — as lesser beings. We are still practicing eugenics, today. And we also still practice genocide, today.
We’ll get to that.
There are two reasons that the same majority — the white Americans who still comprise most — 76.3% — of the national population — always votes Republican and for Republican policy, election cycle after election cycle, without exception in modern American history. First, they can’t abide by the notion of people they consider beneath them being treated as equals in the land, including access to that which would lift all Americans. And second, that’s because it is black Americans — and now other minorities, as well — upon whom white Americans psychologically project the things they hate about themselves, but cannot admit.
“Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. Psychological projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings.”
So said Sigmund Freud — the person more than any other that framed our understanding of how humans think, today.
While Freud developed the Theory of Projection, his colleague, Carl Jung — the other psychoanalysis giant — called this same phenomenon the shadow self. The shadow self, Jung wrote,
“…in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.”
For centuries, white Americans have baselessly projected their problems onto black — and now Hispanic — Americans: things like laziness, violence, ignorance and greed.
You probably feel outraged right now by my statements, or think I’ve lost my marbles. Most Americans — by which I mean white ones — do. We believe ourselves to have moved on, ages ago. But we’ve not. Not at all. We pushed our shadow selves so far down that we no longer know they’re there. But our actions — both daily, and during elections — betray the truth.
So let’s review some facts, starting with the benign.
National Health Plan
The majority of all Americans — about two thirds of them — favor a “national, government-administered health insurance plan similar to Medicare that would be available to all Americans,” according to CBS News. That includes nearly all Democrats, the majority of Independents, and one third of Republicans. And yet, we have never, ever, voted for it.
For what we want.
There are long-running barriers that minority groups face with regard to the access, quality and even cost of care, for no reason other than the color of their skin. A 2004 study published by the NCBI titled Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life, reports:
“Racial and ethnic minorities may face challenges in having access to medical care in the United States. When they receive it, their care may not be equivalent to that for other groups. Why this is so, however, is a complex issue involving not only possible differences in ability to pay and provider behavior, but also in such factors as patient preferences, differential treatment by providers, and geographical variability.”
The article goes on to cite “systematic racial differences” — abuses — like lack of care continuity, higher insurance premiums due to race, coverage limits with respect to things like medicine, and a generally lower quality of care, in which commonly performed hospital procedures are conducted less frequently on minorities, or for admitted patients who are on Medicare, than if you are white, and/or your employer is paying a premium for your health insurance. Adding insult to injury, black Americans are less likely to be covered by their employers.
A 2002 treatise called Unequal Treatment argues that “unconscious or unthinking discrimination based on negative stereotypes, even in the absence of conscious prejudice, may contribute to systematic bias in care.”
And so, not only are biases prejudicing access and outcomes for minorities throughout the system, but the idea that a national plan would give minorities equal access to the full complement of medical care, drugs and all, that whites receive, funded by taxpayer dollars — ours — sits poorly with white American voters, insurance and health care providers, alike; those who harbor and act upon these unconscious biases.
Thus the health care programs that most of us want have yet to carry the day at the ballot box.
More Americans believe that their self-funded-yet-tax-deferred 401k plans will provide for the majority of their retirement income needs than will any other source—like social security—the federally funded plan created by President Roosevelt in 1935, to support retirees. A whopping 80% of Americans believe this to be the case, according to Gallup, while just 33% believe social security will fulfill that primary support role. And yet, in practice, actual retirees find the opposite to be true. 90% of Americans, in all, rely on social security to some degree, of which 57% of them rely primarily on it to continue feeding and housing themselves. Our 401k plans do the trick for just a third of us.
This means that there’s a major disconnect between our narrative and our reality. Yet in this case, too, white Americans have never voted to expand our safety net—their safety net—and in fact, election cycle after election cycle, attempt to undo it.
The reason? Our unfounded fear that minorities will overwhelm the system, and bring it down.
This is due to a nagging stereotype in the United States that more minorities than whites are poor, and that they “milk the system”. That may be because the numbers support that theory, on the surface. According to the US Census Bureau, 10.1% of whites live in poverty, while more well over twice that number of minorities— 23.6% of Hispanics, 26.2% of African Americans, and 28.3% of Native Americans— also do. So it would seem as though whites are more industrious, and more contributory, than our largest minority groups.
That is, until you do just one more calculation.
If you look at the total number of Americans who live in poverty, you see the draw on the system quite differently because of the sheer number of individuals in each group. 10.1% impoverished whites (76.3% of the population) translates to 25.5 million white Americans living in poverty and relying on the social contract that a Democratic president ushered through with his New Deal. If we apply the same calculation to our most visible minorities, we find that 11.7 million black Americans — half the number of whites — live in poverty; while 14 million Hispanics, and 2.7 million Native Americans, do as well.
All in, there are nearly as many poor white Americans as all other groups, combined. The draw on the system, in real numbers — and on the flip side, the benefit that a strong government safety net, in poverty and in retirement, alike, could confer on the entire population — would benefit white people twice as much as it would any other minority.
And yet, white Americans have never voted for a candidate that would make it so.
A persistent, nagging narrative of violence has been continually foisted upon black Americans for as long as they’ve been in the United States. That includes fear on our streets, when approached, unsolicited. Fear of sexually predatory behavior. Fear of gang violence. Fear of gun violence in general, as well as gun ownership. As a result, our ‘brave men in uniform’ protect us from the specter of violence at the hand of the African American driver or pedestrian — a narrative we use to justify taking them down, one after another, putting them behind bars, or killing them on the spot.
The story is as old as America itself. And now, we get to watch this unfold on television, captured on smartphones, regularly.
Well, the numbers don’t bear out this narrative. Not at all.
First of all, 36% of white Americans own a gun, while just 24% of blacks do, according to Pew Research. That 50% more white people own guns than black people is, in itself, telling. Now factor in how many more white people there are in the US than blacks. With nearly six times the number of whites in the nation as blacks, the distribution of firearms is incredibly weighted toward whites.
Simply put, the majority of guns in the United States are owned by white people.
Add to this statistic that men are twice as likely (39%) to own a gun as women (22%); and that 46% of rural Americans own a gun, while fewer than half that number — 19% — of urbanites do. If you recall me writing just two days ago, 80% of American blacks live in cities, while 97% of rural Americans are white. Finally, 41% of gun owners identify as Republicans, whereas fewer than half that many — 16% — are Democrats.
All of this means, alarm bells ringing, that more guns are overwhelmingly owned by white, male, rural, Republican Americans than any other group. Let’s expand the catchment area. The United States comprises just 4% of the world’s population, and yet we own 46% of the global stock of firearms! Meaning, white Americans own more guns than any other group… on Planet Earth.
As go the firearms, so goes the threat of gun violence. If anyone should instill fear in us, it’s the white, rural, male, Republican American, armed to the teeth, ‘locked and loaded’, and waiting an excuse to exercise their legal, Second Amendment rights.
Let’s look at crime. Between 2017 and 2020, statista.com reports that police shot and killed 824 black Americans. In the same period, they shot and killed 1,537 white Americans. So you’d think blacks aren’t unfairly targeted, because more white people were killed by officers. Or, that white people commit more kill-worthy crimes than black people. That is, until you realize that there are 5.7 white people for every black person in America. Quick math reveals that, in fact, police officers kill three times as many African Americans, per capita, as white Americans.
About general crime, Wikipedia states:
“Scholars have found that some racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, are disproportionately represented in the arrest and victimization reports which are used to compile crime rate statistics in the United States. The data from 2008 reveals that black Americans are over-represented in terms of arrests made in virtually all types of crime, with the exceptions of “driving under the influence”, “liquor laws” and hate crime. Overall, black Americans are arrested at 2.6 times the per-capita rate of all other Americans, and this ratio is even higher for murder (6.3 times) and robbery (8.1 times).”
In all, there are 5 times as many black people as whites in American prisons, reflecting a centuries-old systemic bias, in policy and in practice. The Vera Institute of Justice published a paper called An Unjust Burden, with the following high-level takeaways:
“Racial disparities in the criminal justice system are no accident, but rather are rooted in a history of oppression and discriminatory decision making that have deliberately targeted black people and helped create an inaccurate picture of crime that deceptively links them with criminality.
Discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices have historically and unjustifiably targeted black people since the Reconstruction Era, including Black Codes, vagrancy laws, and convict leasing, all of which were used to continue post-slavery control over newly-freed people.
This discrimination continues today in often less overt ways, including through disparity in the enforcement of seemingly race-neutral laws.
Bias by decision makers at all stages of the justice process disadvantages black people. Studies have found that they are more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pre-trial, charged with more serious crimes, and sentenced more harshly than white people.”
Finally, consider the following: more black people murder — and are murdered by — black people than white, in total numbers; which does show that on a per capita basis, black Americans kill and are killed more often than whites. But. Underlying these statistics are two important factors. First, nine out of ten — nearly all — homicides are intra-racial — meaning, within one race: black against black, or white against white. So both groups pose little threat to those outside of their own communities, which implies that our inter-racial fear is largely unwarranted. Second, the systemic racism-fueled persecution — and the resulting overrepresentation in jail and prison — of black Americans at the hand of policies and practices that were largely created and enforced in order to persecute them — conspire to create the problem in the first place and then amplify it: in places of learning, in the workplace, on the street, and even in the hospital.
In other words, we create the conditions to manifest outcomes that will allow us to continue thinking and acting upon false narratives — narratives that deflect our attention from the truth: that we have used minorities in general — and black Americans in particular — as our scapegoats. That is, to quote Umair Haque, “They’re the receptacles of all [our] hidden fears and anxieties about [ourselves].”
Ok. Let’s get to the sticky parts.
It’s a huge word. When we think of it, most of us think of the Jews in the Holocaust; or more recently, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uighurs in China, the Bosniaks in former Yugoslavia, or the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Genocide takes two forms in the United States: forced hysterectomies, and forcible removal of children from their parents, and their ethnic group. These two things have gone on throughout US history, and are still being practiced today.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which establishes the international definition of genocide, includes the following two passages:
“Genocide shall be defined as…
“…forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
“…imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”
The Guardian reported just two months ago that:
“Forced sterilizations were endorsed by a Supreme Court ruling and have been repeatedly imposed on women of color.”
It goes on:
“A whistleblower report published by non-profit Project South alleges that large numbers of migrant women held at the Irwin County Detention Center — a privately run facility that imprisons undocumented immigrants — received hysterectomies that they did not want, and which were not medically necessary.”
These were reported by a nurse who works there — an insider. At Irwin County, they refer to the gynecologist who performed them as “the uterus collector.”
It’s not the first time.
In the Early 20th century, white Americans advanced the idea that “undesirable” traits could be bred out of the population, with involuntary sterilization performed by the government. The 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v Bell (the one referred to by The Guardian) allowed Virginia to sterilize a “feeble-minded” woman named Carrie Buck. Buck took part in that state’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924”. Quickly following this, no fewer than 32 states funded eugenics programs, using tax dollars to sterilize 70,000 women, disproportionately of color.
The Nazis — the Nazis — based their eugenics program in World War II on the American model.
Please re-read that sentence.
Just fifty years ago, throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, white doctors in the Indian Health Service — an American program — were empowered to choose the women they personally believed were “fit to reproduce”, and allowed to sterilize the others. In all, they sterilized one quarter of all Native American women in their mandate…
…without their knowledge, through duplicity, or during other surgeries.
North Carolina’s eugenics program didn’t end until 1977, by which time 7,600 people there — in just one state — were sterilized.
Not that they needed to underline this, but The Guardian concludes:
“Forced sterilizations like the ones that happened to women at the Irwin County Center and to women throughout the nation during the 20th century are first and foremost human rights violations, cruel abridgements of those women’s dignity, autonomy and rights to self-determination. But they are also statements of white supremacist hostility, an assertion by white racists of the thing they most hate and fear: new Americans of color.”
The Irwin Center’s recent sterilization activities, and the forcible removal of 2,654 children from their parents or guardians, sprung from the fertile minds of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, courtesy of their Zero Tolerance Policy.
In other words, right now.
That’s without mentioning the widely reported current sexual assault crimes in detention centers across the United States — many of them against children. These ICE facilities have resulted in up to 50,000 reported sex crimes, so far, costing taxpayers $2.7 billion, and representing the worst of American policing. ProPublica is just one source. The New York Times is another. The American Civil Liberties Union is a third. In that report, ICE centers insist they are not responsible for staff sexual abuses.
The oft repeated white man’s stereotype of the ‘lazy black’ or ‘lazy Mexican’ is betrayed by the facts. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) wrote an article earlier this year titled African American Workers Built America. From plantation crops like cotton, tobacco and rice to the transcontinental railways and roads that connected the vast nation, black slave labor powered the United States’ rise as a superpower. Then, during the civil war, 179,000 black men — 10% of the Union Army — served as soldiers, with another 19,000 serving in the Navy. Post-emancipation, the disparity between working women spoke to another dimension of national contribution. CLASP reports that 50% of black women were in the labor force, compared with just 16.5% of white women. They take care to point out that the “Women’s Liberation” movement of the 1970’s applied only to white women; black women had always been there. They were just “invisible to policymakers”. Finally, as America grew, over 1 million blacks participated in the “Great Migration” to work in the steel mills, the automobile industry and shipbuilding, among other heavy manufacturing industries.
And yet, the classic narrative by white people is that black people are lazy.
In reality, without black labor, there would be no America, as such.
It’s Not Just Black People
Similarly, anyone who has seen this firsthand knows that Mexican Americans — and Ecuadorians, Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorians, as well — are among the hardest-working demographics of all groups in the United States. A 2014 article in Slate Magazine cites a UC Irvine study that tracks multi-generational immigrant families. When measured not by their starting point (education and success in a home country), but rather by post-immigration generational change, Mexican Americans “come out on top” of the list. Their children’s high school graduation rate is double that of their parents, while their college graduation rates are double their fathers’, and triple their mothers’.
CNN Business Magazine reports that Hispanic (that is, Mexican, Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Honduran) immigrants far outstripped the progress of whites, blacks and Asian Americans, over a 17-year period ending in 2016, when it came to college enrollment. Nearly half of high school graduates went onto college by 2016, whereas in 1999, just a third did that. The article cites that demographic’s “work ethic” — inherited, they say from their parents — as a major reason.
So why is the white American narrative for this demographic — reinforced with “innocent” cartoon caricatures like Loony Tunes’ Slowpoke Rodriguez — who I used to watch, growing up, and who is depicted as “lazy and dumb” — at such odds with reality?
If you’ve been reading this, it’s pretty clear.
A commonly repeated stereotype is that black Americans use up the lion’s share of social services. To quote historian Joe William Trotter, Jr., in his book Workers on Arrival, “white workers are viewed as the victims of ‘cultural elites and coddled minorities,’ while African American workers suffering from the very same economic and political conditions are treated as ‘consumers rather than producers, as takers rather than givers, and as liabilities rather than assets’.”
Well, let’s look at the numbers. According to fortunly.com, 59 million Americans receive welfare during an average month, of which the largest group of recipients is… children. 41% of all welfare users are children — the same number as the combined total of 18–64 year olds!
The next biggest tranche? Whites. 28% of welfare recipients are non-Hispanic whites. Blacks account for 5% fewer recipients, at 23%. So not only is the biggest human rights crime in America — the wealthiest nation on Earth, with the planet’s only trillionaires — the fact that it lets tens of millions of children go hungry and homeless; the other is the false perpetuation of a stereotype about black people, when in fact more whites benefit from the program that they do. And, you saw this coming, as a voting bloc, white Americans strike down social safety net champions again and again and again, every four years, at the ballot box.
Then, there’s wealth. Another dimension of greed isn’t how much of a nation’s available services one uses; but rather, how much money that same person or group accumulates (aka hoards), in lieu of distributing a portion of it to those who participated in the enterprises that created the wealth.
In other words, the people on whose backs income and wealth were generated.
Guess who comes out on top of the greed equation?
Between 1970 and 2018, according to Pew Research, lower tier individuals’ incomes stayed dead flat; middle tier individuals’ relative share of US income dropped from 62% to 43% of the total; and upper tier individuals’ wealth nearly doubled, from 29% of total US income to 48% of it. Similarly, Americans’ wealth — not to be confused with income — continued its outrageous consolidation in the upper tier of American families. In 1970, the wealthiest Americans collectively owned 60% of it, while just half that — 32% — belonged to the Middle Class. By 2016, the wealthiest Americans managed to claw their way to fully 79% of all aggregate wealth in the nation, while the Middle Class’s share plummeted to just 17% of the total (the remaining 4% belonged to the poorest third.)
Not only is income inequality rising in the US, it leads the world in disparity.
MarketWatch reports that:
“While the working class and the impoverished families of America — half of our country! — have less real wealth than they had 20 years ago, the super-rich top 1% have doubled theirs in a generation, according to a new data set recently released by the Federal Reserve.”
The US Federal Reserve reported just last month that:
“Black and Hispanic families have considerably less wealth than White families. Black families’ median and mean wealth is less than 15 percent that of White families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. Hispanic families’ median and mean wealth is $36,100 and $165,500, respectively.”
Statista.com reports that 76% of all millionaires in America are white, while Asians, African Americans and Hispanics each account for just 8%.
You can either conclude that white people are better at making money; or you can see centuries of still-present practices of bias and prejudice — and the policies encoded to keep one group dominant, and its scapegoats at bay — in full force.
So: when we dig under the surface of headlines, all of these things paint a pretty clear picture of systemic persecution of American minorities from the overwhelming white majority. At each turn, the exact things that African (and now Hispanic) Americans are accused of — laziness, violence, ignorance and greed — are, when looked at more closely, actually qualities of the white American.
White Americans draw down and depend more on the social programs that they continually fight tooth and nail to remove or defund, than African Americans do.
Education itself is being increasingly vilified across the nation.
The Chicago Tribune wrote a 2017 article on Elitists, Crybabies and Junky Degrees, in which an Arizonan veteran decries “the waste he sees at too many colleges and universities, where he says liberal professors teach “ridiculous” classes and indoctrinate students “who hang out and protest all day long and cry on our dime.”
In responding directly to the veteran — Frank Antenori — Arizona Senator Steve Farley said, “Public education at every level is the only tool we’ve ever invented to effectively allow people to lift themselves from poverty.”
But if we allowed people to lift themselves out of poverty…
Thus education is a partisan — i.e.: race — issue, in the United States.
Violence, too, is a white man’s problem, to a large degree, as reflected by gun ownership, race-fueled harassment and imprisonment, and murder. The US Armed Forces don’t help here. A military that invariably claims to be “defending” itself abroad is, in fact, the most belligerent military in the world, continually waging pre-emptive war on countries that didn’t attack us.
And finally, as the yawning wealth gap illustrates, greed is a majority white American problem.
When we look, then, to the actions of those in power — such as the targeted persecution of African Americans, in policy and in practice; the hard-lining of minor crimes like marijuana possession; the outsized arrest and incarceration of blacks; the sexual molestation, disfigurement, sterilization and childhood genocide of minorities at the hands of uniformed officers; the nagging — and projected — stereotypes that continue to dog minorities daily, about laziness, greed, ignorance and violence; and the “white vote” each and every election cycle, through all of modern American history, against policies that would, in fact, lift up their own burden, substantially; it is clear that white Americans are stuck on the fact that if they did vote for the liberal/social agenda — in health care, in education, in social safety programs — then, well, the minorities would benefit, too.
And that’s just too much to bear.
Because if American minorities were given truly equal access to education, social programs, health, employment and compensation, and freedom from harassment, then when they rose up the ranks, white Americans would have no choice but to face why that is.
The long shadow of slavery — of the ugly parts of ourselves that we project onto others, in order to justify our past and present behaviors — looms large.
Londoner Umair Haque, one of the most interesting writers on policy, right now, recently wrote an article about how a German, a Frenchwoman, an Italian and an Englishman recently all cornered him one day in a neighborhood park, wanting to know why it was that “Americans are so hateful”. He begins by talking about the fact that Americans have no sense of humor about themselves; that they cannot accept their own flaws, as part of their narrative.
The Brit — a police officer — asked him, “Why do white Americans say that black ones are the violent ones… when white people have all the guns?”
The Frenchwoman adds, “Black Americans invented jazz and soul and rock, but white Americans say they are not intelligent and creative.”
Haque piles on, “Think of how white Americans are afraid that blacks and Mexicans are lazy, when blacks were slaves for generations, and Latinos do much of America’s hard, menial labor.”
The Italian chimed in, “White Americans are afraid that they’re being invaded all the time, when they’re the ones that keep invading countries across the world.”
Then Haque spells it out:
“Racism is always just a projection of the unwanted parts of ourselves.”
It is difficult, if not impossible, for the average American to admit that the founding of their nation, as exquisitely as the documents that forged it are written, is based on a deal with the devil: that of usurping an innocent people through dehumanization, slavery and abuses too many to list here.
Not only that; the practices — not just their shadow — continue today, in policing, transference of personality traits, and in persecution and denial at every turn.
The primary reason, scholars largely agree, that black Americans are still persecuted, is because Americans are unwilling to face the fact that they have sinned, to use a religious term; and that this reality is at odds with the American narrative of exceptionalism.
In truth, Americans wage more preemptive war, and kill more people, than anyone else. They persecute more of their own citizens than any other people on Earth. The rampant poverty in their own nation, and the obscene wealth beside it, leads the world in disparity. Systemic abuses committed against mothers and children and minorities in general — even today — speak to a deep-seated racism that never left. And in the context of these things, the fact that white Americans consistently vote against the very things that could help us out of our messes — better education, better health, better retirement and poverty programs — belies the fact that we are so offended by the idea that minorities could benefit from — even thrive on — these society-building policies that we torpedo them, even at great cost to the self.
Worse still, if our scapegoats got out from under our yokes, we’d have to admit that maybe something else is at play here; that perhaps there are sub-optimal qualities that we possess, and that without another group to justifiably blame for our problems—onto whom to project our shadow selves—then we’d have to look into the mirror, and face our ugliness.
Instead, with our every move, we continue to project our shadow selves onto those who are hopeless to defend themselves from it.
With that said, a minority of white Americans have elected—in daily practice and in electoral advocacy, alike—to face the mirror and admit, “There are things we do wrong. We need to stop doing them, so that we can make amends — if possible — and begin reversing these trends, in the name of our continued mutual progress, and wellbeing. And then the hard work will follow—that of healing ourselves, and our inner demons.
For the greater good.”
These include the equal treatment of all citizens. More importantly, they include the reparations that generations of black Americans are due. They include the acceptance that “American Exceptionalism” isn’t in the fact that we won self-rule from Britain (Britain eventually divested herself of all of her other territories, without war), but the fact that our values — that “all men (and women and non-binary humans) are created equal” is the primary thing that makes Americans exceptional.
It’s not our acts. It’s our aspirations that make us special.
So until American behaviors match the aspiration of our Constitution, we will continue to live in a disconnected, shadowy reality.
More specifically, until we admit to ourselves our own flaws, and take ownership of our own wellbeing at the ballot box, while simultaneously gaining ground on reparations toward those against whom we continually sin, deeply, we cannot begin to heal, nor introduce the kind of governmental salves that can begin to benefit the entire nation.
When — if — we are able to stop projecting our baser instincts and behaviors onto others, we will become the nation we were meant to be: an inspiration to the world, in words, in deeds and in reach; and a happy and prosperous nation at home.
We have a long way to go.
It begins with the reconciliation of slavery’s long shadow.