Ironically, February was Black History month and slavery has finally ended in the United States with the ratification of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by the State of Mississippi on Feb. 7, 2013.
The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was adopted in 1865. Mississippi didn’t get around to ratifying it until 1995, but then they just forgot to file the paperwork until this month —148 years after its passage.
“It was long overdue,” admitted Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Xenophobia is the fear of strangers, especially of people of foreign origin. Racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Misogyny is the mistreatment and devaluation of women. All are alive and well in these United States of America.
With the election of Barack Obama, one would hope that having a biracial president would have heralded a new age of respect and tolerance and the end of xenophobia, racism and misogyny in the USA. Yet in many ways, it has brought the simmering pot of hatred to full boil: The audacity of the man, who identifies himself as African-American, to not only seek the highest office in the land, but to actually win it — not once, but twice.
Over the last five years, I have received hundreds of e-mails of the vilest form defaming the president for no other reason than he is black. Sadly many of these repugnant messages have come from people I once respected. I have told several that I no longer will accept messages from them. For a couple of others, I just set up an e-mail rule that anything from them goes directly to junk mail because I see them once in awhile and it’s easier not to be confrontational.
These are educated men who have lead privileged lives in professions that afforded them luxuries envied by many. Yet no matter how eloquent the prose, the message is the same. Their world is changing and they can’t keep up. They are losing the race on race and they fear it with all their heart.
Sadly, even with Mississippi finally notifying the U.S. Archivist that it had actually ratified the 13th Amendment in 1995, there are too many in all 50 states that haven’t even come close to ratifying it in their own minds. Xenophobia, racism and misogyny are all forms of slavery — not slavery in the context we are all familiar with, but in the form of slavery of the mind.
To me, it’s insane that we need to designate a month to the study of black history. Black history should be taught 12 months out of the year alongside white history and Native American history as well as all the other histories that made this country great. Yet we live in a time when the Civil War is still described as the War of Northern Aggression in textbooks used in southern states. In Georgia, third-grade students are being assigned math homework with word problems like these: "Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?" and "If Frederick got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?" It's still a time when an African-American nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint is removed from caring for a baby because the father requested “No blacks” care for his child and the hospital accommodated, even going so far as to post the request on the chart.
We have to ask ourselves: How far have we really come since 1865?
We are slaves to our own prejudices, our own fears and our own bigotries. What is so disheartening is that we use the constitution as a wedge to divide us rather than a mechanism to draw us closer. The freedom it grants us to pursue hate without fear of reprisal can easily be turned around and allow us to pursue unity just as easily. We can throw off the shackles of the mind and come together as one.
Fred L. Goldenberg is a certified senior advisor and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a patient and consumer advocacy and financial services organization in Traverse City. Questions or comments about this column or other senior issues can be directed to 922-1010 or firstname.lastname@example.org