Being black is not a crime

Columnist Taelore Spann dissects privilege in America.

"To be African American is to be African without any memory and American without any privilege.” - James Baldwin. 

African Americans' place in this country has always been a supporting role to the white hierarchy. The white slave owners used Black people as one of the first formal economic systems for the South.  

“Throughout the Atlantic Slave Trade, from approximately 1526 to 1865, 12.5 million slaves shipped from Africa, and 10.7 million had arrived in the Americas. The Atlantic Slave Trade was likely the most costly in human life of all of the long-distance global migrations,” according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Not only were African Americans stolen, but the United States also denied freedom after African Americans were “freed.” The 13th Amendment abolished slavery on Dec. 6, 1865. It states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for the crime of which the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction," according to the National Archives.

After slavery was abolished, white Americans introduced Black codes to continue African Americans’ status as second-class citizens. “Under Black codes, many states required Blacks to sign yearly labor contracts; if they refused, they risked being arrested, fined, and forced into unpaid labor,” says History, a website filled with historical facts. One of the unpaid labor systems was peonage, debt slavery or debt servitude, where an employer compels a worker to pay off a debt with work. Legally, peonage was outlawed by Congress in 1867. 

The debt servitude system was more brutal for African Americans because, unlike slavery, white Americans didn’t pay for these workers. Also, under this system, the number of arrests of Black people spiked. Police arrested Black people for loitering or gambling, yet the police report showed a felony charge. Wrongful arrests became the legal slavery system because of the 13th Amendment clause, “except as a punishment for the crime of which the party shall have been duly convicted.” 

This began the overpolicing of Black Americans that plagues us today. 

The system of wrongful arrests is still practiced today within minority groups. “Many of the convictions of African American murder exonerees were affected by a wide range of racial discrimination types, from unconscious bias and institutional discrimination to explicit racism,” according to Samuel R. Gross, who was a student at University of Michigan.

White privilege is being an immigrant to this country, yet because your ancestors did the colonizing, you feel as though you are superior. Those who came before you were the ones who made the laws to benefit themselves and their agenda. In comparison, Black people are racially profiled and reduced to their skin color and standard stereotypes, while white people are not. 

White privilege is not about being racists. It is about being aware of what you are privy to that others aren’t. 

So where is my privilege? 

Taelore Spann profile pic

Taelore Spann is a sophomore in political science and international studies with a minor in African American studies.

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(1) comment

Jim Baxley

Your privilege appears to be publishing editorial #293,286 telling everyone what a victim you are.

I've seen so many pieces like this published in the last several months, they've become background noise. It just sounds like whining to me now. Why don't you tell us what you're going to DO about it (or, if you're like most of the previous authors, what you expect others to do for you)? Complain more? Sure, see where that gets you.

We GET it. Slavery happened, whitey is bad, all police officers are rampaging murderers. Have I missed anything?

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