“We Was Turned Out”

How American business still has a slave owner mindset

Slaves in the South Library of Congress

With the faltering economy due to the pandemic, it seems the elite in America is still infected with destructive thinking. It is a sad thing that it has been over 150 years since slavery and over 50 years since the civil rights act was signed into law that America and American capitalism is still struggling with ownership, caste, and equity. Even since emancipation and with our current society eschewing racial disparity verbally, there continue to be rationalizations by some about slavery and the mindset of ownership. How often have you heard, “they were treated well,” “they were better off in America than in Africa,” or “if you want a better life get another job or more education.”

After the end of slavery, the Federals promoted the idea that by freeing the slaves they had established a kinder gentler form of servitude that included wages. However, a study of the life for workers after the Civil War would show extreme child labor, no rights for women, mistreatment of minorities, and persecution of homosexuals. The attitude of the factory owners toward workers was similar to that of the slave owner but with no guaranteed shelter, sick time, or daily rations. Some workers were locked behind bars, or cages to ensure the employer they wouldn’t take a break and there were few if any safety standards. The employers colluded to build a foundation that ensured desperation without employment and had monopolies that ensured less competition.

There are recordings in the library of congress of former slaves being interviewed sixty-five years after the Civil War. During one of the interviews, former slave, Fountain Hughs, discusses what is what like when he and his fellow slaves were freed. One of his statements “ We didn’t have nothing, like your cattle, we was turned out” is a gut-wrenching testament to the callous mindset that began America. The real American idea of emancipation was not about freedom for all, but instead, a clear statement that the two hundred years of servitude to a nation African Americans helped build did not matter. They were let loose like some would an unwanted dog, to fend for themselves in the destitution of reconstruction. The fact is, American capitalism started out with the slaveowner mindset and American capitalism still has a slave owner mindset.

The Federal government of 1865 ceased chattel slavery with the defeat of the South but still continued the genocide of native Americans. Additionally, the mistreatment of women, children, minorities, and workers shows that those in power continued to believe in the concept of ownership. Down in Dixie, Southerners having suffered greatly during the war refused to see the poison which cost them their civilization and continued mistreating and segregating African Americans. Southern evangelicals began promoting, The Lost Cause Narrative which sold the idea of noble benevolence towards slaves but belied their vicious cast system and cruel paternalism. Not only did black lives not matter throughout much of our history, no life except that of the wealthy or business owning white males mattered.

In 2020, with the onset of a worldwide pandemic still sweeping through the United States, Americans once again find themselves faced with a moral quandary as it was in the past. Will we finally defeat the idea that unfairness, racial disparity, and caste are unavoidable? Will we continue down the path that some humans are more expendable than others? Will we continue to sell the idea that since the slave owner provides the food, shelter, and healthcare…the slave should not only feel fortunate to be part of such a system, but willing to fight and die so their masters can continue greasing the wheels of the corporate plantations with their blood?

None of the ideas about capitalism and equity are new issues. Man’s inhumanity towards man and the issues surrounding that nature have plagued us since the first civilization. Thomas Paine was a man who sought something better. In 1795 Paine penned his pamphlet, “Agrarian Justice” and stated,

“All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”

In other words, Paine believed all wealth or poverty came from the whole and that all being part of the whole should take responsibility to ensure folks did not start out in poverty or end their final days in desperation. The subject of Americans as a whole was again raised with our recent Democratic presidential primaries when candidate, Andrew Yang suggested paying every American one thousand dollars a month. Unfortunately, the difference between the oneness of us all as a civilization and the slave owner mindset is still evident. Congress and our nation remain ideologically divided between yesterday and today. The proponents of a better deal for working class, minorities, and women, are still called radicals while the side pushing against inclusion still fights for elitism.

It should not be surprising that the same group that pushes against inclusion also tends to proudly quote the slave-owning founders such as, Thomas Jefferson. After all, it was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Constitution, who was able to eloquently explain why he considered slavery a moral evil but was unwilling to give them freedom on his own plantation. In April 1820, Jefferson wrote to John Holmes concerning slavery:

“there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery] … we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” [95][96]

Again, Americans should see the clear equitable path to take with regard to the citizenry. It is not a wolf we have by the ear, but a real moral imperative. These issues have grown more important with the recent surge in unemployment and a troubled economy. It is a sad truth that too many Americans are still clouded by a fear of Communist take over, invasion, or fear of homosexuality. We are still divided on race and class by inherited hierarchies and financial caste. We are still a house divided.

Consider the statement made by Rep. Kevin Brady, the top GOP lawmaker on the House Ways and Means Committee. The Washington Post reported.

“I think our main focus should be getting people back to work. I think that’s the key, both short term and long term, for the economy and for families,” he said.

This GOP lawmaker, having been involved with the largest bailout of the wealthy in American history is more concerned that working-class Americans get back in the field for their masters rather than receive more benefits. Fear of literacy and revolt have always been prominent with the slave owner mindset. Many do not realize that the whip in the cotton field was not meant to hit the slave. This is why it was cracked over their heads. The sound of the whip-cracking was meant to remind them of who was boss and what was waiting for them if they got out of line. Loss of employer-provided healthcare, lack of employee rights, and the wrong or not enough educational credentials, now play the part of the overseer’s whip.

With our people severely divided it is not hopeful America will learn to see itself as a house of one with each citizen deserving a basic level of existence and health. The American capitalist still sees themselves as inheritors of a place ruled from the above with those below serving their interest. A Darwinian law of the jungle where the fit survives and the weak perish. Even with the current economic issues and riots over police brutality, it is unlikely to see a change with this concept without the organized masses from below forcing it. The legacy of ownership remains strong and central to the mindset of American Capitalism.

Hospital Worker COVID 19. Library of Congress

The pandemic has revealed that American leadership, in the spirit of ownership, is eager to sacrifice the lives of the working class, the old, the sick, and the poor. If you listen carefully to that spirit on the wind, off in the distance, and barely discernible. You can hear the sound of the whip cracking and the overseer yelling, “ pick that cotton.” We can only hope future generations will not be watching a documentary about the great Pandemic of 2020 and see a homeless furloughed worker exclaim, “ We didn’t have nothing, like your cattle, we was turned out.”

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