The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in late July 2008 apologizing to African Americans for the years of slavery they have suffered. This was the recognition by the U.S. House of Representatives of the injustice and inhumanity of the slave system and “Jim Crow”, as the period of intense racial discrimination between 1865, when slavery was officially abolished and the 1960s, was known.

At that time, the US political establishment was forced to take action against nefarious racial discrimination though, in some states more and in others less, it kept black citizens legally segregated from white people and limited their civil liberties, even denying them the right to vote. This legal segregation was more inhumane and violent in the southern states than in the northern United States.

The name “Jim Crow” applied to that shameful period in American history was that of a comedian and singer named Rice, who composed and performed the song “Jump, Jim Crow” in 1828, about a black servant who danced while brushing his master’s horse. It is not clear why the term “Jim Crow” began to be used to refer to any entity that practiced racial segregation: “Jim Crow laws”, “Jim Crow schools”, “Jim Crow buses”, etc. 

There were workplaces, universities, taxis, trains, buses, boats, canteens, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, health services, water fountains, prisons, nursing homes, barbershops, public parks, sports fields, circuses, fairs, theatres, cinemas, concert or party halls, libraries, beaches, swimming pools, waiting rooms, telephone booths, workshops, lifts, brothels, lines, entrances to and exits from buildings. Everything could be ascribed to this form of US form of apartheid.

Segregation applied to marriage, some professions, neighborhoods, churches and cemeteries. In some cities Jim Crow martial law was imposed and blacks could not go out on the street after a certain time of night. In the Jim Crow courts, whites swore with one hand on a Bible and blacks swore on a different copy of it.

Black people were excluded from most trade unions. They were not admitted to Jim Crow sororities, clubs and societies. Board games and sports involving physical contact between blacks and whites, including combat games such as boxing, were prohibited unless the opponent was a foreigner.

Add to this ignominious situation the violence with which the Ku Klux Klan, members of the John Birch Society, the White Citizens’ Council and other elements of the American extreme-right were acting. It was a real white terrorist system!

In the face of such outrage, the struggle of Black Americans for their civil rights became increasingly intense. It generated such great personalities as Malcolm X and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., as well as hundreds of martyrs, remembered or anonymous, from Black Power organizations and others who, in the 1960s, gave birth to a situation that seemed to be a precursor to a revolution.

Although the fear of reprisals by the empire and its control of the media limited the international denunciation of these abuses and global solidarity, the triumph of the revolution in Cuba, the rise of anti-imperialism and the ideas of social justice in Latin America encouraged the just domestic struggle of Black people.

This coincided with the need for the recruitment of black soldiers for the asymmetrical imperialist war against Vietnam and all this forced the establishment to bury the Jim Crow.

For the sake of national security, the empire made major reformist “concessions” in race relations in a country where the law was white, white policemen, white judges, white mayors. And on film and TV screens, actors and actresses were white, and blacks were always represented in submissive and complacent attitudes.

Prior to this request for an apology from the House of Representatives, the other branch of Congress, the Senate, passed another resolution in April 2008 apologizing for “the many cases of violence, abuse and neglect” suffered by Native Americans. The Senate also apologized in 1993 for the “illegal overthrow” of the Kingdom of Hawaii a hundred years earlier.

Yet humanity is still waiting for the U.S. to apologize and compensate so many nations on every continent whose democratic existence the U.S. has assaulted since it became an imperialist power in the early 20th century. And to do so with the promise to never again to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations, as well as to respect the human rights of their own citizens of other ethnicities and ways of thinking.

Translated by Walter Lippmann.

Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.

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