The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting

This week Saira Rao, a former Congressional candidate in Colorado posted a mulit-tweet commentary on the topic of plantation tours in the American south. Rao, who is Indian-American said, “Having grown up in Virginia, I’ve visited many plantations. Every time it’s been the same. White guide humanizing slaveowners, how kind so & so was to those whom they enslaved.” She went on to say she had been on a recent tour that was completely different. On this tour the guide, who was white, told of the actual history of slavery, including the brutal oppression by slaveowners of the people they enslaved. When some of the white visitors “bristled” and questioned whether it was “really that bad”, and one of the white tourees commented, “bet they stayed in line because they were treated so well.”, the tour guide turned to her, “finger pointed up and said: ‘These white people were terrorists. Just like white people today shooting everyone.’”

Rao said a number of reviews of the tour online complained the tour was “disappointing”, hadn’t shown enough of the plantation grounds or quarters, was too “agenda-driven” and even “racist”. When this came out on twitter after Saira’s posts, the tour complainers were excoriated by Black people and others as well. One Black woman tweeted, “Who goes to a plantation and then gets angry about hearing about slavery? Do you know what a plantation is m’am?” Another person tweeted, “While black people are practically weeping during plantation tours, this woman is looking for an enjoyable plantation tour. Next stop: an enjoyable trip to concentration camps”.

It makes you ask yourself, what is really wrong with many white people and what can be done about all of this?

What it caused me to reflect on, was the unbroken line in the history of this country from the horrors of slavery down to the horrors of today. This line begins in the founding days of this country, with its part in the deaths of millions of Africans in the kidnapping, murder, and death by disease of the transatlantic slave trade. This horror was followed by two hundred and forty years of sanctioned and legalized brutality; family separation, overwork, starvation and sexual exploitation of 4 million in the “peculiar institution” of American slavery that built this country. The line weaves through the legalized oppression of the Jim Crow south, the night rider terrorizing of Black communities, the thousands of lynchings of Black people up into the 1960’s that traumatized the entire population of African-American people. And now to the new Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of disproportionate percentages of Black people, the routinized police murder of disproportionately black and brown people in today’s America, regardless of what administration is in power. The routine stigmatizing, oppression, and humiliation of millions of Black people, present throughout this nation’s history, continues today, as so concentrated in the pictures this past week of police on horseback in Galveston Texas leading a Black man through the streets by a rope.

The unbroken line goes through the wiping out of Native peoples in America and throughout the continent through disease, war and the annihilation of their means of survival. It encompasses the stealing of their lands for westward expansion of capitalism, and the continued disenfranchisement, poverty and assaults on indigenous sovereignty to today; from the police assaults at Standing Rock to Trump’s stealing of large portions of Bear Ears national monument with its architectural treasures and rich indigenous culture for oil and gas exploitation. The line wends to the anti-Chinese immigrant laws in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the exploitation of imported Mexican labor, and yes to the racist slaughter of El Paso. And this line branches out from America worldwide, to the invasions by the U.S. of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries, to the mass annihilation of millions by the U.S. military in Southeast Asia, to the U.S. backing of death squads and genocide in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s, to two invasions of Iraq resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands at least and the displacement from their countries of millions.

This is America, and now it’s Trump’s America. This is an America where Trump’s racist tirades appeal to and whip up a “nostalgia” among some of its white citizens for the “good old days”, despite how awful they were for non-white peoples, for women, and for many of the exploited immigrant and poor white laborers. These “good old days” were days of terror, misery and yes genocide for oppressed nationality peoples, and exploitation for the poor as a whole, most especially worldwide. And this is what Trump is seeking to restore and take further, under a new American fascism. This is a capitalist/corporate fascism, which is being allowed and supported by big businesses which find Trump’s tax and regulation cuts richly profitable and for some at least, enhancing of their competitive edge over others.

Trump’s recent racist tirades, including against “the squad” has further stoked his white supremacist base. A young white bigot, pumped up by Trump rants about America being “invaded” by Central American migrants, and white supremacist theories of white people being “replaced” by immigrants, unleashed his murderous resentment in El Paso, killing twenty-two people. His online manifesto justified the upcoming slaughter saying, ““if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Think about it, these words of the El Paso shooter could literally have come out of the mouth of Donald Trump. Essentially, they have.

Evan as Trump sickly posed for photo ops in El Paso complete with smiles and a thumbs up while Melania Trump held the baby of parents who died shielding him in the shooting, I.C.E., the Trump regime’s official arm of ethnic cleansing, rounded up 680 immigrants at their jobsites in Mississippi. The children of those detained were left abandoned, crying and terrorized.

Amanda Armstrong-Price, assistant professor at Fordham University connected the shooting and I.C.E. round-up very well on Facebook, saying, “the mass raid … is the state affirming the El Paso shooter and encouraging others.” And the El Paso shooting, along with killings, assaults, and insults large and small by an increasingly mob-like Trumpian base, has become the unofficial arm of state policy enforcing cruelty and the terrorizing of whole sections of brown peoples.

Trump’s imposition of fascism, with a racist genocidal edge, is intensifying and straining the fabric of things. Outrage and resistance to all this is growing on the people’s side too, and things could break open in a positive way for stopping this as well. Mass resistance is needed now, to this racist genocidal thrust and to putting an end through mass non-violent action a la Puerto Rico, to the whole fascist regime. Having something positive emerge from these horrors is going to be hard, but only people in their millions, acting in common, can make this happen. It is possible.

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist, freelance writer, and a revolutionary and environmental activist. He has reported and written on the Gulf oil spill, the battle to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, Western wildfires, the threat to orcas and wild salmon, the extinction and climate crisis, as well as the fight for justice for families of those murdered by police and to stop Trump’s fascism. He’s a hiker, fisherman, and lover of Northwest forests, the redwoods, wildlife, nature and humanity. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.