Saturday, August 8, 2009

21st Century Slaves & Slaveholders in America


21st Century Slaves & Slaveholders in America
written by Sheri Bailey

One of the reasons that so many American public school teachers and students don't do well in history is because our nation is embarrassed by its past. The hypocrisy of creating a nation based on freedom for all while denying it to those pesky African imports isn't something anyone in the 21st century -- especially strict Constitutionalists -- is trying to remember.

George Washington knew slavery was wrong, so he stipulated in his will that once Martha died, all of his slaves were to be freed. (More about how uncomfortable her last months probably were as everyone in the household waited on her to close her eyes for the final time another time.) Thomas Jefferson knew slavery was a cancer, but he was so in debt that he never freed any of his slaves not even in death. (More about his promises to Sally Hemmings another time.) Benjamin Franklin knew slavery was immoral and he became one of the colonial era's leading abolitionists. Of these three leading figures from our nation's beginning years as Americans decided on how to handle slavery, do we talk about all of them, one of them or none of them? Further, it is documented that all three of these founders of a new American democracy fathered Black children. This is very messy history, so let's focus on the present and America's current enslaved masses.

In 2009 there are approximately fifty million Americans who do not have health insurance. According to Republicans like Karl Rove most of us who are uninsured do not want nor deserve health insurance. Mr. Rove believes that having health insurance in America is a privilege, not a right. Two hundred and thirty years ago he would have been on the Constitutional sub-committee that came up with the "three-fifths human" formula that became how African descent people were counted in the census. To allow millions of human beings to be counted as individuals would have demanded that they be given their rights as American citizens and they certainly were not privileged enough to deserve such rights. Those rights were reserved for only those men who owned property.

Those privileged 18th century white males were America's first affirmative action recipients and now 230 years later they aren't trying to lose their constitutionally provided gains. They are fighting to stay in the top one percent of Americans with assets and that means no sharing. They have much practice in putting band aids on a gaping wounds. What they did with slavery was to set a 25-year timeline from 1776 after which it became illegal to import Africans. Slavery would still be legal, but importing human cargo could no longer be tolerated. On behalf of my ancestors let me just say, "Thanks a lot, guys ... ah ... I mean, founding fathers ... insurance companies ... blue dogs ... Republicans."

Last year I had health insurance, but I lost that job and the option for broke, unemployed me with the COBRA offer was about $550 a month. Recently, I tried to get a free mammogram at my local clinic, but discovered that my particular locality didn't offer a safety net for me. So despite the fact that women of a certain age are advised to get a mammogram on an annual basis as a preventative measure I discovered that as a poor person with neither rights nor privileges I was up the proverbial creek without an oar. I had to laugh.

This happens to poor people a lot. We are handed so many lemons that we become first class lemonade makers. In my hometown the hospital for poor people is Maryview, but we call it Murderview. Reason being, by the time folks get there they are beyond saving because without access to annual screenings people die from preventative illnesses in their 30s, 40s and 50s every single day.

But because of my ancestors I come from strong stock. Like they fought for their freedom and their dignity so shall I. As an American citizen I have a right to health insurance and I am not going to let sleazy, greedy capitalists and misinformed citizens me that I do not. I am an American citizen who believes in what Washington, Jefferson and Franklin laid out in the Constitution. The only difference being is that I believe the pursuit of truth, justice and happiness should apply to all Americans and not just the privileged few.


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