Perfect Storm: Covid-19 America and Black Lives
Text and photos by Davidione Pearl
Our nation has now reached what has come to be the single-most significant crossroad to bear since the turbulent 1960s. What we are witnessing as a country is a notorious accumulation of sordid socio-economic affairs that rests upon a once organized landscape of historic inequity and dismissal that has collided headfirst into a pandemic of near biblical proportion.
A perfect storm of societal upheaval in America, in earnest recognition of its equal measure of decay.
In order to pinpoint the ground zero of our current seismic flux, we must hearken back to circumstances long before the origins of the country itself, beyond the birth of our nation, into the mindset and proliferation of Europe’s crowns as they feverishly prepared to embark westward across the Atlantic to claim ownership and dominion over the New World.
Vessels of men eager for adventure and bounty left the shores of Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and England between the 15th and 19th centuries, at first with no desire or even official directives for trade, as 15th century Europe was rife with plague, famine, and insurmountable merchant debts against royal families that began to lead to general unrest not only among commoners, but particularly among the ranks of their militaries. Royal families and their national officials scrambled to find quick relief that would replenish treasures earmarked to pay their militaries and avoid widespread coup d’etat, and did so by isolating specific groups of people, often those of Jewish faith, to decry as enemies of the state, confiscate their property, and either ultimately execute or send into exile. These wanton confiscations however did not generate enough profits to adequately offset the amount of revenue that would have been necessary to keep militaries loyal to their crowns, and the people placated with designs of well-accustomed [bread and circus] from previous years of stronger economies.
The New World therefore became a race between European nations not only for glory, but for their very survival; a frenzied dash of empty vessels, with nothing to trade, only to take. Their directives were in large part to find new routes west in hopes of saving time to reach the Far East without rounding the treacherous Horns of East and Southern Africa, but the explorers were also instructed to fill their vessels with as much treasure as their ships could store, that their bounties would in turn help to restore financial legitimacy to the royal families.
Upon arrival to the New World, the crowns of Europe would need sufficient labor to build-out and maintain their colonies. They would at first use the utility of what came to be known as European indentured servitude, that is to say, European workers were often brought over against their will to repay a debt. This proved to be only so effective, because when one would escape, they would immediately blend in with citizens of the area as they made their way to different colonies to resettle, if they didn’t return to Europe altogether.
These early colonists then turned to securing the forced labor of area indigenous inhabitants, but they often fell ill to European diseases, and knew the surrounding terrain intimately enough to just as easily slip away to freedom when the moment was right, if not fight their way out into the surrounding landscape as did often occur.
The colonies and their overall need for labor grew exponentially in the years to follow, and their learned behavior adjusted accordingly to meet their needs. They soon realized that Africa would be the next logical step in their quest for labor control, and in 1619 the first African slave landed on American shores at the hands of the Dutch. Learning from their previous oversights with indentured servants and the indigenous, they made sure that slaves who were brought over did not speak the same language as any other in their group to lessen their ability at planning escape, along with the added disadvantages of not being able to ever blend in with colonists in the event of fleeing ownership, and knowing nothing at all of the surrounding terrain. African slaves for every intent and purpose were entirely rendered crippled to any chance at freedom.
This model of chattel slavery would last the next 246 years…
During this time, Europe, her colonies, and America developed the social construct of race itself, replicated from the caste system of India. Together they deemed three classes to be officially recognized in sequential order – white, colored/mixed, and black.
Before the advent of race, peoples of the world referred to themselves as their tribe, family lineage, regional heritage, or religious belief system - race however was specifically designed for the purposes of subjugation of a superior white race above all else, and to even establish social contradictions between colored/mixed and their newly granted colonial superiority over black people. Race as a living breathing aggregate would become the very currency we were forced to live by, and still choose to live by in all aspects of our lives to this day
What led to the Emancipation Proclamation could have very likely been in part what we have been instructed to believe, but it is far wider in scope when placed under the looking glass.
Suffice it to say, just as with business culture today, northern business owners at that time would not have thought twice at placing pressure on the sitting president Abraham Lincoln to address what amounted to be an unfair competitive edge in the labor markets of manufactured goods, products and services in the south, particularly if the president had any designs on reelection.
Couple that with the war drums of socio-political fits and starts that resonated in the ears of politicians throughout the halls of congress, and the emerging splinters of power would rise up as a result, in the form of the Republican party – an assemblage of the Free Soil Party, factions of the Whigs, Federalists and Anti-Slavery Democrats, galvanized into a super group of “abolitionists.” Not for the sake of true abolition, as would later be evidenced post-Reconstruction, but rather because of the power grab for the potential 4 million slaves that were gaining traction towards freedom, and the sheer magnitude of new district resources that would result from the historic change.
After the Lincoln assassination, president Andrew Johnson maintained the position that southern states would govern themselves. After nearly 250 years, newly freed black Americans in the south that knew only agriculture and were never permitted to learn to read and write, were left unable to empower themselves economically with the help of the United States government as was promised. No forty acres, no mule, no education reform, no money. They were effectively left on their own, with a rising Ku Klux Klan in their midst numbering over 1 million strong, who would carve out history in black American blood the next 103 years - both crippling events that would put us far behind at self determination and establishing generational wealth. To further reduce and constrict the growing capacity of black Americans, the United States Government passed the 13th Amendment, which upon first glance speaks to emancipation, but insidiously carries the clause that prisoners are the exception to the ruling. What came next was the unprecedented wrath of embattled white society against black Americans, as they rounded up newly black citizens by the thousands on trumped up charges to imprison them and get them back to working forcibly in chains throughout the south. This utility loophole birthed what would come to be known as the prison industrial complex; America capitalized on it with extreme prejudice, and has only made it more sophisticated with each passing generation.
When American GIs returned from WWII they were greeted with pomp and circumstance that extended to social welfare programs up to and including home loans and free 4-year college tuition, but not every GI received these generous benefits, only white military men. The resulting effect was yet another generational economic boom that sidelined black Americans from establishing generational wealth, leaving entire swaths of black communities only able to barely make ends meet with predominantly menial labor jobs. The questionable design of urban centers sprang up across the north as black Americans sought new chapters and opportunities in their lives throughout the burgeoning manufacturing sector(s). These urban centers however maintained discreet policies of not extending home loans to black Americans, exploiting their losses in college education that would have otherwise afforded them better leverage and buying power. Instead these urban centers grew in both physical and educational decay, as the schools were not allocated what was needed to properly excel, by city, county, and state governments. These conditions piled upon one another with the flooding of controlled substances onto the streets, gave rise to criminal activity that green-lighted heavy militarization of police agencies across the country, a directive of which President Nixon enhanced under war language, and Presidents Reagan and Clinton further amplified under “criminal” language, all in equal sequence with a booming prison industrial complex every step of the way.
America makes up 4.5 percent of the world population, yet 25 percent of the world’s prison population. One out of every four prisoners in the entire world is here in America, and our prison population is disproportionately black and brown Americans. We are not inherently animals by any means; one need not look too far to see that the details are in the economics - the 13th Amendment prison clause. That and the very nature of prisons today is the concerning reality that they are for-profit corporations which are privately owned by investors and shareholders, thus publicly traded on the NYSE.
This agenda ties directly into America’s dark racial history of continued slave measures, and the cost against black American society to routinely sweep us into the system for contemporary prison contractors and vendors to reap millions off the backs of our free labor, while historically seizing fathers away from their children significantly contributing to the breakdown of black American families through the vehicle of disparate interpretations of the law.
This and the cumulative effect of black American economic disparities has rendered entire urban communities to befall abject poverty, where many generations of extended family often live under one roof, with mostly menial essential labor jobs to bring in revenue, and lack of accessibility to quality food and healthcare that invariably leads to poor health and underlying health conditions.
Such confluence of socio-economic misalignment has left entire households unable to isolate in the current pandemic, resulting in a vast majority of black American lives that have succumbed to the virus, far more than any other American demographic.
No president or congress has ever placed these complex disparities truly to the forefront of their mission as public servants of the country; there seems to have only ever been two camps in the long lineage of our presidents – those that supported slavery, and those that turned a blind eye to the black American experience post-Reconstruction on through to present day.
What Covid-19 has revealed in no uncertain terms, is that when we sweep everything under the rug regarding social progress with black and brown Americans, the rug ultimately lumps and contorts to eventually rise far above its very own foundation, exposing everything below that was never addressed when it should have been long ago, in a furious upheaval of ideals and grievances – a powder keg that erupts at the flashpoint where mandated isolation and unemployment collides with racial distortion and inequity.
What is left is re-learning the true history of our nation, because history is always written from the standpoint of the conquerors, never the fallen, and their truth is forever subjective and impure.
Davidione Pearl is a multimedia artist, international travel writer, photojournalist, composer, and humanitarian. The youngest of nine siblings, he began exploring the musical arts at age four, theatrical arts at age 12, and creative writing at age 13, landing his first publication, “Slavery," in Language Arts magazine in 1987. He went on to predominantly write poetry for solo publications and lyrics for collaborative music projects in the decades to follow.
In 2012, Davidione underwent a significant change in life that led him to be more reflective in his writing work. This ultimately steered him to his current work in the humanities and social activism, tirelessly seeking to find new and creative opportunities to connect in socially progressive ways to positively engage and impact the world.
Davidione can be contacted on Twitter at @LonglegRevival, or on Instagram at @davidionecpearl.
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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 16: Racial Justice and Healing