Redefining Racism by Reexamining Jeffersonian Democracy
By Ezrah Aharone
As America celebrated 240-years of “democracy” on July 4, 2016, the longstanding tradition of hero-worshiping Thomas Jefferson continued. Meanwhile, as the slaughter of Black people continues in parallel tradition, America tends to disassociate the 18th-century racism and violence of its founders from 21st-century racism and violence of its followers.
Let me however state three points that are indispensable yet absent from today’s public discourse regarding democracy and racism. First, 21st-century racism needs to be redefined in modern connotations based on historical “processes and outcomes.”
Second, contrary to common perceptions, chattel slavery was not simply a matter of depriving Black people of freedom via chains and laws, whereby the solution simply involved the removal of chains and the ratifying of new laws.
Third, Jeffersonian Democracy (America’s founding practices and ideals as pretensed in the Declaration of Independence by Jefferson himself) is erected upon an “unprincipled relationship” which Euro-Americans have historically superimposed upon Black America as norms with virtual impunity.
By “unprincipled” I mean that Jeffersonian Democracy is deliberately designed with dishonest ways and deceptive practices that have proven insufficient and unsuitable to redress the racial complexities it deliberately created, while Euro-Americans have benefited in consequence. Hence, Black people have struggled incessantly for centuries on political hamster wheels to somehow show “worthiness” to wear the coveted badge of Americanization that they regulate.
Thus in redefining modern racism I assert that “the unprincipled nature of this relationship is both racism and the purveyor of racism” . . . everything else is symptomatic. This same “unprincipledness” breeds dense denial, apathy, and snobbery as personified by people like Rudolph Giuliani (Republicans and Democrats alike) whose thickheaded orientation to race is perched eye-level with the sociopathic-like tendencies of many founders. To them, despite its inhumanities, Jeffersonian Democracy has always been a sanctified force of good, goodwill, and godliness that “civilized and blessed Africans to live in the greatest country in the world.”
But despite all pomp and religiosity, July 4, 1776 is a point of origin where any sincere examination of racism and violence must begin. This incubates the spot where chattel slavery and Jeffersonian Democracy kissed as parent institutions that birthed perpetual incarnations of racism that has mutated and merged into the norms of society ever since, where nowadays you can watch pointblank shootings of unarmed Black people by “law enforcement” on Facebook and YouTube.
Here is what cannot be denied: In 1776 the founders had the moral authority and political opportunity to materialize true democracy. All they had to do was self-apply the ideals they self-professed. Nobody forced them or succeeding government administrations to enslave or segregate or subhumanize anyone.
But in the swashbuckling spirit of John Winthrop, they were driven by the same aggression, exceptionalism, and profit motives that impelled 17th-century Europeans to cannonball themselves out of Europe seeking cash crops and resources on indigenous lands of others. So in dual and calculated fashions the founders not only constitutionalized “Black life” as chattel, they also constitutionalized “gun rights” in part to make slavery possible. Without guns, the scale of slavery would have been impossible.
As such, there are unbroken threads that stitch together centuries of slavery and guns with violence and racism, when Black Lives [did not] Matter . . . When Europeans flooded Africa with hundreds of thousands of guns annually to capture and colonize Africans; when White men were required to tote guns to church on Sundays in South Carolina by law; when the Fugitive Slave Act of the constitution allowed Africans to be hunted down by gunfire by law; when the 13th Amendment allowed Blacks to be convict-leased and festively killed by law.
Chattel slavery no longer exists but “unprincipledness” still corrodes the core of race relations, even though integration somewhat window-dresses how power gets visibly dispensed (similar to South Africa). Nevertheless, once 18th-century “unprincipledness” became constitutional and psychological, the proverbial train of Jeffersonian Democracy commenced running full speed nonstop to racist destinations of 21st-century disparities, disproportions, distrust, apathy and violence that now plagues society.
So in redefining modern racism, I further assert that the murder of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 Dallas policemen along with the robot-obliteration of Micah Johnson is not racism per se. Nor is the murder of the 3 Baton Rouge policemen and Gavin Long racism per se. They rather are emblematic of racism. They are derivative outgrowths of racism. They are scabby byproducts of racism. They are natural outcomes of “manmade unprincipledness” that was metaphorically baked into the cake of Jeffersonian Democracy.
Modern racism is then compounded by Black and White politicians (President Obama included) who use paddycake language to dodge hard truths that should otherwise be central to national discourse on race and democracy.
Trying to address 21st-century racism without addressing its combustive 18th-century genesis is as insincere as a mugger who sends “Get Well Soon” cards to those he hospitalized. Until modern racism — in all its multiforms of “unprincipledness” — is systemically understood and structurally confronted within the context of its political origin, societal practices, and psychological reaches, the quest to alleviate its ugly outgrowths and aftereffects will be as futile as the proverbial dog chasing its tail . . . determinately yet unendingly.
This article was culled in part from The Sovereign Psyche: Systems of Chattel Freedom vs. Self-Authentic Freedom by Ezrah Aharone who is an adjunct associate professor of political science at Delaware State University. He is also a political and business consultant on African affairs, as well as the author of Sovereign Evolution and Pawned Sovereignty. He can be reached atwww.EzrahSpeaks.com.