The Life And The Times: Race in America 2.0

Katrina TaylorPart I


The Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass is an intriguing & fascinating journey into the American psyche, from its inception into the present day. The third autobiographical work by Douglass, a man born into chattel slavery around 1818, The Life And Times starts with his early life as Frederick Bailey on a plantation on the Eastern shore. Though his would have been considered tame compared to the lives of sheer torture that many slaves suffered in the South, he still endured some of the worst conditions told of those despotic times.

After being sent to Baltimore as a young boy, Mr. Douglass grew frustrated and unaccepting of his supposed lot in life and his keen mind was always searching for a viable way to escape. The book reads like a novel, with events so severe and extreme, colorfully told by Douglass and were it not the reality behind a horrid past, it could top the charts for fiction writing. The Life And Times on artistic grounds alone, is a vibrantly told story of heroic achievement against impossible odds. The quintessential Hero’s Journey.


But, of course, the Pan African Slave Trade wasn’t fiction. And the remnants of ill intentions, the seeds that formed the roots of our current day have sprung up, threatening to take over the gardens of our possibilities. The election of Barack Obama, the first African American President, has revealed how close to the surface are the emotions that allowed our ancestors to be relegated to animal status by a supposed “superior” people. What our predecessors endured at the hands of those filled with fear, bloodlust, and rage remains a standing testimony; an open sore that will fester until the wound is (ad)dressed.


Mr. Douglass never had any formal education yet, after a brilliant escape to New York City around the age of 20, he went on to develop a stellar reputation for his skilled oratory and lectured nationwide for the abolition of slavery. An autodidact, he established an impeccable record and gave his best to every task before him. No small thing since Frederick Douglass’ “best” was formidable. He used his many skills to enlist black troops for the Union during the Civil War. With no training, Douglass founded a newspaper, became a U.S. marshal, recorder of deeds and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti.


These are just a few of many accomplishments of this former slave, a man our society would have doomed to brutal servitude had he been willing to succumb to the conditions surrounding him. Thankfully, that  was a plan Mr. Douglass found unacceptable and he had the tenacity and skills to execute a plan that would take him through the worst humanity has to offer and emerge with a heart burnished rather than burned; able to love from his depths and capable of doing the work necessary on behalf of his people and, what he continued to see as, his country.


After reading this book, I find the similarities between the early days of this nation and the present day, stark. Not disregarding the growth that has occurred, political events of the last four years point an exacting finger at the fundamentals of our race problem and the mask for some Americans has been ripped off, exposing them to a truth they were unprepared for.


The election of the first African American President has turned out to be the ultimate gauge for how far we've come in race relations. A seething-just-beneath-the-surface poison has bubbled up and some white people are losing their minds facing the prospect of a truly equal future. They hold the President of the United States in contemptuous stead and encourage dissension in the ranks; projecting their own insecurities and aggressions onto him, aching for the vicious days that Frederick Douglass suffered.


Sentiments such as "the White House is now nigger-tainted" ooze up from the pits of the national id, liberated by social media, the racists run amok. Centuries-old code, a language made up to condemn an entire people pass thru "civil" exchanges as if they're some secret that nobody can see. It is a striking prospect to consider such behavior in the 21st century but the emperor has no clothes and in reading this excellent text in Douglass' own words I can see a clear thread from that time when he escaped from slavery using fake papers and now when the first black President was forced to show the nation his birth certificate.


Gotta keep the white folks calm, you know. They scare pretty easy.


I've been stuck on this one part of the book where Frederick is sent to Baltimore as a “loan” a personal slave for the young  son of Hugh Auld. His wife, Sophia Auld is described by Frederick as a very kind and gentle woman, the first white person to treat him like a human being. He describes his early days with the Aulds as the happiest of his life with Mrs. Auld showing compassion for him and his "friendship" with her son, Charlie, made for wonderful memories.


After living for a few years being treated somewhat like a second child, particularly in contrast with the treacherous life he'd known before, Frederick felt loved. A naturally curious sort and ever on a quest to better himself, he eventually asked the kindly Mrs. Auld  if she could teach him to read. She was happy to do it, having no natural sense that she shouldn't.


When Mr. Auld found out what she was doing, his rabid, laying down of the law, in plain view of Frederick, literally citing the laws prohibiting the teaching of slaves to read, pushed Mrs. Auld passed the bonds of reason. She went from being a beautiful kind soul regressing into a bitter crone in the years after as she was forced to accept the tenets of institutionalized slavery.


Sophia Auld went from being the warm life spark of the home front to being a cold & harping shadow looming about the dark rooms. What kind of psycho-physiological knots did this woman twist herself into in order to treat this beautiful child whom she had loved, like an animal? What effect does this have on a person over time? Multiply that by the millions of whites who went willingly, or like Mrs. Auld, were dragged into the harsh reality surrounding them. What happens to such souls over generations? I think the answers lie in many events we’re witnessing today.


Pondering what it would have been like for such a person to be forced to accept the inhumanity of slavery is like delving into a quagmire of emotions. I keep going over it in my mind. Sophia Auld’s dark transformation reveals to me another kind of slavery; the one that imprisoned millions of white people who had to convince themselves that an entire race of people were not human. For some troubled souls it was likely a welcome choice but for most, I imagine that laws enforcing one to treat other people like animals in chains would have serious psychological implications. A person that's taught from birth to carry on in this heinous tradition would be a damaged soul, indeed.


For centuries this condition has played out through our collective cellular memory, Black & White, interminably linked through the labor & birth of a nation that has emerged as a beacon of hope for the world today. Though we've come a long way, this travesty is part of our story and it explains a lot of the insanity we see in politics and happenings  in the shadows of American cities & towns today. A meme that deems some lives less important than others in not so subtle messaging that places black people at the bottom of the totem pole.


While most whites today would be horrified at the thought of owning other human beings,  judging from some of the behavior I’ve seen, some people are just itching for a return to those days. And throw in some vaginal probes while you're at it. Just take everything back. Things are changing too fast and they want their country back! These things and worse are spewed from a certain faction of the electorate. What exactly are they trying to say? In spite of media spin, their message is old and couldn't be clearer.


I have little patience for this kind of backwards thinking. I hear the pundits arguing left and right, directing the conversation while mostly ignoring this underlying problem. The issue of race is so glaring that people  came out in droves to make sure that the bastards pushing that crap wouldn’t regain power on November 6, 2012.


But 47% of whites still voted for White Rule. Mittens and his minions got 0% of the black vote since they weren't offering much else and considering the fact that most of their policies would have undermined their own base, the people voting for them had mainly one reason. Mitt was the white guy. And he pulled out all the stops from the old race-baiting arsenal to try and sell it. Thank God the majority of the American people were not buying it. Times-are-a-changin.


As we have seen, since the extremist Teahadist Republicans took over the Congress in 2o10, their goal is to take us back to a time when white men ruled. Period. Abortion rights were what they went after on day one and have waged a continuous battle against women ever since. Then voter suppression to keep minorities from voting. They have shown themselves to be a racist bunch of misogynists, leaving no doubts. The truth shall set you free. In this belligerent, entitled behavior there lies a direct thread leading back to the time of Frederick Douglass when white men raped the mothers, daughters & wives of black men, killed with impunity, then split families, parceling them off to the highest bidder.


This is how the story continues. Black people have been talking about race since before Reconstruction. The efforts of black citizens do change things but that can only go so far. It’s when we’ve come together that the greatest gains have been made. The "good" white people, those who are as fed up with their psychotic brethren as the rest of us, are the ones who have to call the murderous fools out. Not just a few lone voices here and there. A racist mentality stems from pathologies that have little to do with race. Anyone who opposes them is subject to the same bloodthirsty behavior so there must be an onslaught, a media wave of push back against this insidiousness that poisons our national psyche.


The neanderthals pursue the days of old with vigor and will not -- cannot-- stop themselves. For serious defenders of good, there can be no more straddling the sidelines acting as if nothing serious is going on if you really want things to change. Those who pretend that racism is over make themselves willing collaborators, complicit in the madness they complain about.


Racism is a mentality that inspires the worst in us, stoking the devils buried deep down. There is  far too much evidence of the horrors it has wrought. The endemic thread woven through the fabric of our nation where the lives of black people are habitually marginalized and devalued is unravelling but it will take all conscious people to mend the rift.


To be continued ...