In 1776, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who would become a few years later, in 1801, President of the United States of America, signed the Declaration of Independence. He spoke of ideals, criticizing imperialism and promoting democracy. An illustrated as many of his contemporaries. I will not list them all, but you’d have to see the huge number of adjectives that are attributed to this man! As any dead man, all good, of course.
Today, the last of the month of February 2012 and final therefore the month dedicated to Black History, I can think of tagging him with a couple more: hypocritical and racist.
An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of 1776 states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The “good” Jefferson, who at 23 years old flew the banner of equality between men and women, held slaves during his entire life. In total over 600 slaves lived in his farm in Monticello. Until the day he died. In his will he stated the freedom granted to a woman, while her children were still considered slaves and were sold to pay his debts. How can’t a person, capable of stating that admirable remark above, able to demand the independence of a country based on statements like that, launch a crusade against the slavery of blacks or at least make his life a model which would serve as a call to this retrograde society?
The answer lies in the scourge that still even in the XXI century burdens the world: racism. Jefferson’s statements and his ideals were restricted to whites. Jefferson believed that, possibly, blacks were not completely human (I’ll spare you the unpleasant details shown on the deductions of this illustrated man in question, but if anyone wants to consult it briefly, you get the idea here). Among his absurd ideas (the most advanced and tolerant…), it is the false tolerance that, trying to consider all races as equal, in any case they should not live under the same state or government. This promoted segregation has permeated the development of modern societies today. I do not want to break the climate and the smoothness with which I tried to portray such a character, which is very probably studied as the father of the Independence of the United States, a Democrat and civil rights visionary, and not as a racist, slave holder, who I prefer not to imagine in society just about 100 years more advanced in which scientific research were boosting.
The fight against the separation of races, differences of treatment and opportunity, has a curious case, hopeful for its attitude, although sad for its topicality, given the context in which it is situated. This is the 1960 Greensboro sit-in (North Carolina).
Four black students decided to break the rules: sit at the bar of a restaurant and order lunch. Blacks were only allowed to order to takeaway. Sad because of its topicality. Yes, there is racism currently. There is no need to go back to 1960 for a sample. No, unfortunately there is not. Surely it is enough to wander around the neighborhood. But the fact that it took place in a college atmosphere, as it is an environment of culture, assembly and integration, in a not so distant 1960, makes it acquire a special dimension. It was an act of protest and a fight for civil rights, this time, of all, regardless the race. A non violent act and, necessarily blatant, as it is necessary to point out the problem, highlight it, enunciate it clearly and denounce it.
The sit-ins were repeated in many other places, and not only in Greensboro, but in other communities and states. They were covered by media and concluded with a support communication from President Eisenhower to those who defended the fight for civil rights and against racial segregation. Consequently, many establishments suppressed many of their policies of racial distinction.
I like to think we move towards that Freedom land, and the student sit-in leads the way and sets the necessary attitude against those realities that must change, however deep their foundations are and however enlightened might be their origins. The scourge of racism, like many others (domestic violence, sexism, terrorism, etc.), has no fence, as if it had it, however small, it would mean that it could fit, and not, in my world it does not fit. What about yours?