No Infamy for Black Tragedies

December 7, 2016, marked the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. News outlets all over the country showed footage from December 7, 1941, "A date which will live in infamy". People were interviewed, stories were told about that tragic day when more than 2,400 people were killed, the day was memorialized and ceremonies were held.

Tragedies involving Black people, don't usually get memorialize or "live in infamy" and instead are mostly forgotten. Dorris "Dorie" Miller, a Black Pearl Harbor hero, was mostly ignored by the white press; a tradition that continues even to this day, remember Shoshana Johnson? Dorie Miller took part in the Battle of Makin Island and was killed when a torpedo hit his ship within two years of his Pearl Harbor heroics.

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My grandmother, on my father's side, had six sons serving overseas in the military during World War II, but when it came time to recognize the mother from St. Louis with the most number of sons serving in the military, a white woman with five sons was chosen.

My grandmother, according to my father, rarely went downtown, so he was excited one day when they caught the bus downtown. By the time they arrived downtown, my grandmother needed to use the restroom. While her six sons were risking their lives for this country, my grandmother was denied the simple dignity of using the restroom. My father mentioned how humilated his mother felt after being rudely told she could not use the restroom at several locations, forcing them to catch the bus home so she could use the restroom. My grandmother almost never left home after that incident according to my father. Discussing it almost brought tears to my father's eyes.

Slavery, Jim Crow, convict leasing, peonage, race riots, lynchings, medical experimentation, mass incarceration, and other racial atrocities commited against black people is not treated as a tragedy in the same way the Holocaust is treated even though Africans experience their own Holocaust in addition to slavery. 

The negative affects of slavery includes all the horrible combined legacy, both physical and mental, of actual bondage and the institutional forms of racism, and oppression that followed and still continues to this day. Black Americans have never fully been allowed to recover or progress. 

Malcolm X stated it best when he said, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” 

In addition to bondage, slaves were prohibited from reading and so-called "free Blacks" were restricted by law, through the "Black Codes," from entering certain professions, assembling, establishing businesses, bearing arms, serving in the militias, and some states even barred free blacks from entering. 

Dispite the fact that African-Americans were treated as second class citizens and endured numerous indignities, they strongly supported, and desired to be part of, the war effor. After Japan's defeat, the United States treated their former enemy better than they did black men and women who served and risked their lives. During the occupation and reconstruction period, Billions of U.S. aid and assistance were spent rebuilding Japan.

The U.S. purchased approximately 5,800,000 acres of land, (approximately 38% of Japan's cultivated land), from wealthy landowners, under the government's reform program and resold the land to Japan's tenant farmers at extremely low prices. By 1950, three million peasants had acquired land, dismantling a power structure that the former landlords had long dominated.

The United States provided for Japan's poor farmers better than it did it's own former slaves. While the U.S. was helping the poor citizens of it's enemy secure land, Black soldiers who helped win the war were denied access to the G.I. Bill which allowed returning white soldiers to enroll in college and purchase homes. Japan is now a world economic power, while Blacks in America are still subjected to discrimination, police brutality, predatory courts, and an enormous wealth gap.

Japan is currently a world power because it received crucial aid and assistance rebuilding it's devasted cities and economy. Had the Black community received a fraction of the assistance provided to former enemies, our communities would be flourishing too. Instead of aid, the Black community was sabotaged by laws that placed artificial restrictions and provided substandard education. The government even participated in an illegal program that dumped drugs into black nieghborhoods. When Black folks became addicted to those drugs, they were treated like criminals, sentenced to harsh jail sentences and prevented from participating in society's safety nets such as student aid, food stamps and public housing.

Even as American was reflecting this Pearl Harbor day, there were those who will tell Black folks to stop whining and re-visiting the past, get over it and forget about slavery and the residual suffering because it was so long ago. We can't get over it, because it's not over. Every economic downturn or crisis effects the Black community disproportunately because of systemic exclusion of resources and opportunity.

"It's foolish to let your oppressor tell you that you should forget about the oppression that they inflicted upon you."