Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Rebuttal To The Rebuttal Of Chris Rock Talking About Owning Their Actions

Another politically explosive yet intellectually dishonest meme is making the rounds on Facebook this week. In involves a rebutle to a statement Chris Rock made in an interview with Frank Rich back in November of 2014. The author of the meme takes Rock to task for saying "[White people must start] Owning their actions". Some group called Uncle Sam's Misguided Children took offence to the statement and tossed off a meme to decry it (in ALL CAPS, no less).

Yeah, we need to stop feeling guilty for shit we didn't do. It was black people who sold other black people into slavery and the first slave owner in America was black. All the ghettos in America are run by Democrats and more white people are shot and killed by cops than are black people. Last time I checked, it was black people looting their own businesses and killing their own people. So tell me again who needs to start taking responsibility for their actions.



Now, whether or not you agree with what Chris Rock said (in-context or out-of-context), there are some serious issues with the statements made in this meme. I'll take it line-by-line.

Yeah... we need to stop feeling guilty for shit we didn't do.
On the surface, it's not a bad sentiment, is it? The sins of the father should not be visited upon the son, right? However admirable that statement may be, we must also be mindful that the past, once it happens, does not become hermetically sealed from the present. Things that happened in the past have repercussions that can be felt well into the future. We, as a society, cannot hope to move forward by choosing to ignore problems simply because we have not personally contributed to them. The old adage, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"(George Stayana) rings true.

It was black people who sold other black people into slavery...
I'm not sure what the point of this statement is. History is replete with examples of various cultures selling their own people into slavery. One need only look as far as The Bible for an example of this. In Genesis 37:27-28 the sons of Jacob sell their own brother Joseph into slavery. More recently, The Proclamation of 1625 by King James I sold 30,000 Irish as slaves to the New World (mostly in the Caribbean). So, regardless of race, creed, or color, people are assholes and prove time and again that they will sell out their own if the price is right.


…and the first slave owner in America was black.
To begin with, this statement simply is not true. The slave trade existed in the New World since the early 1500's when slaves were brought to the Caribbean and Brazil. Even if we're limiting the concept of  "America" to the area encompassing the 13 Colonies, it's still not true that the first slave owner in America was black. The black slave owner that text is referring to is almost certainly Anthony Johnson. Many blogs with a hard-conservative bent like to pull Anthony Johnson's court record from history and use that as evidence that the first slave owner in America was black.

Here's the truth: Anthony Johnson, a black Angolan, arrived in Virginia in 1621 where he went to work on a tobacco plantation either as an indentured servant or a slave. He was eventually freed and, in 1651, Johnson claimed 250 acres of land along the Pungoteague Creek by virtue of five headrights, a colonial system put into place to help bring laborers to the colonies. In exchange for buying the contract for an indentured servant, Virginia Colony would give the purchaser 50 acres per servant. Anthony Johnson had bought the contracts for 5 indentured servants which is how Johnson came to have a servant named John Casor. At one point, John Casor escaped to a nearby farm owned by Robert Parker and claimed that Johnson had kept him longer than his agreed upon indenture. Anthony Johnson sued Robert Parker for Casor's return in 1651. This makes Anthony Johnson the first slave owner file a civil case over slavery in the Americas. So, you could say that the first slave owner to file a court case over slavery in America was black. But, you cannot say that the first slave owner in America was black.

Anthony Johnson was NOT the first slave owner in America. Documents show that slaves were sold to the colonists at Jamestown as early as 1619. And, since Anthony Jonson didn't arrive until 1621, and didn't get freed until much later, the claim that the first slave owner in America was black is erroneous. So, who was the first slave owner in America? Unfortunately, historical records don't indicate exactly who bought slaves, so if we are to go by named recognition, then the ignominious distinction of "First Slave Owner In America" would go to Hugh Gwyn (from a court case in 1640) or possibly Sir George Yeardley, colonial Virginia's Governor at the time when slaves were first brought to Jamestown in 1619.

For the sake of argument, let's just ignore facts and history for a moment (much like Uncle Sam's Misguided Children tend to do). Let's say, for sake of argument, that the first slave owner in America was black. So what? What does that prove? Does that somehow legitimize the institution of slavery? If a black man was the first slave owner in America, does it make it okay for everyone else to have owned slaves?

All ghettos in America are run by Democrats...
In case you weren't previously aware, this whole missive has a political point to make and, with this statement, all pretense of subtlety has gone out the window. In fact, the author is so eager to hit you upside the head with this that he/she fails to form a truly coherent thought on the matter. I am going to assume that the author doesn't mean that each ghetto in the United States has a designated person running it (who happens to be a Democrat in every case). Rather, the author intends to say that the poorest cities in America are governed by mayors from the Democratic party. If we look at the 10 poorest cities with a population over 300,000 according the a US Census Bureau report in 2014, then we would see that 3 of those cities had Republican mayors. This alone would mark the original statement as false. Still, a large majority of those cities are run by Democratic mayors. Are we to assume that the correlation is the causality? If that's the case, then let's have a look at the 10 poorest states according to a 2014 US Census Bureau report. Of those ten states, six Governors were Republican. What conclusion can we draw from that if we again accept that the correlation is the causality? Whatever the point that this original sentence was trying to make, it bears mentioning that our political parties are not split among racial lines. Democrats are not elusively black and Republicans are not exclusively white.

...and more white people are shot and killed by cops than are black people.
This is actually a factual statement. Yet, while it is indeed true that each year more white people are shot and killed by police than black people, it's pure statistical manipulation if you fail to adjust for population size. According to the most recent census data, white Americans make up 62% of the US population and about 49% of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans make up 13% of the US population but account for 24% of those killed by police. This means that an African American is 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a Caucasian American.

Last time I checked, it was black people looting their own businesses and killing their own people.
This is another dubious statement. According to an FBI report from 2014, the "black on black" homicide rate was 90% compared to the "white on white" homicide rate which was at 82%. Not much of a difference there. And while I don't have any statistics available about looting, I'm thinking that the author means physical looting of a business, so-called "blue collar" looting. But, what about "white collar" looting, the sort of looting that involves embezzlement, money laundering and securities fraud. Any guesses on which race commits those crimes at a higher rate?

So tell me again who needs to start taking responsibility for their actions?
We all do. Change must come from within. If you want things to change, then change starts with you.
 
Let's recall that the Chris Rock quote that set off this meme was part of a larger conversation and was taken out of context. The relevant quote is as follows: "[White people must start] Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for". Rock was trying to make a comment on the state of race relations in this country and how what we perceive as progress can be skewed by one's perception. Whether or not you believe him, I don't think Chris Rock meant to imply that white people are directly guilty of the things their ancestors did. More specifically, I don't believe Rock meant to imply that white people must take responsibility in the present for the racism of the past. He just wants it acknowledged that it was a factor. That's how I see it, anyway.

Regardless of your perception of the quote, if you're going to debunk it, then you'd best be intellectually honest about the things you say when you do so. The person or group behind Uncle Sam's Misguided Children did do his/their homework and ended up tossing off some half-baked rant that people will as gospel simply because they saw it on Facebook.

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