The Oba of Benin was not only a king, but he was also considered as a God. Oba protected the people as long as they stay inside his ruling area. But some people, or many of them, were curious about what they might find if they took a walk further than they should be. They heard about groups of strange men who came to their island, and took people away with their big ship. And so they went out. But instead of only witnessing the presence of the new people, they were also taken away by them. Museum of African-American History—as the oldest and the biggest African-American Museum in the world, located in Detroit, Michigan—pictures the story very real. Karen, our tour guide, took us to the basement which is designed like a prison. In this prison, with no light, ventilation, or toilet, the African men were kept while waiting for the ship that will bring them to destination country. The women, however, were treated differently. They were not only stay inside the jail. Sometimes they were showed off in front of the Portuguese men, in where they will just be picked to fulfill whatever the white men desired. When the ship finally came, African men and women will be dragged into the ship, marked with a piece of hot iron just like a horse, and piled inside the deck. Again, the museum pictured this in a very vivid way. Karen took us into a room where we were surrounded by African men chained in barracks. Through the sound effect, we hear them groaning, crying, praying. The ship took them in months of journey to South America, Europe, and finally America, where they will be sold as slaves. They were forced to leave the beautiful island which is very rich with minerals, oils, animals, sized bigger than America (in fact, the size of America only fits with one Sahara Dessert). The whole process, from capturing them in Africa until keeping them in the ship like sardines, were basically very cruel and inhumane, something you could hardly believe. Meanwhile in the destination country, their values are no more than products. They were sold through auction, and were forced to work as real cheap labors.
Until finally, conscious American shouted for the stopping of slavery. It wasn’t easy, the land lords, mostly from the southern of America, didn’t want to lose their cheap labors. This became the beginning of American Civil War, from 1861 until 1865. The war was won by the human rights defenders, and as a result they created Amandement 13, 14 and 15 where they made slavery illegal. However, this wasn’t the end of the sufferings for the African American. Started as inferior products, the whites still looked down to them. Post war era, they were not labors no more. But they were segregated and hated. African-American history after the civil war was one of my favorite subjects when I studied in Brattleboro Union High School in 2008. My social studies teacher, Bill Holiday, was one of the smartest guys I know. We took civil right trip to Alabama, and I received so many information as well as witnessing the historical places, where the effort to pursue full citizenship rights of the blacks took place. And I still remember the injustices they received; segregated school, no voting rights, back door in the bus, giving up the bus seat if the white needs it, and there were many murder cases that remain unsolved; Viola Liuzio, Emmet Till, until Martin Luther King Jr. himself. In 1960s, the civil right figures were march and advocate the civil rights for everyone, for the blacks. The effort was succeed and as a result, African-Americans are no longer discriminated. Even the current president Barrack Obama is in fact a black descendent. In 2008 election, I believe that I praised Americans for taking a huge step in their life, choosing a black president. For me, and probably for most of the non-americans, it was a sign of succeed on overcoming racial conservativeness issue. But Professor Vince Hutchings from political science in University of Michigan doesn’t think so.
Through his presentation titled “Race and American Politics in the 21st Century”, he mentioned that one of the reasons why Obama won the election was because Bush was one of the worst American Presidents. When he ended his presidency, people not only hated him but also distrust the Republican Party. That was why, as a Democrat candidate Obama had more advantage. He successfully gained “rainbow votes”, which means voters from people across ethnicity: blacks, whites, Hispanics, etc. More than 90% blacks voted for him. But, according to Professor Hutchings, it wasn’t because he is black. But most African-Americans simply favor to Democrat Party more than toward the Republican.
The constitution bans all forms of racism. But in reality, whites still have more privileges than the black. For example, white Americans who’ve been jailed are most likely get jobs, and not with the blacks who have the same condition. And although it is not legal, the housing area between blacks and whites are pretty much segregated. Whites most likely live in a better area, and this is because the home dealer usually delivers different information to blacks and whites who wanted to buy a house. Professor Hutchings also showed the wealth disparity, in where whites’ asset is as much as 120.989 US$, while the blacks only reach 19.024 US$.
Speaking about change, the condition and treatment toward African-American is indeed been changed. No segregated area, they can vote, they can interact with the whites, and no hatred prosecution toward them is legal. But their quality of life, especially if we compare it with the whites, is not so much changing. Professor Hutching thinks that it is basically a result from injustice in the past. He gave an example of New Deal policy by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is basically sided to the whites. I’m not sure that I can elaborate though, I need to study this further. But Cindhi added, when we were in the van on the way to the museum, that it was also the consequence of capitalism. This economic system gives the chance for people who own capital, and kill those who don’t own one, and blacks basically don’t have as much of asset like the whites. The solution suggested by Professor Hutching is repairment, which means compensation for the blacks, for the injustice they received in the past. We all agree that it isn’t possible.
There are wealthy blacks, of course. Kharis, a staff from University of Michigan said that they are mostly in Atlanta, Georgia. Detroit itself is quite a poor area. There are many people end up moving out because they don’t have anything to live in the city. From the museum, we headed to another part of Detroit, to Earthworks Urban Farm Soup Kitchen. Soup kitchen is sort of a shelter, where homeless or poor people can come over receive free foods, take a shower, training to improve their skills, and some places also give them places to stay. This place has made a lot of changes in Detroit area, considering many poor people live here (note that most of the Detroit citizen is black). But Earthworks Urban Farm is not an ordinary soup kitchen. It is maintained by Capuchin, a Catholic order. They grew their own foods in the farm. And their main purpose isn’t only to serve foods, but healthy foods. Shane, one of the workers in Earthworks also explained the philosophy of foods. Foods keep the history of society, and food can bring people together. Shane himself came from Philippine, working at the Earthworks gives him chance to preserve his background through foods. And it can bring people together because in Earthworks, Detroit people plant their own foods and they are able to socialize and interact with people while working on their plants. It sort of like farmers who are bonded because they meet every day in the rice fields. Earthworks also employs the poor blacks, and (black) ex convicts who can’t get jobs.
The disparity between blacks and whites doesn’t make the country less democratic, but makes it problematic, said Professor Hutching. America is challenged to equalize the rights and welfare of its citizens, all citizens.
Ann Arbor, June 21 2012