Ii. Truth--Four Centuries of Racial Injustice

That W.E.B. DuBois's anguished words spoken in 1903 lamenting racial injustice still ring true today, over a century later, is morally indefensible. It is past time for Americans to take a sober, honest account of the truth: of America's "original sin" of slavery, together with its subsequent history of systemic racial injustice.

Du Bois noted in 1903 that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line"; some sixty years later in 1967, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that "there has never been any single solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans ... to genuine equality for Negroes." Both of these statements remain true today, nearly two full decades into the twenty-first century. The "color line" remains this nation's singular problem; and most white Americans have still failed to embrace a truly egalitarian approach to race-relations. Du Bois and King both "spoke the truth that we have yet to fully acknowledge."

It is never too late to try to make amends. The first step is to acknowledge the truth. "I'm for Truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for Justice, no matter who it's for or against," declared Malcolm X. "Truth has a power of its own," Howard Zinn explained. "[T]hat everything we do matters is the meaning of people's struggle here ... and everywhere."

So, then, how do we discover the "truth?" Because histories are written by the powerful (the conquerors), not by the weak (the conquered), too often the full truth of any situation is opaque and elusive. In his monumental work, The Peoples History of the United States, Howard Zinn explains how "[t]he history of any country ... conceals fierce conflicts of interests ... between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex." In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, Zinn continues, "it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."

Taking Zinn's advice, this section looks to the experiences of people of color in outlining the truth of four hundred years of racial oppression in America, beginning with slavery in the colonial era and continuing into the new Nation; then running through another century of racial apartheid; through to the present day, where mass incarceration and policing tactics, along with the lingering effects of an economic system stacked against people of color, have all combined to the present-day status quo marked by widespread systemic racial injustice.