Black people are crazy.
Long before Donald Trump’s peer-reviewed research concluded that warm weather and Easter speeches could cure the deadly COVID-19, Dr. Samuel Adolphus Cartwright mesmerized America with his own pseudo-scientific discovery.
On March 17, 1851, Cartwright delivered a paper before the most distinguished scientific minds of Louisiana (the same brilliant Southerners who believed Jesus was white and wanted them to have slaves). Following an extensive research period that mostly involved making shit up, Cartwright proposed an explosive new mental illness call “drapetomania” or “the disease causing slaves to run away,” writing:
The cause in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule. With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away, can be almost entirely prevented, although the slaves be located on the borders of a free state, within a stone’s throw of the abolitionists.
Aside from the obvious white supremacist nonsense, Cartwright’s racist pseudo-psychology illustrates another delusion of whiteness; namely, the justification of continued oppression by portraying black people’s insatiable inclination toward freedom as an insidious sickness that infects black brains and makes us come up with irrational ideas that can never become reality.
Centuries of oppression, abuse and discrimination can affect a person’s ability to think straight. Our suggestions for ending white supremacy are routinely dismissed as ignorable hypotheses of ignorant negro brains. According to fiscally conservative politicians, we couldn’t possibly understand how things work.
Until something happens to white people.
With the evolution of the existential threat that is coronavirus, the federal government has been forced to take extraordinary measures to ensure the survival of the American economy. All of a sudden, the country found a whole trillion dollars sitting under the couch after decades of insisting that giving handouts to poor black families wouldn’t help the national economy. Then lo and behold, the party that preaches “fiscal responsibility” agreed to bipartisan legislation that would bolster sinking businesses, send money to struggling families and help hard-hit communities.
It took one month.
Unlike the “direct assistance” handed out to “struggling farmers,” when we ask for government money, conservatives denounce poor black people as “welfare queens.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign pushed for the same stimulus 50 years before Congress decided a universal basic income might prevent white people from hitting rock bottom. Now that white children need to engage in online learning, the country spontaneously found ways to bridge the technology gap, including cable companies offering free wifi and states parking internet-enabled school buses in poor neighborhoods.
The innovative ideas being implemented to fight the inevitable economic fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic are the same ones that marginalized people have been suggesting for years. When white people face an existential crisis, white America will find a solution. We’ve seen it happen throughout history. No one knows this nation’s ability to escape a crushing disaster more than the people who have been stuck between a rock and a hard place for 400 years.
We always knew that the richest country in the world had a not-so-secret antidote for the economic inequality caused by white supremacy. Not only is this longstanding idea of a social safety net possible, but conservatives have now conceded that government-induced prosperity benefits the country as a whole.
It is possible that the coronavirus can kill the notion of white supremacy once and for all? We always knew the answer. But now the nation is perfectly fine enacting the very ideas that black people have been advocating for all this time.
We see you.
Maybe black people are crazy.
But we aren’t blind.
We’ve seen this before.
Perhaps the greatest example of America using liberal ideology to rebuild an economy is the collection of progressive legislation that took place after the Great Depression. Faced with a 25 percent unemployment rate, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal stabilized the American economy and created what we now know as the middle class.
The Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps hired millions of men to rebuild the national infrastructure, preserve the environment and work in arts and education. Glass-Steagall regulated Wall Street. The Social Security Act of 1935 ensured that Americans had a retirement income. The Agricultural Adjustment Act revitalized white-owned farms. The Federal Housing Administration handed out home loans and built the suburbs out of thin air. The Fair Labor Standards Act reduced income inequality by establishing a national minimum wage.
Unfortunately, these landmark laws that we now take for granted also formally enshrined America’s racist Jim Crow practices into law—most notably by mandating that banks adhere to the system of institutionalized segregation known as “redlining.”
Still, the New Deal was great for white people. It created a middle class that earned a living wage and set America on the path for prosperity that lasted for decades.
But how did they pay for it?
Well, aside from taking tax money from black people and giving it to white America, the Tax Act of 1935—also called the “Soak the Rich Act”— taxed wealthy Americans and redistributed it to the middle class. The top income tax rate skyrocketed (from 59 percent on incomes over $1 million to 75 percent on incomes over $500,000) and raised net income taxes on corporations. But slowly, over time, in America, the policies of the New Deal were whittled away by incrementally more conservative legislators.
Well, the lie you’ve been told is that these policies cost too much. We’re told that they caused the national debt. But that is a lie. In reality, aside from war, there is only one historical reason America stays in debt.
Looking at the effective tax rates throughout history reveals how corporations and the wealthy have used racism to fuel inequality and perpetuate white supremacy. They have managed to fool white America that trickle-down economics and corporate welfare was the key to prosperity. White people in America tacitly support white supremacy because they have been led to believe these policies are what made America great.
When black abolitionists suggested the obviously insane idea that the entire country should end the institution of slavery at once, even Thomas Jefferson—who regarded the practice as a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot”—believed it could only be eliminated with incremental advances over time because eliminating slavery wound devastate the economy.
Then, after the bloodiest war in the nation’s history, America ended slavery all at once and we survived.
In 1964, a whopping 74 percent of Americans said that civil rights demonstrations hurt “the negro cause.” Fifty percent of the people polled said the Martin Luther King Jr.’s unhinged ideas were hurting the preposterous cause of “negro civil rights.” When drapetomaniac civil rights protesters had the demented idea of dismantling Jim Crow, a 1963 poll by the Roper Center for Public Opinion revealed that 68 percent of Southerners and a majority of white Americans said they had “the right to keep negroes out of their neighborhoods.”
All it took to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was a white fear, a handful of dead peaceful demonstrators, a few bloodthirsty, baton-wielding Alabama State Troopers on a Selma bridge and 15 sticks of dynamite in a Birmingham, Ala., church basement.
Martin Luther King Jr. lived to see the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It was only when his Poor People’s Campaign began advocating to end poverty with a universal basic income that he was assassinated. On July 30, 1967, less than a year before a bullet from a white supremacist’s rifle ended his life, Dr. King told a Charleston, S.C., audience that the new fight for civil rights was the war against economic injustice:
“Everybody who’s able ought to have a job in this country,” King said. “And everybody...who isn’t able to work ought to have an income. That should be a guaranteed annual income. There are plenty of things that can be done to get jobs for the jobless. Jobs can be created very easily…It’s possible to end poverty.”
Republicans from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan would use the resulting white racial animus to gain control of the South and institute more economic white supremacy in the name of conservatism.
GOP adviser Lee Atwater even explained how they did it:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Even today, whenever anyone insists on righting the wrongs of white supremacy, black people’s efforts are routinely dismissed as absurd. Black Lives Matter is a “dangerous, radical” notion, according to the National Review. When black activists renewed the screwball call for reparations, it was dismissed as a “bad idea” by the most prominent politicians.
“I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people in our communities,” said presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “And I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”
But black people keep coming up with ludicrous solutions.
When this organization suggested that former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg weakened his city’s economy by offering zero of the city’s major contracts with black businesses, we were vilified for “attacking” Buttigieg. For years, black America has been unfairly maligned for increasing the national debt by taking government assistance to lift us out of poverty.
We have been told that investing in poor black school districts to decrease education disparities was cost-prohibitive. Asking the government to pay people’s rent is a batshit insane idea. We must’ve been bonkers to ask the government to just hand out money to black businesses. White America insists that they want to fight white supremacy. But not with those expensive, nutty ideas.
We must be out of our minds.
We knew it was a lie.
The reaction to this new crisis reveals that we have always been aware that our economy didn’t represent all Americans and was never intended to guarantee prosperity for all. Maybe now we can build one that is intentional about creating opportunities for black and brown people, which starts with the realization that a society’s fiscal policy has to be representative of the population and not just built by people who already have privilege and power.
The small-government conservatives who insist their parents and grandparents worked their way to the middle class without anyone’s help have all been unmasked. We always knew that their generational wealth was built on the backs of black labor and welfare for white people. But now America’s willingness—and more importantly, her ability—to do what’s right has been exposed.
The only way to create a sustainable social safety net is to eliminate economic inequality.
If we survive this inevitable economic downturn, it will be with progressive ideas that rebuild the middle class with our money that the government has handed over to wealthy and corporate interests. Perhaps future generations will look at the pervasive economic quality in the same way we now look at poll taxes, “separate but equal” or redlining. Maybe the survivors of the coronavirus crisis will see these new policies and wonder why we hadn’t used these ideas all along.
But we know black people are crazy.
They want to be free.