‘I Am a Free Human Being’: White Protesters Hold Signs Comparing Slave Muzzling to Stay-at-Home Orders

Illustration for article titled ‘I Am a Free Human Being’: White Protesters Hold Signs Comparing Slave Muzzling to Stay-at-Home Orders
Photo: Zach Gibson (Getty Images)

As protests over stay-at-home orders continue to pop up across the country, one thing becomes more and more evident: Some of these white people are racist AF. In California, at least two white women were caught on camera holding up protest signs that compared state ordinances meant to protect the public from a health crisis to the muzzling of enslaved people.

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The Mercury News reports that two women who were participating in a stay-at-home protest in front of the Humboldt County courthouse on Friday held signs that showed the well-known drawing of Escrava Anastacia, an African woman who was enslaved in Brazil in the 19th century, accompanied by text that reads: “Muzzles are for dogs and slaves. I am a free human being.” Presumably, the muzzle Anastacia is wearing in the drawing is being compared to the face masks people are required to wear in public spaces in order to protect them from COVID-19 infection.

It didn’t take long for the photos to make the rounds on social media.

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Sharrone Blanck, president of the local NAACP chapter, summed things up perfectly.

“The first issue is the fact that this person is equating dogs to enslaved people, specifically enslaved Africans,” Blanck said. “Then she identifies herself as a free human being — somehow above and better than people of African descent and people of color in general who were made to wear muzzles.”

One of the women, Gretha Stenger, offered an apology and explanation on Monday.

“Holding that sign up at the lockdown protest was a grave mistake and I ask forgiveness from all those who I have caused pain,” Stenger wrote. “As I had no sign of my own, it was handed to me by another protester and a photographer took the picture before I considered the racist implications. My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite. Please know that I respect the dignity of all people and I sincerely regret any suffering it has caused.”

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The fact that Stenger can somehow see oppression in public health measures during an ongoing pandemic but didn’t immediately recognize the “racial implications” in the sign she was holding is very telling.

But at least she apologized.

I guess.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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DISCUSSION

theghostofjimmadison
The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

People, once and for all, temporary restrictions on commerce and travel for legitimate public health reasons are not a violation of your constitutional rights. They are a thing that governments throughout history have done.

For anyone out there laboring under some strange misconception that the Founding Fathers were unaware of pandemics and quarantines when they drafted the Bill of Rights, or that they perhaps intended one or more of the Amendments to bar any and all restrictions in support of public health, here is a little light reading for you.

In May of 1796, Congress adopted the first federal quarantine law in response to a series of deadly yellow fever epidemics. The law, entitled “An Act Relative to Quarantine”, 1 Stat. 474, was adopted by the Third Congress and signed by George Washington without much controversy. The remarkably simple law consisted of a single paragraph which provided as follows:

. . . That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby authorized, to direct the revenue-officers and the officers commanding forts and revenue-cutters, to aid in the execution of quarantine and also in also in the execution of the health-laws of the states, respectively, in such manner as may to him appear necessary.

I mean, that’s a pretty close to a blank check.

The Act authorized President Washington to aid the states, in his discretion, “in the execution of quarantine” and in the execution of state “health-laws”. At the time the federal government was less than a decade old.

And a few years later:

The 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic was described by Washington as a “calamitous situation in Philadelphia” which left the city “almost depopulated by removals & deaths.” In a letter to Hamilton describing the “calamity which has befallen Philadelphia”, Washington sought guidance on whether Congress could convene at another, safer location.

Thomas Jefferson, a strict constructionist, was of the view that the President could not unilaterally relocate Congress. Disagreeing with Jefferson, Hamilton wrote to Washington that under extraordinary circumstances the President had the discretion to set the time and place for the convening of Congress. Mindful that there were “respectable opinions against the power of the President to change the place of meeting,” Hamilton suggested that it was expedient for the President to recommend a location for Congress to reconvene.

Ultimately, Washington and Hamilton concurred that Congress should meet in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Other locations that were considered were Trenton, Reading, Lancaster, and Wilmington. As a result, in November of 1793 Washington, his cabinet and Congress relocated to Germantown, until the Philadelphia epidemic ran its course. While it was not known at the time, Yellow Fever was primarily spread by mosquitos, which explains why seasonal epidemics ceased when winter arrived.

Congress acted the following year to explicitly authorize the President to respond to national emergencies. In April of 1794, Congress adopted an “Act to Authorize the President, in certain cases, to alter the Place of holding a session of Congress.” 

But yeah, tell me that Washington, Jefferson, et al., would have had a problem with mask-wearing directives.