Some of my mother's great-great-grandparents were wealthy Southern plantation owners. Slave owners. None of that wealth filtered down to her, and she spent thirty years of her life working 60-plus hours a week trying to help everyone. Nonetheless, she (and I) grew up in a state that emerged from that culture and that treated white people as the only real people and did its level best to keep the descendants of slaves powerless. It still tries to do that. People don't get lynched so much anymore but cops and vigilantes empty their guns into unarmed black kids and many people just shrug and say well, that kid had it coming, surely.

(The boy was very tall, you know, and that's scary, and it's hard being a cop. Sometimes those boys look at you funny and aren't perfectly respectful and you just have to empty the whole clip right into their black faces. It's not evil. It's just procedure.)

I'm descended from people who surely knew that owning people as property was fundamentally evil, because plenty of people had been talking about how slavery was evil for a long time, but a Southern gentleman could ignore all that abolitionist talk. Apparently most Southern gentlemen and women could also ignore watching slaves and their children die young:

Recent historical research has largely confirmed the abolitionist indictment of slavery. We now know that slaves suffered extremely high mortality. Half of all slave infants died during their first year of life, twice the rate of white babies. And while the death rate declined for those who survived their first year, it remained twice the white rate through age 14. As a result of this high infant and childhood death rate, the average life expectancy of a slave at birth was just 21 or 22 years, compared to 40 to 43 years for antebellum whites.

There was so much money at stake and everyone else was doing it, so good white folks looked to the Bible and the law to make it all seem okay. And now, if they don't keep the descendants of those slaves in their places? If they admit that the people they enslaved really were just as good and deserving and human as the people who had the legal right to work them 18 hours a day and beat them and starve them and their children? That piece of good ol' days history will look like the atrocity it was. And any descendants of those white landowners who call themselves good Christians might start thinking that there's a debt to be paid there.

I'm not a Christian, but I do think there's a debt to be paid: part of it has to be paid in changing the culture. Most whites back in the day didn't own slaves, but they bought into the virulent racism that made it all possible, and that racism remains as background radiation in the 21st century. Never mind about the flying cars: we should be treating all people like people by now. Changing our culture doesn't touch the principal of all the people tormented and murdered for the sake of the beautiful south, but turning the country into a place where black kids can walk around and drive around the same as white kids without fear of being gunned down would at least take care of the interest on the debt.

But I don't know how to pay it. Meek little slacktivist blog posts don't seem adequate, but on the other hand banging the anti-racism drum every day seems likely to just cause people to tune a person out. I don't know what the right path is there.

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