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Who are the real looters?

By Nathan Richardson

In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and all places.” That being said, he was never shy about stating the true causes and the responsibilities on both sides needed to solve America’s problems. In this open letter to my fellow Americans, neither will I.

The people of America who currently have the means and the wherewithal to boycott the businesses — the unjust system — lack the conviction. They have left the ones who don’t have the means with no choice but to file in like so many sheep to have their pockets fleeced — I mean, looted!

Our criticism of the riots and the rebellion we see in the streets of modern America lacks empathy for the cause. Douglass put it this way: “The thing worse than rebellion, is the thing that causes rebellion.” Some might consider the corporate giants the real looters.
Imagine no riots, no looting, no shooting! How? Just one massive unified worldwide boycott of these corporate giants could have produced the same economic effects of the pandemic and street protests combined, without the collateral damage. Unfortunately, living green and shopping local are just fashionable trends, not matters of economic and social justice. We are addicted to the fragile wealth and comfort we have built. While it should have made us more empowered to divest from this corrupt system, instead we continue to support it. We defend it! Comfort and convenience have become the top priorities for the majority of Americans. It is a self-serving attitude that speaks louder than all the other hashtags combined.

In 1848, after the 21-month sojourn of escaped slave Frederick Douglass through Ireland and England, a group of whites raised the money to help purchase his freedom. They also raised another $2,500 to help him start his newspaper, The North Star. They also offered him a tantalizing proposition — stay in England. They offered to send for his family and help him get settled in a country where slavery had been abolished. In other words, stay in England and be comfortable.

History shows Douglass returned to America and became a leader in the abolition of slavery. What Douglass understood then is no less true today. That kind of comfort is short-lived. The horizontal white flight to re-segregate America is short-term. It is not a solution. Vertical black flight, economically divesting from our own communities, is equally divisive and debilitating. Moving to the suburbs does not make us immune from the collapse of the bottom rung, of the lower caste of people who slaughter, pick, clean, assemble, package and deliver everything we eat and wear.

In an 1864 speech titled “A Friendly Word to Maryland,” Frederick Douglass spoke directly to the whites and blacks in the audience. “First to my white friends; so much my white fellow citizens you have done and well done. There is one other thing needed to make your work good and complete. One demands the restoration of all rights. There is however, a class of speakers and writers among you, who seem to distrust your ability to cope with the Negro without special protection. I deny the black man’s degradation is essential to the white man’s elevation. I deny the black man should be tied less he outstrip you in the race for improvement. I deny the existence of any such necessity and affirm that those who allege the existence of any such necessity pay a sorry complement to the race of white people.”

Then Douglass turns to the colored people in the audience, many of whom had just arrived in large numbers to Baltimore from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “Now to my colored friends; I would advise you to stay in the lower counties of Maryland. $150 in the country is better than $400 in the city. For those of you crowding the allies and by-streets of Baltimore, woe betide you. Sad indeed will be your fate. You should stick to your agricultural pursuits and endeavor to buy land. You should be saving your funds and building churches, homes and schools. Let the finger of scorn point to any colored man who refuses to send his children to school.”

For the past six years, in the character of Fredrick Douglass and as a self-made historian, I have traveled the country trying to tell the complete historical narrative and help Americans avoid a repeat of a tragic past. I am not alone in this effort to warn Americans. Indifference has a way of finding us and pointing out where we left it. Unfortunately, very few seem to be listening. So knock, knock America! A second civil war is potentially at your front door unless you leave your comfort zone and without delay start agitating for the complete enfranchisement of every American citizen.

Nathan M. Richardson is a poet, author and Frederick Douglass historian. Contact him at poetnathan1960@gmail.com.