There is a very sharp conflict now within this country over whether the history of slavery can even be talked about in any real way, with white supremacist fascists attacking and attempting to prevent any serious discussion of this, and especially its actual horrors, with public education a particular focus of this conflict. Sometimes these people will actually say that slavery was not that bad!—or they will insist: “Oh, slavery, that was a long time ago. I had nothing to do with that. That’s long gone. That’s all over. That has nothing to do with what’s going on now. Quit complaining about things that have long been done and over with.” But when you’re talking about this country, as horrific as slavery actually was, it is not a matter of slavery as just some ancient history.
In 2003, I began the speech Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About talking about the “postcards of the hanging,” referring to an opening line in a song by Bob Dylan. Think about the real history of this country. Think about what was going on for nearly 100 years, after the end of the Civil War and the very brief period of Reconstruction, when there was an attempt to actually allow Black people to win some rights—which was then completely overturned and reversed with the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and systematic terror in the South, which the entire ruling class of the country went along with, and institutionalized, as part of a “compromise” that they made in the 1870s. Think about what this means: For nearly 100 years, not only were thousands of Black people lynched, but at many of these lynchings there were mass gatherings of white people, in a picnic and celebratory atmosphere. And then, when the bodies were hung and often burned, many of these white people would go and cut off body parts of the person who’d been lynched as souvenirs, in a carnival atmosphere.
Is this what Biden means when he says America has been an inspiration to the world? (He recently said that America has been an inspiration to the world for over 200 years—which includes the time of slavery, with all its very real horrors, as well as Jim Crow segregation, Ku Klux Klan terror and the thousands of lynchings to which I have referred here.)
And that's not all. Photographs were taken and postcards were made and sold all over the country—postcards of the lynchings. Think about what that says.
In terms of depravity, you can’t find anything Hitler and the Nazis did that was worse than this. You had the Nazi Dr. Mengele who went to the concentration camps and performed grotesque experiments on the bodies of the Jews who were imprisoned there. And that’s horrible. That’s part of one of the worst atrocities in the history of humanity, the whole Holocaust (the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis). But, again in terms of depravity, even after slavery, what was going on for nearly 100 years in this country is no less horrific—it belongs in the same category with the Nazi atrocities—while all the time we are being told that “this is the greatest country in the world, this is the leader of the free world, this is an inspiration to people all over the world.”
And the treatment of Black people in particular in the United States, as well as the whole eugenics thing that arose in this country—where you had the idea put forward that people who were declared “inferior” in one way or another, including disabled people, should not be allowed to reproduce, because it dragged down the human population—that eugenics and that genocidal racism in the United States was a model for what the Nazis did, particularly with the Jews. Just think about that, while we’re being told what a great inspiration this country has been… apparently it was a great inspiration to the Nazis.
And that’s still not all. Even with the ending of the Jim Crow system of segregation and systematic discrimination that was centered in the South but actually existed throughout this country for nearly 100 years—even with the ending of that overt legal segregation and discrimination, with all its terror—there is the continuing horrific oppression of Black people, as well as other people of color.
Today, instead of the Ku Klux Klan in their white robes and hoods, it’s the police in blue (although some of them may still be in the Ku Klux Klan) who carry out the murder of Black people over and over again, as well as Latinos and Native Americans. It is a fact that since 1960 more Black people have been murdered by police than the thousands who were lynched in the time after the Civil War up until 1960. And this, along with mass incarceration, particularly of Black people and Latinos as well, is a concentration of their overall oppression.
Finally, beginning in the 1960s there has been society-wide opposition to all this racist atrocity—opposition in which masses of Black people were joined by large numbers of white people, and others, especially youth. But, despite such massive opposition—which has repeatedly been demonstrated, once again in a huge way in 2020—the racist oppression and terror, yes of genocidal dimensions, goes on and on. Why? Because it is built into this system of capitalism-imperialism, which rules in this country and dominates in the world as a whole.
This is the reality of a country and a system that we’re told to celebrate as a great inspiration. And it is only part of the horrors of this system—as much as it is, in a real sense, a concentration of those horrors.
How can any decent person deny that we need a revolution to overthrow this system?!
For an even more extensive presentation of Bob Avakian’s powerful exposure of this system, the bankruptcy of attempts to reform it, and the urgent need to overthrow it through a real revolution, as well as an “up close and personal” discussion of his development and role as a revolutionary leader, go to the Bob Avakian Interviews on the YouTube RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show.