Resolving Systemic Racism Requires Constitutional Amendment
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Sign my petition for Constitutional Amendment on Change.org by clicking HERE.
This past week has been a whirlwind for most Americans, myself included. By now, I have published two articles and several Facebook posts and tweets that endeared some and alienated others. Several decades-long relationships I once held are now irreparably broken as we have taken decidedly different positions on the issues of whether systemic racism is a problem in America and what to do about it. I have been repeatedly challenged over statistics, data and mutiple reports, all designed to support the argument of its proponent, and that vary widely in their conclusions. Judging by the growing protests across America that are now the largest display of unrest since the Civil War, I am not alone in my experience of personal upheaval.
This article is long, and for that I apologize. Nevertheless, I ask that you persevere, for I have included only that which is necessary to support the final conclusion that America must, without doubt, amend her Constitution and abolish legalized slavery in America forever.
Even if you don't believe systemic racism is at work in this nation, if you are fundamentally opposed to slavery, then this article and it's conclusory call to action is still directed at you.
The "American Experience" caters to white privilege.
This week someone challenged me in a Facebook direct message, "I guess I just thought that we were all Americans." After careful consideration, I replied, "See, that's not how it works. The American experience is very diverse. The experience of whites versus people of colour is as different as a man from a woman." This disparity became readily apparent with one client who I represented as a Public Defender on a criminal charge of driving with a suspended license. An older black man, this gentleman was raised in Florida at a time when blacks were legally segregated from whites. He didn't have a school to attend, and so he was raised illiterate. He lost his driver's license many years prior due to a minor car accident. The white male driver of the other vehicle brought a civil action, but because my client couldn't read, he didn't understand the court notice. When he failed to appear to defend himself, a default judgment was entered against him for the damages requested by the plaintiff. Failure to pay these damages ultimately resulted in the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles suspending my client's driver's license. This is one way how civil disputes frequently result in criminal charges that can land people in jail.
"White privilege doesn't mean white people don't have to work hard to earn a living, but that they get a chance to try."
I worked for six months to reinstate this man's driver's license. The insurance company holding the claim against my client had long since gone out of business, and the driver of the other vehicle was deceased. A few weeks after I had the criminal misdemeanor charge thrown out and his driver's license reinstated, my client appeared in my office with a small pot of flowers and a thank you. He explained that the day after his license was reinstated, he received a call from across the state that his son had been killed in a drive-by shooting, and he had to drive several hours to pick up his grandchildren. His sweet display of gratefulness humbles me to this day. What a man! While he had every reason to be filled with frustration and anger at all the missed opportunities in life due to his race, he was instead filled with love and gratitude for the small bit of help I was paid by the State to provide.
While it's true that white people also contend with social obstacles like illiteracy, car accidents, and suspended driver's licenses, they do not encounter these obstacles because they were legally prohibited from availing themselves of educational and economic opportunities on account of their race. For example, my white dad grew up so horrifically poor, I suspect that had he grown up in that condition today, social services would've taken him and his six other siblings into custody. But my dad was a hard worker, and over the years of his youth, he learned the construction business and built himself a business. Meanwhile, black men of the same age were being arrested for sitting in the wrong seat on the city bus or for trying to order a meal at the local diner. Because my dad could freely work and grow his enterprise, I grew up with privileges and opportunities I likely wouldn't have had if my dad had been black. White privilege doesn't mean white people don't have to work hard to earn a living, but that they get a chance to try. In contrast, many barriers to opportunity still bar blacks today precisely because they are black.
Slavery did not end with the Civil War.
As I more thoroughly explain in a recent article I wrote called Why Black Americans Are Justifiably Furious, the enslavement of black Americans did not end with the Civil War. Although the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865 to conclude the war in favor of abolishing slavery, an exeption was written into the Constitution that permits the continued enslavement or forced indentured servitude of anyone convicted of a crime. Consequently, state legislatures passed a multitude of laws requiring the separation of "persons of colour" (POC) from white people, codifying segregation based on race. Anyone thought to bear even a fraction of colour was caught up in this net of racial injustice that was memorialized on their birth certificate and every government ID issued thereafter.
"Black men imprisoned by Jim Crow black codes are the fathers of black men in prison today."
These black codes called "Jim Crow" laws went beyond segregation to also mandate where black people could work and how they could be compensated. Systems emerged where the very same people who were purportedly liberated from their white masters were forced into service to those same plantations to the same landlords. Many black Americans who tried to assert even a sliver of independence were swiftly imprisoned or executed by authority of these laws. Once imprisoned, the federal Constitution permitted States to strip away the fundamental human rights of these prisoners, and they were subject to continued slavery and indentured servitude from yet another source. The continued oppression of black Americans simply evolved to accommodate a new regulatory framework, and it remained well enforced for another hundred years until its challenge in the mid-1900s with the Civil Rights Movement.
Racial discrimination did not end with the Civil Rights Movement.
Another consequence of Jim Crow laws was that they worked to divide black fathers from their families, intentionally incarcerating them at rates many times that of white persons. This way slave labor provided by black people could be perpetuated under the concept of convict leasing. In response, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mobilized a social movement in the 1960s to abolish the legal segregation and the domination of black Americans. Consequently, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed to legally terminate segregation; the 1965 Voting Rights Act enforced black voting rights; and, the 1968 Fair Housing Act aimed to eliminate discrimination in housing, but not before black families were torn apart, impoverished, enslaved, lynched and hundreds of thousands imprisoned.
"After witnessing the riots of this past week, if you believe racism is not a problem in America, then you are willfully blind."
A half century has passed since the Civil Rights Act was passed into law. It seems like a long time, but it's less than the average lifespan. Some black men first imprisoned under the Jim Crow black codes may still be in prison today, and most certainly are the fathers of black men in prison today. Racism is, at its core, a psychological mindset, and as social media posts demonstrate, too many American minds adhere to the principles of racism. By participating in a private Facebook group called "exposing racism", I have seen the most abhorrent displays of racial hatred by endless multitudes of white people who are "letting it all hang out." I am shocked, both by them and by my own ignorance.
Upon reflection, I realize that I mistakenly believed that because I didn't hear complaints about racism while growing up, it wasn't happening. Now, I understand that the silence I misunderstood as reconciliation was only a temporary truce where white people held their tongues, and black people kept quiet to keep the peace. After witnessing the riots of this past week, if you believe racism is not a problem in America, then you are willfully blind. As I first stated, there is ample data to support arguments both for and against the position that systemic racism is operating in America, but I don't care about the data. As a guest lecturer, I teach a seminar called Ethics in Data Analytics to University graduate students of data science, so I understand better than most that unless you have all the data to query, the data pool can be biased one way or another. It is my own experience defending my clients against the effects of residual and overt racism, combined with my own wide-eyed observation of social media calls to violence against black Americans, that obviate the reality of racism today.
Resolving racism requires a Constitutional amendment.
There are a great many proposals under consideration and implementation to resolve some of the racial injustices in this country, including a most important ban on dangerous chokeholds used by police departments around the country. All proposals directed at terminating racism are good and worthy of attention, regardless of how unfamiliar they are, including that certain police departments be disbanded in favor of redirecting taxpayer dollars to alternative social programs to eliminate hunger, homelessness, poverty and a lack of access to quality education, mental health and medical services that are desperately needed in poor, black communities around the nation. Nonetheless, we must not neglect the absolute necessity of finally closing the slavery loophole in our nation's Constitution that is the root of this terrible evil.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution reads, in relevant part:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." [Emphasis mine.]
Those thirteen words I have emphasized for your convenient reference are the absolute root of the continued enslavement and marginalization of black and coloured people in this nation. Because of the proximity in time to the Jim Crow laws of the recent past, this Constitutional exception works to disproportionately disadvantage these people. To fully correct America's original sin, we must strike these 13 words from the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, for nothing less will serve as justice deserved.
How We Amend the Constitution.
How do we do it? How do we get those awful, hateful words out of the Constitution that have been used to enslave and destroy so many? According to Article V of the Constitution, there are two ways in which it can be amended.
An amendment can be proposed by joint resolution of a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, and then three-fourths (38) of the States affirm the proposed amendment; or
An amendment can be passed by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures and which is ratified by three-fourths of those legislatures.
Notably, the second method has never been used. So, if we are to rely on the first method, what we need is for the House and Senate to propose a joint resolution bearing two-thirds signature. Because the President has no role in the amendment process, the document is then forwarded directly to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for processing and publication. The OFR adds any legislative notes to the joint resolution and publishes it in slip law format, and assembles an informational package for the States which includes formal copies of the resolution and the statutory procedure for ratification required by federal law. When the OFR receives the return signature from at least 38 States ratifying the joint resolution, it drafts a formal proclamation to certify the amendment is valid and has become part of the Constitution!
To date, 27 Amendments have been approved to the Constitution, so this is entirely achievable.
Petition your political representatives for Constitutional Amendment.
If you want to join in this call to amend the Constitution to abolish the slavery loophole, you should send word to your elected officials in both Washington D.C. and in your State Capitol that you want them to amend the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution to strike those 13 words that permit slavery to continue.
There are two levels of Congress who represent you on federal matters in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate. The HOR is elected based on where you live; whereas, each State only has two Senators.
To find your Representative and how to contact them, click HERE.
To find your Senator and how to contact them, click HERE and select your State.
In addition to your political representatives in Washington, D.C., there are folks elected to represent you on state-level matters at your State's Capitol city. To find your representatives at the state level, do an internet search for "who is my [enter state] representative"? For example, I live in Florida, so I would type "who is my Florida representative"? To which Google then returns the search results myfloridahouse.gov.
Recall, a Constitutional Amendment requires three-fourths vote of both Congress and State legislatures to pass, so we need them both!
Sign my petition for Constitutional Amendment on Change.org by clicking HERE.
With your help, we can do this together. Let's close this loophole and abolish slavery in America forever!