Yesterday’s decision blocking the North Carolina’s legislature from introducing Jim-Crow voting rules reminds us that racism is alive and well in far too many pockets of our country, including pockets of power. This is why the Black Lives Matters movement has touched a painful national nerve and why Trump’s attacks on the movement and failure to support reasonable gun safety measures adds to his record of racism.
Do black lives matter? Of course they matter. They are as precious as the lives of any other American. The fact that one need raise such a question a century and a half after the end of slavery, 60 years after the Civil Rights movement, and when our President is African American is, itself, an indictment. It’s testimony to the transformation of the Peculiar Institution into the Persistent Institution – the stubborn failure to imagine ourselves as someone else or, as President Kennedy put it, to stand ready to change the color of our skin.
While in graduate school, I wrote several papers about the economics of slavery, including one on manumission – the freeing of slaves (primarily by previously freed slaves). By an accident of timing, I was the first person to systematically examine the bills of sale of thousands of slaves at the New Orleans slave market throughout the first half of the 19th century. Looking at these data, even via computerized tape, always made me queasy. To this day I wonder if studying this market was morally appropriate. You could use the data to answer all manner of economic questions that you might ask about any market. But you also knew that each record was one of horror for the slave, disgrace for the seller, and degradation for the buyer.
The only way persistent, pernicious institutionalized racism will change in our country is via education. As President, I would establish the United States Slavery Museum in our nation’s capital. I would hope that every American child would visit this museum to learn about slavery, which has left such a deep, painful, and permanent scar on our nation’s history. Slavery is racism in its most apparent as well as terrible manifestation.
The United States Slavery Museum will not eradicate modern-day racism. It will, however, make a public confession of our nation’s past and present sins of racism and teach our children that racism, whether historical or current, is a disgrace to our country and that racist Americans should find another country in which to live.