From Douglass to Obama: How Far Have We Come?

This guest post is drawn from a presentation by my daughter, Sheela Jane Menon, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of Texas, Austin. It begins to examine the question of how much progress has been made in race relations in the U.S.

Everyone recognizes Lady Liberty. Few are aware of the broken chains at her feet. When the economic system  ensures the dominance of one group at the top and the extreme subjugation of another group at the bottom, we foster a contemporary form of enslavement that we do not necessarily “see.” BLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK

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Advertised on the Adidas Facebook Page in June with the tagline “Got a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles?”, the shoes feature shackles that literally bind the individual to the shoe. The product generated rapid and heated criticism which led the German company to decide to withdraw the shoe, even while defending its design.  BLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANKTEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TTEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TTEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK TEXTBLANK
Today our access to the arts and to education is literally at our fingertips via technology and we engage routinely in reading and writing. For Douglass, on the other hand, the suppression of the intellect – the denial of education and the banning of the very acts of reading and writing – constituted his everyday reality; a reality that was designed to both facilitate and justify the process of dehumanization. After all, the assumption that made slavery possible was that those of African descent were incapable of higher levels of thinking or achievement. Africans were not fully human, which in turn justified their position as slaves. Douglass, who strove throughout his early years to learn to read and write, found himself at the mercy of Mr. Covey – a well-known “slave-breaker” whose job was to destroy all vestiges of resistance and independence that a slave might display.
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“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said. 
This image is a powerful one in part because it captures the fulfillment of Douglass’ hope that a better day is coming – this five year old was able to stand in the Oval Office and literally see himself in the President. This image also articulates the hope that better days will continue to come; that each of us, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, will be able to see ourselves in the leaders of our nations and in each other.
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Posted in Fighting Poverty, I BLOG, Justice, Race and Art, Race and Economics, Sustainability, Uncategorized

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