By Rupande Mehta
Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images
Toward the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln sent a tacit message to the Confederacy – he didn’t intend to punish them too severely. Instead he expected them to adopt the 13th Amendment and have 10% of voters, who were eligible to vote in 1860 (all white men), swear loyalty to the USA so they could be readmitted to the Union.
For all the good he did, President Lincoln was not interested in racial equality. He believed that the Civil War was the only means of preserving the Union; a view shared explicitly by his successor Andrew Johnson. Their main motive, after the war, was to unite and heal the nation so we could all move on from a deadly war that had caused such dramatic loss.
What we received, instead of unity, as a result of such political short sightedness is a nation with faulty foundations.
Since the end of reconstruction, African Americans have, despite the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, seen their rights eroded. Despite reconstruction; discrimination continued. Slavery in one form ended to be replaced by a system – judicial and cultural – that interpreted laws according to its whims, prohibited African Americans from escaping such draconian measures and continued merciless violence against them when challenged. Landowners made rich due to the free labor of slaves could not imagine a system that treated those slaves as equal and gave them rights.
In the 20th century, Jim Crow laws and segregation continued to ensure that despite overwhelming contributions from African Americans to the country, they were counted as less than citizens.
For decades now, African Americans have tried to warn us about a system that is stacked against them – how it favors whites, how there exist members of law enforcement and military who harbor racist, discriminate and prejudiced views. And, how these views have been the cause of ruthless violence in Black & Brown communities. These warnings have often been met with little or no systemic change.
On January 6, 2021 the world saw the truth in those warnings. We saw with our own eyes several members of law enforcement and military try to stage a coup and capture or kill prominent elected officials including the Speaker of the House and the Vice President. We saw similarities in the anger between the Confederate States response when their “free labor” was threatened and the terrorists at the Capitol because their leader wasn’t elected. We saw the rage of an almost exclusively white crowd trying to overturn the results of a legitimate, free and fair, election powered mainly by people of color. We saw white privilege feeling threatened and we saw how they respond to the progress made by people of color.
Lincoln was a great President, but even great people make mistakes. In hindsight, his mistake was to move towards healing without dealing with the root cause of the problem. Republicans who are not using this moment to condemn the Capitol terror attacks and support impeachment, instead looking for unity & healing would be wise to heed history. This nation needs healing, no doubt, but before that happens, we need to deal with the real threat of white supremacy. Before healing, we need accountability. Only then can we move forward and truly espouse to live up to the words of, “all men are created equal”.
About the Author:
Born in Mumbai India, Rupande came to the US in 2002 in pursuit of an education, leaving behind 15+ years of emotional, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. She is currently an analytical specialist working in sourcing and negotiations on multi-million-dollar projects, employing her skills in team building and conflict resolution for a Fortune 500 company in New Jersey. She has an MBA and a Master's in Public Administration where she was a Fellow of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. Rupande ran for Morris County Freeholder in 2018 coming within 2 points of victory & State Senate in LD-25 in 2020 where she received the most votes ever received by a Democrat running for the seat. Rupande lives in Denville with her husband and daughter.