This article is not designed to sway the African American vote one way or the other. This piece does not suggest that one must support a certain ideology simply because they are black; I put a lot of pride in attempting to make sure that people understand that blackness is not authenticated by political alignment. I am in no way, shape, or form, suggesting that other minority groups were not oppressed by their own government. The purpose of the piece is to highlight why and how it should not be remotely absurd for African Americans to embrace libertarianism. All one has to do is have knowledge of American history. I am not here to make an argument for which style of libertarianism is more or less rational (anarchism, minarchism, etc.), but I will point out how African Americans have been given plenty of reasons to push for little or no government.
People of African descent have been disrespected, discriminated against, and treated unfairly by the state for hundreds of years by the American government. This is not up for debate. Let us not argue semantics or dispute when Africans were brought to America. Let us not turn this into a “well, blacks owned slaves too” debate. Let’s focus on what we all cannot deny: the state has been historically used to oppress people of African descent.
Though it is up for debate when exactly people of African descent arrived in North America, we can generally agree that African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. And whether they were forced against their will or sold by their own people, does not negate the fact that it did not take long for racism and bigotry against blacks to appear in legislative form. We often define the initial legislation as “Slave Codes.”
In Virginia’s case they implemented laws that not only defined slaves, but also made it very clear that black slaves were to be treated differently and unfairly in comparison to their white counterparts. These were laws that expressed what a slave was and how they were to be treated and tried. For example, it was against the law for slaves to read in some cases and you were subject to punishment if you were caught teaching them to do so. It would be foolish to disregard the fact that individuals utilized governmental to control slaves and freedmen.
Legislative efforts to hinder blacks continued for hundreds of years. Though there will forever be an argument about what exactly caused the Civil War, it was obvious that the some of the southern states had every intention of keep blacks behind whites. They continued to enact laws that we tend to classify as “Black Codes” directly after the Civil War. These laws were designed to strip blacks of their constitutional rights and fairly basic freedoms. If you were black, there were certain ways you had to go about conducting business and special rules you had to abide by. Obviously, if you disobeyed you were subject to being arrested and punished. Even with slavery abolished, lawmakers continued to use government to treat blacks unfairly and unjustly.
These were not just unwritten rules by the collective, they appeared in the form of legislation. Though met with a constant push-back these laws remained present and eventually developed into what we know as Jim Crow Laws.
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Though often undermined, the Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the United States and because of this, they set precedence for related cases after a ruling. Therefore if SCOTUS makes an unfair and unjust ruling, there will be a domino effect because it will be referred back to at every level. There are two prominent cases that I’d like to refer to: Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson.
I would hope that most are familiar with these cases, but I’d like to give a brief summary as well as highlight the initial rulings and the precedence set, starting with Dred Scott. Dred Scott was born into slavery, having a couple of different slave owners and the most notable being Dr. John Emerson. Eventually ending up in Fort Snelling, Scott was technically a slave in the Wisconsin territory which was prohibited by way of the Missouri Compromise. This however did not grant Scott and his family freedom. Even with the death of Dr. John Emerson, Scott’s freedom was denied and his wife (who inherited John’s slaves) did not budge. Ferguson attempted to sue for his freedom after failed attempts to purchase it.
Today, it may seem crazy that one has to sue or purchase their freedom but this was the way of life and one of many examples of the way government failed blacks. Scott fought for his freedom within the courts over a span of about 6 years. Scott sued Emerson in Missouri in 1846, losing that case. The following year (though the trial didn’t take place until 1850) Scott was granted an appeal by the Supreme Court of Missouri and by this time he had a new slave owner, John Sanford; he ended up losing this case too. He sued Sanford again in 1853, this time making it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Scott did not win this case, but it is very important to understand why. The courts did not only claim that they did not have jurisdiction in this matter, but they also ruled that blacks, free or slave, were never intended to be citizens nor be protected by the Constitution. And though the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery, they declared it unconstitutional and noted that the federal government could not ban slavery nor free slaves simply because they were brought into freedmen territory.
Aside from the ruling itself, what is the government saying to blacks?
Well, you were never supposed to be treated fairly and it’s only because of your race. And more importantly, you will not be treated fairly within the state’s courts because you’re black. This isn’t anything that started recently, this is something that has took place for over two hundred years, from the local level back up to the highest federal court.
Plessy v. Ferguson & Jim Crow
When referring to the state’s blatant racism, I love pointing to the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson because it not only confirms the state’s bigotry but it truly speaks to how much they despised blacks. The subject, Homer Plessy, wasn’t even 100% of African descent. He was only 1/8th black, but that was more than enough for him to be treated unfairly. Let’s first make note of the precedence set by the state.
Many people wrongfully assume that private businesses just up and discriminated against blacks. While this may be true, we cannot deny that it was government that made this standard. Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act into law in 1890. This law mandated segregation of blacks and whites on railroads and railway cars. I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who think it’s ridiculous to believe that the companies would treat blacks fairly without interference from the government. But economics has no color. The East Louisiana Railroad opposed the Separate Car Act not because of the racial segregation, but because the law would require them to purchase more railcars to accommodate the new mandate. Knowing this, the state sent a detective to enforce the law. Homer Plessy boarded a whites-only railcar after purchasing a ticket, was asked to move to the blacks only car, and was later detained because he refused to move. He was arrested because of the racist Separate Car Act, not because the railroad company cared that he sat with whites and was part black.
Sent to trial, Plessy did not win original case of Plessy v. the State of Louisiana. But Plessy sought a writ of prohibition which took the case to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, losing that case as well. The judge that upheld the ruling was John Howard Ferguson. With much fight, Plessy was able to have his case heard by the SCOTUS.
Long story short, the SCOTUS upheld the state’s racist mandates because they considered it constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Yet another example of how government was used to keep blacks exactly where they were at: behind whites.
The ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson set the tone for almost the next 60 years because it justified states’ mandated racism. So if the Jim Crow laws were in question before, they had their precedence and justification set by the Plessy ruling. Many states, especially in the South, made sure to make it clear that blacks were to be kept in check by way of the law
It wasn’t until 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education overturned the the Plessy ruling that minorities could no longer have their segregation mandated by the law. One must understand that many of the segregation laws were not just simply brought about by private institutions, but rather having the precedence and culture implemented by the government.
The Here and Now
Even today, many blacks tend to acknowledge racism by the state. You can see this confirmed by current Civil Rights leaders, activists and organizations. There is a constant gripe by activist groups such as Black Lives Matter. They believe that government is killing and treating blacks unjustly; and it’s because they’re black. I will not use this particular article to argue whether or not most of those gripes are legitimate or not, but for the sake of conversation let’s assume that these complaints are all justified. There are even many studies that confirm that blacks get longer sentencing for the same exact crimes committed by whites. No matter what side you are on, you cannot deny that many blacks feel as if they are still treated fairly systematically which eludes to the government and their practices.
What exactly is Odd About Black Libertarianism?
There are many other examples of state execution of racism such as minimum wage laws and the Davis-Bacon Act which were used to keep blacks out of the workforce. I, as well as many other blacks, grew up a leftist and supported the Democrats. I’m often met with odd gazes when I tell people that I am now a libertarian. I do understand that I’m a minority within my current alignment but that does not mean that it doesn’t make sense. Once I became more knowledgeable on American history and economics, it only made sense to become a libertarian. Most African Americans that vote tend to side with Democrats. In the 2012 election, 93% of blacks that voted, voted for Barack Obama. This percentage is the highest among races supporting a particular party. So while being black and libertarian may be odd and abnormal by the numbers, it isn’t odd and abnormal if you consider reasoning behind the actual practice.
When I think libertarianism, I think self-ownership. I think freedom and liberty. I think that every interaction should be voluntary and consented upon. I believe that no individual has the right to infringe upon these liberties and I believe that you cannot delegate that right to other individuals just because they call themselves “government.” I think that you should be able to do what you want, so as long as you do not infringe upon the liberties of others. You owe nothing to anybody, other than non-aggression.
Considering history, I have been given plenty of reasons to adopt libertarianism. I have plenty of reasons to be anti-government, limited government, or no government/self government. Government was used to enslave my ancestors. Government was used to acknowledge my ancestors as property. Government was used to mandate division and segregation. Government was used to ensure that blacks were to be treated differently and unfairly in comparison to whites. What is government? A monopoly of violence. And this monopoly on violence was used to orchestrate immoral and unjust acts against people due to their race.
So the real questions are, why aren’t more blacks libertarians? Why do blacks vote for Democrats who openly want to expand government?
This question does not have a definite answer, but I do personally believe that it’s more political and due to lack of education on opposing views. Democrats have claimed political monopoly over black communities to the point to they don’t really have to anything for the support of blacks. It’s embedded in our culture to support Democrats, though it has been Democrats in political power over predominately black cities; the same cities that have been subject to police brutality, income disparities and violent crimes. The problem isn’t the blind support alone, but rather the fact that we do not hold them accountable and continue to give them a pass. While I always advocate for blacks to advance expectation of help from the government, many that do expect help aren’t holding those Democrats accountable. This is why they do not have to work for black support. They have it locked in without much criticism.
I do believe that this it is more political than anything because I feel as if people are using votes and expectations to control them and/or catapult themselves into power and prosperity. Meanwhile blacks get little to nothing out of the deal. We have issues that plague our communities that didn’t plague our parents and grandparent’s generation and they’ve been ran by Democrats from top to bottom for decades. Though one can say that the counterpart political parties and ideologies do nothing for blacks, those parties still do not hold office in predominately black cities. So again, I ask why are we even expecting the same government that oppressed us to do anything to benefit us? They would do us a lot of justice by leaving us alone.
Politics. False & unfulfilled promises.
Slanderous rhetoric such as ‘Uncle Tom’ and ‘Coon’ will most definitely be thrown out to describe blacks that reject liberalism (current, not classical). But they are for the most part illogical. I despise terms as such because I do think it is silly to limit blackness to political ideology. However, suggesting someone is lesser than black because they reject the state is simply nonsensical. Using historical evidence, it is reasonable for one to be completely against the state and be of African American descent. I’d argue that it should be preferred.
Every culture, minority, race, etc. has their own reason to adopt libertarianism. This is not anything exclusive to African Americans. Many of the problems and concerns were either directly caused by government or influenced by the government. Yet leaders and politicians have done a great job in blaming it on everything else other government, which changes the conversation in its entirety. This is seemingly by design. Government needs to create problems in order to make it appear as if they are necessary and productive. And because being part of government comes with privilege that the individuals do not have, it will forever be sought after and utilized for personal gain which can very well end up in the enforcement immorality. From the slave codes to the Jim Crow laws, the state was used to oppose people of African descent.
You should be asking why more blacks aren’t libertarians, rather than asking why one is black and libertarian.
If we consider history, it should not surprise you that there are African Americans that reject the state.
This post was written by Eric July.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
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