"100 Years a Slave" by Reginald Campbell


A 100 years a Slave

Blacks are naturally evil.
Blacks are lazy.
Blacks are “Welfare Queens” (thanks Reagan).
Blacks don’t want to work.
Blacks are thugs.
Black kids inherently have behavior problems.
Blacks are drug dealers.

I’m sure you’ve either heard or read this before … whether from family members, friends or media. America’s thoughts and views of black America is loud and clear … and it has been for over 100 years. Today’s current situation with the enormous detest of athletes silently protesting during the national anthem has its roots before the turn of the century. For the sake of brevity, lets start with quite possibly the most damaging piece of Americana that unquestionably created American’s views today.

A “Birth of a Nation” was a film created in 1915 and it was highly successful. Set in the time during the civil war (and following), it portrayed black men as demons that raped and beat women. Furthermore it portrayed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as heroic beings. After the release of the film there was a massive amount of beatings and lynching of black men and boys. This was the marked beginning of America’s slanderous propaganda of black America.

Fast forward to March 7th , 1965, better known as “Bloody Sunday” (bypassing the numerous beatings and lynching’s as well as the massacre in Tulsa) to the Selma march in Selma, Alabama. 600 peaceful protesters marched and sat on a bridge in Selma protesting for civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. along with numerous other civil rights activist conducted the march. Martin was demonized for his earlier civil rights work (Montgomery Bus Boycott) by the media and CIA. Selma marked the first time that the nation witnessed live on television how peaceful black protesters (as well as others) are treated. Seemingly, some good come from this. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. But more than 10 years after being passed black people still couldn’t elect who they wanted in office. 

During the great depression the face of welfare was a white one. Dorothea Lange’s “The migrant mother” was the face of poverty and need. By having a Caucasian woman as the face of welfare, it created sympathy and compassion. In1968, Nixon’s campaign created a “war” on welfare and drugs. By associating blacks with both (welfare and drugs), he effectively turned the American public against welfare. 13 years later President Reagan would coin the phrase “Welfare Queen” describing the make-believe woman as a black woman who milked the system for all she could. Even when the press pointed out that the individual didn’t exist the damage was already done. “Black” was synonymous with welfare, gang violence, and drugs. This was a trend that today still has roots and a majority of America still believes this even though the statistics say otherwise. So, where am I going with this and what does this have to do with athletes kneeling?

Since the Civil Rights beginning blacks and other minorities have peacefully protested, from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus boycott to the Million Man march. Peaceful protest is not new to black people. Kneeling is a extension of that; a homage to what protesters before have done.

Now, let’s circle back to WHY athletes are kneeling in the first place. Police brutality and unjust judicial practices are at the fore front, but I believe it boils down to nothing but good ole racism, hate and fear. You can’t be extremely brutal to another human unless you believe they are beneath you (which is the hallmark of racism). Some officers say that they fear for their lives without a weapon ever being produced. Imagine that, trained and armed officers fearful of a unarmed civilian.

This is around the time where someone will jump in and say “well if blacks would just comply, this wouldn’t happen.” An organization known for beating blacks in the street for more than 6 generations and we should just comply? Black boys and girls are taught from a early age to fear police, be it from their parents, police or both. It is very hard to comply when you are terrified of the people you are supposed to trust. 

This is why we are kneeling.

We kneel because of Rosa Parks.
We kneel because of Martin Luther King Jr.
We kneel because of Malcolm X.
We kneel because of Medgar Evans.
We kneel for Treyvon Martin.
We kneel for Tamir Rice.
We kneel for Sandra Bland.
We kneel for Eric Garner.
We kneel for the multitudes of people who have been killed before us.

We kneel for the same rights every human being should be awarded upon birth ... but America has shown us that throughout it’s very short history, it has no problem getting rid of or ridiculing others who look different. Just 50 short years ago a white male (or a group of them) could literally kill a black man and be acquitted (see Emmitt Till). If you could kill just a short time ago, throwing a drink or calling a black person a nigger for kneeling doesn’t seem so bad. It almost seems like mercy … right?



This piece was written by Reginald Campbell, a photographer based in Texas.