Three-fifths of a Person

It’s the last day of Black History Month, and I’ve had a post swirling in my mind that I never had a chance to get on paper. I’ll offer some short thoughts instead.

The most important thing for any non-black to remember during black history month seems to me to be that it is caucasian history as well. Black and white history in America are really one shared history. My place in America as a white woman is built upon this mutually shared history, and it has benefitted me to study black history. I recommend Henry Louis Gates’ documentary, Many Rivers to Cross, as a starting point for understanding black history in America.

In the opening episode of Gates’ documentary, he discusses the transformation of slavery from a globally practiced arrangement affecting most nations and races into a movement that systematically dehumanized large groups of a single race of people, culminating in that dark moment of our national history in which slaves by law were labeled only 3/5 of a person. While the rest of the United States was celebrating the amazing Bill of Rights, slaves were denied their true humanity and the inherent rights our nation said such humanity deserved.

Others with better first hand experience are the best ones to write about the effects the history of dehumanization by our government has had on our modern milieu. My take away this year is around this root issue – the dehumanization of people who are fully human – in light of the story of Scripture. What was it like for a people group to be treated as less than fully human for generation after generation, and what is it like to reclaim the truth of their inherent dignity as image bearers of God for the future? Our history is shared, so I also must ask MYSELF, what privileges do I have because for generations my family, despite their poverty, was treated as fully human? And what can I do daily to use my privilege to support the dignity of image bearers of God who have had to fight their own government to be recognized that way?

One of the most important things I’ve learned at this point is to stop and listen, truly listen asking only clarifying questions, to the stories of my African American friends. Our histories are shared. Their stories reflect on mine, as mine reflects on theirs. The value of such listening won’t stop on March 1.

4 Responses to Three-fifths of a Person

  1. Michele Morin March 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    Glad that you took time to write this post. Although I'm sure you have much more to say, it's good to get us thinking right now!

  2. Curious Thinker March 3, 2015 at 3:50 am #

    Thanks for the post. As an African American woman, I appreciate that you value Black history as part of the American history and I agree that is good for non-blacks learn and understand more about it as well. Thanks again and God Bless.

  3. Lydia Strickler March 9, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    I too have benefited from readying about black history. One thing that seems to be absent from the conversation is that while being called 3/5 of a person is wrong, the original idea was to deny the southern states more power in Congress. They wanted to count their slaves for representation. Some northerners planned to use this 3/5 compromise as a way to chip away at slavery. Didn't work; we had a Civil War – but the intent was not completely as evil as people today think.

  4. Wendy March 9, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    Thanks, Curious Thinker!