Blackmon: ‘What is the place of other people in America?’

In an attempt to bring light to the current racial injustices occurring in the country, Oswego State has created a semester-long event in order to engage students in conversation.

As part of the Race-Place-Being series, Douglas Blackmon, author of “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,” visited the Oswego State campus on Feb. 12 to talk about his book and documentary of the same name.

Douglas Blackmon gives his speech at the Marano Campus Center Auditorium on Feb. 12. (Stephanie Mirambeaux)

In the documentary, Blackmon details how even at the end of slavery, Black-Americans, were somehow re-enslaved under another name – involuntary servitude.

Thousands of men, who had more economic worth than women, were being held against their will under the guise of paying off debts.

“You didn’t have to be very powerful to be a powerful white man,” Blackmon said.

What is the country that we want to live in? 

That’s the biggest question that Blackmon faces.

“For more than 100 years, we have been struggling with this question,” Blackmon said.  “That’s the biggest question that plagues me.”

When it comes to conversations about the events of Ferguson, Blackmon is tired of them.

“The justice system in America did not accidentally fail black people; it was designed to fail black people,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon reminisces of the time when society was referred to as “post-racial” – that race was no longer an issue because an African-American president had been elected.  

“We live in this time when, so clearly, things are so much better than they once were in so many ways,” Blackmon said. “That’s undoubtedly the case. When you hear someone say ‘things haven’t gotten any better.  Things are just the same as they were 30 years ago.’ They’re wrong.”

However, he thinks it is absurd to believe that we live in a post-racial society.

“We’re long ways away from being a post-racial society or nation and I hope we never get there, depending on what that means,” Blackmon said. “I don’t go for this post-racial idea. If that means post-racial discrimination, prejudices and adversity, then I’m for that. I don’t really like the idea of a color blind society.”

Blackmon descends from the poor white ancestors of that time and he can’t understand why the group who was in the same situation as poor black men, could find such successes that spanned until present day.

“They deliberately made sure that didn’t happen to those African-Americans and their descendants,” Blackmon said.

According to Blackmon, in order to become a post-racial society, the government needs to be acknowledged.

“I think we need to really seriously talk about how the government does, and should, play a bigger role in combating poverty; all people’s poverty,” Blackmon said.

A lack of confidence in the government, Blackmon said, is a lack of confidence in ourselves as a society.

“That’s what government is; government is us,” Blackmon said.

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Race-Place-Being and it’s place in the Oswego campus

“I think, hopefully, the importance is that it stirs the pot in a constructive way,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon talked to students after auditorium had cleared, saying he lives for discussions.
Blackmon talked to students after the auditorium had cleared, saying he lives for discussions. (Stephanie Mirambeaux)

“In my experience, it’s never happened that two people started talking about a complicated subject and one of their heads exploded,” Blackmon said. “I’ve just never seen that happen. I’ve never heard of it happening.”

Blackmon believes that part of the reason why more people don’t talk about it is due to  fear of making a mistake or saying the wrong thing during a discussion.

“We are not hopelessly paralyzed,” Blackmon said. “We all have some sort of power to bring about the beginnings of change. Often times, that’s just by having a conversation with somebody else.”

Blackmon has grown tired of conversation about Ferguson.  He is more interested in what happened that caused Mike Brown and Darren Wilson to cross paths that night.

“Things like Ferguson and Trayvon and what happened in New York, those are anomalies,” Blackmon said. “The truth is, when people are killed there’s usually a reasonably good investigation and if the people involved can be found, they are found and usually are indicted. That’s why it’s so shocking when something like Ferguson happens and, for sure, that’s why it’s so shocking what happened in New York because there we really know what happened. If it was unintentional – anyway you cut that, it looks bad.”

He got bored with conversations about Ferguson because it seemed to him that people did not want facts, they wanted to fight. However, things are different than they were.

“White people can’t kill black people with impunity left and right, the way they once could,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon is more interested in why those events panned out in the way they did.

“Why did those men meet that day?” Blackmon said.

Audience members turn to listen to a question from the crowd.
Audience members turn to listen to a question from the crowd. (Stephanie Mirambeaux)
Dr. Jerald Woolfolk presents childhood friend Douglas Blackmon an award, commending the work he's done for Oswego State.
Dr. Jerald Woolfolk presents childhood friend Douglas Blackmon an award, commending the work he’s done for Oswego State. (Stephanie Mirambeaux)