We outlawed slavery in 1865 — and enacted Jim Crow laws in the 1880s. We outlawed segregation in 1964 — and declared a war on drugs in 1971. Mass incarceration prevails to this day.
One could view this history as progress. This characterization may be correct, but that does not make it right. Replacing one form of evil with a less brutal form of the same evil does not deserve an unqualified positive connotation.
I say we outlawed slavery, not Lincoln; we enacted Jim Crow, not the South; we outlawed segregation, not LBJ; we declared a war on drugs, not Nixon — because it is we Americans who must consider ourselves responsible.
It is we Americans who took the ancient practice of slavery and made it racial, permanent, dehumanizing, and the basis of our political economy; we who structured our constitution on slavery’s premise and we who fought one of the bloodiest wars in history because of it; we who transformed its regional legacy, Jim Crow laws in the South, into a national and international war on drugs; we who continue to abide the very same evil that permitted slavery in its current form of implicit discrimination and structural subjugation; and it is we who pretend not to understand Black Lives Matter.
Better words for “progress”: self-congratulations, consolation, distraction, shapeshifting, rationalization.