Equivalent Exchange

by Alexander Martin about a year ago in history

What was the cost of having wealth in the U.S.?

Equivalent Exchange

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one and only truth.” - Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1

Alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange comes from one of my favorite animes and mangas for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the myriad of philosophical musings about creation, life and religion. Throughout the original series this concept was put to the test and in both series was completely dismantled as a flawed principle. For instance, a baby cries and receives help or a person works extremely hard to achieve their goals and fails miserably. Even though it’s been proven fallible, I feel that there is some truth to it. So before I start, allow me to answer a subliminal question before it’s even asked, “Why does everything have to be about race? Why can’t you make your point without pointing out race?” My answer to that is simple. This country was built on race, race relations, and a perceived racial hierarchy. The sooner people acknowledge that fact and stop trying to ignore that race plays an important role in the goings on of this country and is a serious problem, the sooner more progress can occur regarding race relations.

I am a black man. The history that tells how I came to be has been so diluted, often omitted and/or misplaced, that I couldn’t tell you anything about my family’s lineage, because my last name isn’t really my own. It is the name of the slave owner of my ancestors that has been passed down to me. As of this posting, that is the only inheritance I have to pass on to whatever children I may have in the future. It’s what any black man can pass on to their children, a legacy that is largely not our own—a name and whatever lessons, wealth (or debt), and wisdom we happen to amass by the time we pass away. Now, consider then the prospect of “old money"—people born into established wealth that is passed down from parent to child for generations, growing with each. All that wealth and we are are expected to accept the class structure currently in place, yet we rarely talk about the source of said wealth.

Here’s a truth no one, not even me, wants to admit, the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in this country was a business model. A shitty and inhumane business model that on the bloody backs of millions of men, women, and even children amassed a huge amount of wealth for slave owners, but a business model nonetheless. According to Prof. David W. Blight, a professor at Yale, slavery in 1850 was a $3.5 billion industry. When adjusted for today’s currency, that amount equates to an industry worth over $108 Billion. Add to that however much the slave owner’s kids were able to generate via slavery and pass to their kids, (and so on and so forth) and you have an exuberant amount of wealth generated on the backs of slaves. Now consider, if you will, also the racial classism introduced to the white working class. This basically states, "you may not have the wealth equivalent to the hard work and years you put into making a living, but at least you’re not a negro," and thus white racial superiority was reinforced. The notion of scientific racism backed claims that Africans were inferior to whites intellectually due to evolution. It was a concept inspired by Aristotle who, in his first book Politics, wrote “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” Aristotle, being a favored philosopher in the west, only backed the prejudices of the more intelligent of racist white men complimented by scriptures in the Bible.

Here’s another ugly truth. America’s history is as bloody and brutal as it is horrifically disfigured and unfair. Since its inception, the creation of America and its borders have been outlined with blood and fertilized with bodies. Underneath the pages of recorded history, are events and actions that never made it part of the official story. Say nothing of the near genocide of the native people of this land that allowed colonials to steal their territories. I’m quite sure that you can add rape and pillaging to that list of crimes as man’s avarice is not limited to mere goods. During slavery, there was the aforementioned brutality, mutilations and raping that occurred that we don’t see in the official books. The history books portray whippings of slaves like the pinnacle of abuses, but tend to omit the harsher, more inhumane practices. Things like castration of the males, separation of families, extended exposure to harsh living conditions, unusual and rusted bondage apparatuses like an iron mask that prevents slaves from eating or drinking if they ran away, also hooks that protruded from a sort of collar to make it so that they would get snagged on a tree, brush, etc. in the midst of running—if they even could with the ankle spikes.

Brutality moved to a whole new realm as time progressed. Lynchings, beatings, and other random acts of hatred and for the most part, pure evil. One of the worst examples of this, and they’re all terrible, is what white people from Florida call “Gator Bait.” That’s when they would take negro babies, often males, at the edge of river banks and watch as an alligator would come and eat them alive. This was entertainment to them. People actually paid to watch this. They also gathered for lynchings and even brought their children, took pictures and left with souvenir, celebrating loss of a life they deemed of no worth. This is the mentality they raised their children believing in. The legacy and ethos they passed on along with their name and their wealth to their children, and to their children’s children, and so on.

So what was it? By the principle of Equivalent Exchange, what was it that poor whites, who mostly did the brutal killings and mutilation of millions of innocent black people who were just trying to be equal, to be free, to be seen as human, thought necessary to sacrifice. What is it the top one percent, who continue to perpetuate their stolen wealth within their families and manipulate the masses to ignore the many injustices they have committed, thought necessary to sacrifice to obtain the position of influence, power and wealth? What is it that was worth $108 billion? From where I sit, the answer is simple:

Their humanity.

Alexander Martin
Alexander Martin
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Alexander Martin

I am a writer: I will offend, provoke and perplex but I will not lie to you. I am a witness: an admirer of James Baldwin. I see the world, the strings that connect us all and report what I see. We may disagree, but we can still show love.

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