Portrait of a Century: Awakening to the New Millennium

By Lewis, Ida E. | The New Crisis, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

Portrait of a Century: Awakening to the New Millennium


Lewis, Ida E., The New Crisis


The 20th century is earmarked by some as the American Century. Others have taken the broader view, oft-cited from W.E.B. Du Bois, that the color he-which has certainly bedeviled the American Republic for its entire existence-was a ongoing catalyst in the affairs of this closing millennium.

The new century is only days away. Retrospection shows that the color line critically influenced relations between people and nations in this fractious century of nationalistic rebellions, decolonisation, emerging states, hot and cold global warfare, and tentative attempts at world order and justice (the League of Nations; the United Nations). Obviously the fick of the clock to 1201 a.m., January 1, 2000 (or 2001, if your prefer) will not magically interrupt the long arc of struggle in which the world's plurality of black, brown, yellow, and red people contend against the technological and predatory mind that Europe has wielded for the past several centuries.

All things considered, African Americans entered the 20th century in crisis. Enemies of our humanity had long laid siege to our spirit; begrudged and withheld our political and economic entitlements; tried to expunge our history and culture. By many Euro-Americans we were considered only shadow people, at best being of marginal social utility-primitive children over whom any (white) stranger had the right to rule.

Our leaders and visionaries were persecuted, exiled, slandered, and/or assassinated one by one: Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, jr; our heroes' achievements, viz., Hank Aaron's basehall milestone; Althea Gibson's unsung odyssey-minimized or ignored. The biological and social sciences were used to "prove" our inferiority in intellect, morality, and spirit. Even "humane" disciplines like medical science were malignant in their exploitation of black Americans (the Tuskegee Experiment is one we know of-, it stands to reason there are others) or callously indifferent, as in refusing black people admission to hospitals, withholding "Cadillac" treatments, and assigning low priority for receiving organ transplants.

The poisoned root of these collective offenses, white supremacy. is a tenacious ideology. By every indication, it will haunt us at the millennium's witching hour. …

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