Love is verb, an action word. Hate is as well. As a humanitarian, I ground myself in love in order to challenge divisive hate.
So when Fox Business Analyst Charles Payne asked me to defend words of mine that were ultimately tweeted by Gavin Long, the alleged shooter of several police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I was perplexed. It is true that my words were provocative: I questioned if the U.S. government should be considered a hate group, because of the consistent, blatant, abusive treatment of Black people by our nation.
When confronted with this harsh reality, I advocate different approaches to addressing it than what Gavin Long did – only love can win this battle. So let’s go back to those action words. What does it mean to act with love? What does it mean to express hate? My life is a reflection of the greatest and the worst of our nation. It is truly exceptional that our country is one where someone like myself can grow up in poverty and adversity, enter adulthood as a high-school dropout with three drug felonies, and go on to become a multimillionaire real estate developer and accomplished entrepreneur. However, I have personally witnessed the devastation that government policies have brought upon my family and people who look like me. I am forced to acknowledge that I’m one of the hardworking but fortunate “talented tenth” who are able to break through the cycle of oppression.
Stories like my own are frequently used as examples of why government oppression isn’t real. With the historic achievement of the first African-American U.S. President came a fervent desire to claim we had moved beyond racism. But the problem is, if you put good people into a faulty system, it will always yield negative results. In the business world, this is well understood and billions of dollars are spent to improve corporate culture and restructure inefficient systems. So when it comes to policy, policing, and incarceration, it doesn’t matter whether or not individual people become less racist over time: a system inherently built on achieving biased outcomes will continue to produce biased results.
The roots of the U.S. prison system trace all the way back to 1865, the same year slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment – except when a crime has been committed. This intentional loophole was immediately exploited by the government, which earned new revenue by leasing out chain gangs of African-Americans to the plantations where they had formerly been enslaved. Of course, people had to commit a crime in order to be locked up, so laws were created that criminalized even the smallest actions by Blacks: looking a White person in the eyes, standing on the wrong side of a railroad, or being homeless. The roughly 4 million psychologically and physically abused Africans who were “freed” without any money, land, or education to fend for themselves were easily targeted for incarceration.
We can’t “put history behind us,” because this dynamic remains essentially unchanged. In fact, with the entrance of private, for-profit prisons, the percentage of African-Americans who are incarcerated has actually greatly increased. Our government, on the federal and state level, has created policies like the “War on Drugs,” used tactics like “Stop and Frisk,” and set legal precedent for huge sentencing disparities like “crack vs. cocaine,” all to target and incarcerate people of color. Once in prison, inmates work for private corporations who pay them so little it might as well be called “free labor.” I remember being paid 30 cents an hour to cut down trees for lumber in upstate New York.
The only way to justify a system that runs on the targeting, imprisonment, and forced labor of people of color is to dehumanize and blame the victims. This is why Mr. Payne, in debate with me, relied on the common misdirection of “Black on Black crime” as an excuse for the government’s policies towards Black people. It is well-known that virtually all people are more likely to be killed by someone who looks like them rather than someone from another group. But for daring to suggest crimes have been committed by the U.S. government against Black people, I got a dangerous insinuation, a lively on-air debate, and 1 million video views. The narrative of criminalization is only allowed to travel one direction.
Maybe hatred is a word that, even if accurate, only scares and divides us. Perhaps we should say the U.S. government hasn’t loved us, yet. Either way, admitting it is the first step to changing the outcome and bridging the racial divide in our nation.
Jay Morrison is a real estate developer, public speaker, entrepreneur, and humanitarian with a passion for bridging the “wealth gap” by teaching wealth building, homeownership, and financial literacy skills to underserved communities. His books include “Hip Hop 2 Homeowners: How WE Build Wealth in America,” “Lord of My Land: 5 Steps to Homeownership,” and coming out soon, “The Solution: The African American Blueprint for Liberty, Justice and Repair.” Jay currently resides in New Jersey and is the proud father of two daughters.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty