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'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' Activists --- and Historical Ignorance

Larry Elder

By Larry Elder

Published Jan. 2, 2015

  'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' Activists --- and Historical Ignorance
Booker T. Washington

What to say about "activists" pushing the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" "movement," even as police shootings of blacks are actually down 75 percent over the last 45 years? Some protestors, many old enough to know better, say ridiculous things about race relations, like "things have gone backward." Time for perspective.

Booker T. Washington was born a slave. In his autobiography, "Up From Slavery," written in 1901 — just a mere 36 years after the Civil War — Washington wrote:

"As a rule, not only did the members of my race entertain no feelings of bitterness against the whites before and during the war, but there are many instances of Negroes tenderly caring for their former masters and mistresses who for some reason have become poor and dependent since the war. I know of instances where the former masters of slaves have for years been supplied with money by their former slaves to keep them from suffering. ... One sends him a little coffee or sugar, another a little meat, and so on. Nothing that the coloured people possess is too good for the son of 'old Mars' Tom,' who will perhaps never be permitted to suffer while any remain on the place who knew directly or indirectly of 'old Mars' Tom.'...

"From some things that I have said one may get the idea that some of the slaves did not want freedom. This is not true. I have never seen one who did not want to be free, or one who would return to slavery.

"I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. ...

"This I say, not to justify slavery — on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive — but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose."

As for the future, Washington said: "When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practice medicine, as well or better than some one else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or colour. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants."

Nelson Mandela was beaten and imprisoned for almost three decades. When released at last, some supporters criticized him for showing too much grace and forgiveness toward his enemies. But Mandela's attitude toward forgiveness set the tone for the nation. After his death, a South African wrote:

"History now shows (Mandela) did lead South Africa back from the abyss. But he did more, and it was this that sealed his reputation forever. He showed the world and his countrymen — black, white, rich, poor — that revenge is not the answer to years of injustice (emphasis added). Who among us, in coming out of prison after 27 years, would have had the generosity to turn away from settling scores? Who among us would have refused to avenge ourselves on those who had treated us with such cruelty?

"But he did. Nelson Mandela sat down with his enemies and forgave them and moved on. And in doing so, he rescued his country, and he rescued each one of us, and gave us hope that there could be a future for our beautiful, fractured land. And for the greater earth that we all share."

Washington, born a slave, and Mandela, held captive for nearly 28 years, demonstrate the power of forgiveness — and of looking ahead. And these men forgave their actual oppressors.

My mother, born in the Jim Crow South, used to say, "The truth will not set you free — if delivered without hope." The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" "movement" is neither truthful nor hopeful.

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Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host.

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