On Dec. 6, black America will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. Legally, black America is free but does that mean we are really free? As a black American who has a love for history and social justice, my reflection on freedom as it relates to Black America suggests that we are no freer than we were 150 years ago.

America has been hoodwinked into believing that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves because the 13th Amendment clearly states how America would keep black America enslaved. The re-enslavement of blacks not soon after the ratification of the 13th Amendment came through vagrancy laws enacted by the criminal justice system. From Reconstruction to the late 1940s, Blacks were charged and convicted for the most minor of infractions and sentenced to ridiculous amounts of time in prison. Thousands of blacks experienced this legal terrorism and time was served on the plantation that they were freed from because convict leasing ruled the day during that time period. More horrific was white America lynching nearly 4,000 blacks on record during the same time period. And that’s just on record.

I hear you, white America, it happened so long ago so get over it. I have to push back because I don’t have to give you a history lesson to inform you that freedom continues to elude black America. For the last 30 years, black America continued to be terrorized by the criminal justice system via the War on Drugs. The federal government provided billions of grant dollars to local law enforcement agencies to ramp up its efforts on drugs and impoverished black communities were the target. Thousands of blacks fell victim to disproportionate drug laws, sentences and were permanently relegated to second class citizens because they lost voting power and access to financial aid for higher education.

This is just scratching the surface of how this negatively impacted the black community. This is real because Bill Clinton himself has apologized for his enacted policies on drugs and I can’t accept it because I believe it was intentional. Drugs, the prison industrial complex system (21st century plantation) and illegal guns trade into poor communities of color has significant influence on the American economy at the expense of black America. And let’s not forget what’s been happening to blacks beginning with Trayvon Martin, which was followed by Michael Brown and scarily becoming the norm. Blacks are crying out by saying “Black Lives Matter,” but America pushes back and says “All Lives Matter.” Sounds like 21st -century code language for “ni**ers stay in your place” to me.
Now let me bring it home for you. I am a native of Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin, which resides in Dane County. Wisconsin and Dane County has been rated dead-last for black Americans and the city of Madison continues to be ranked the best or top places to live in America. How can the best of America’s cities represent the nightmare for black Americans in the 21st century and under the leadership of a black president? How can a community that is liberal, progressive and forward thinking produce such poor outcomes for black Americans?

I am in disbelief and as a black American feel as if blacks are living in an America that reflects the days of colonialism and enslavement. However, I do believe that the heart of the problem now lies in Wisconsin. Wisconsin mirrors the Mississippi of old minus the violence for blacks. But it can arguably represent the best of America. If we can’t find it in our soul, hearts and minds to transform our community and stop with the band-aid approach, then we will continue to let black America down as well as a nation that desperately needs healing and a new direction.