“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”
The preceding quote comes from Niccolo Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince. Despite being written nearly 500 years ago, the words still ring true today. What he is saying here, and I’m paraphrasing, is the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or as it is put in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes 1: 9 “What has been will be again. What has been will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Machiavelli also very famously said, “The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” In simpler terms, the older that we become the more wisdom we should gain from our life experiences.
So, brothers if I may, I’d like to unify the prevailing thoughts of Machiavelli’s quotes that I have cited in this article and come to a conclusion that I’d like to share with you today. Before I do so, let’s to as Machiavelli suggests, look into the past to predict the future, because people don’t change all that much.
I am from Charleston, South Carolina. More slaves passed through the port of Charleston, or Charles Town as it was known for many years, than any all of the other colonies combined. The slave market is still there. It is possible to literally stand in the place where your ancestors most likely were bought and sold. Let that sink in. You can literally stand in the place were quite possibly your ancestors were bought and sold as if they were cattle. The Civil War was started there, a war that was fought by southerners to persevere their way of life, which was to profit off the enslavement and subhuman treatment of blacks.
Fast forward to today. We see the exact same thing, in the exact same city. Walter Scott, who is a distant relative of mine, was shot and killed by a white police officer, Michael Slager. A simple Google or Youtube search will bring allow you access to the video of his death. He is shot in the back while running. After being shot in the back, he is handcuffed while on the ground and Officer Slager’s taser planted next to him before the incident is called in by Scott.
True to Machiavelli’s words, things have not changed. People, in this case white, still are motivated by the same reasons, and the results are in fact the same. Just as the slave masters that preceded him, Michael Slager saw Walter Scott as less than and placed no value on his life. Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now, let me share the experience that lead to me writing this article today. Yesterday, I was headed to the gym. As you may know if you follow my work, I am a veteran. As such, I try to keep myself in the best shape that I can, schedule permitting. Again, on this particular day, I was headed to my local Air Force base to the gym to work out. As I was coming up to the main gate, I looked behind me and saw the flashing lights of police officer’s vehicle behind me. So I pulled over. As I sat there waiting for the police officer to exit his vehicle and approach me, a strange feeling came over me. My mind thought about Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and especially Philando Castile.
Here I am a veteran that has served and survived tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq, yet am terrified to death by a simple traffic stop. As the white officer approached me for what appeared to take forever, the reason for my uneasiness became clear to me. I’m a 6’0, 285 lb black man with locs, driving a Dodge Charger on 22 inch tires. To the police officer approaching me, I must be the walking, talking, living, breathing embodiment of every stereotype, or perhaps more accurately, fear that he may have had about black men.
When he finally made it to my car, he informed me that I was speeding and asked me if I wanted him to verify the accuracy of his radar and I responded with a simple yes. He returned to his vehicle and moments late he was back at mine to assure me that his radar was accurate. He wrote me the ticket, told me to have a nice day, and went on about his business.
After our encounter had ended, I lingered on the side of the road for a few minutes replaying the encounter in my mind. In doing so, I had a moment of clarity. The reason why I was more uncomfortable in the police encounter than I’ve ever been during deployment became very clear to me. The reason is because in combat, the enemy is clearly defined. The rules of engagement are clear, and you like your enemy are armed. As such, it is a fair fight, so to speak.
In dealings with the police, I didn’t know if the police officer was the enemy or not. I had not means to defend myself should he had chosen to attack. The only difference between execution and murder is authority, and the simple is that in that situation, he had authority to kill me and there wasn’t a damn thing that I could do.
This brings me back to Machiavelli’s quote about the hourglass. At 35 I have lived long enough to see some a great many of the sands of the hour glass that is my life disappear, and as a result I am seeing quite clearly through it.
This brings me back full circle to where this article started. The conclusion that I have come to is that despite being a veteran who has honorably served, despite being a law abiding citizen, at the end of the day I’m still a black man. A certain segment of our society will always see me as such and just as Machiavelli said, the future is predicted by examining the past because even though times change, people do not.
So, brothers, while I have nothing against white people as whole, and some of my best friends are white, it is a fool’s errand for us to continue to want a seat at their table. The more prudent thing is to do as Machiavelli suggests in yet another of his famous quotes,” All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
It is time for us to do a bold thing. That bold thing is to band together as one. Then, and only then, can we improve our lot in life and be taken seriously. We have the money and resources needed to do it, but we don’t have is the vision and focus. Has being divided benefited us? What have we achieved? My question is how can we afford to not be united at this point, and if now, then when?