Colonial America

What was it like to be an American colonist in the 17th and 18th centuries, living under the rule of Great Britain?

  1. Taxation without representation. If it wasn’t produced in Great Britain, you couldn’t get it, and the stuff you could get was heavily taxed. This was enforced by the British Army, i.e., the colonial police.
  2. Anti-smuggling acts. In other words, if you had things brought in from someplace other than Great Britain, you were smuggling. Lots of smuggling went on under British noses, quite a bit of it by men like John Hancock, and quite a bit of that was centered on rum.
  3. Illegal search and seizure, brought on by #2. This included household and place of business raids and “stop and frisk” of merchant ships by British customs officials.
  4. For more, go to the Declaration of Independence, which has a list of the “petty indignities and offensive tyrannies of the Crown,” who has “ʻsent forth swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.’”

Or, according to Chris Hayes in A Colony in a Nation, you can just wander down to your nearest African-American neighborhood and ask them how many times they get stopped by police, how many fines they have had to pay for petty offenses, how many times their homes have been raided in search of illegal substances, and how many of their young men have been harassed. How the local authorities have contrived to “eat out their substance.”

His point is that African-Americans as a group have been relegated since emancipation to the status of a Colony in a Nation. The Nation, the one Chris and I and I suspect many if not most of my readers live in, has the kind of policing system that you expect from a democracy. The Colony is where “they” live, where “they” have grown up, and where “they” have learned that the rules that the rest of us count on do not necessarily apply to them.

He makes a good case, citing his own experiences growing up in Brooklyn in the 80’s and his stints reporting from Ferguson and Baltimore last summer. Along the way he writes about the role fear has played in how we make our laws, the scourge of the gun, and the private prison industry

The Colony pays tribute to the Nation. The citizens enjoy tangible gains at the expense of the subjects, even though, or especially when, those gains aren’t material. While in some clear cases quantifiable dollars move from one realm to the other, a certain psychological expropriation, a net transfer of well-being, is far more common and far more insidious.

Hayes’ analogy adds another dimension to the national conversation about race and racism, bringing it down home to the way in which we all experience the differences in our own lives, black and white. Read it, think about it, and take another look around you. You may find that your point of view has changed ever so slightly. I know mine has.