During the second Critical Race Theory session that Ohio State Lima political science professor Bill Angel and I moderated for the LifeLong Learning Institute, Bill began with a good, old-fashioned review of the Constitution. He instructed everyone to take a detailed look at the preamble and then asked us what specific tenet stood out. Several people mentioned “the blessings of liberty” and some pointed out “domestic tranquility.” Bill then had us focus on “posterity,” which he called the “mission statement for our country,” explaining that posterity is what gave our nation hope even though basic rights and freedoms were not extended to Black slaves, women and Native Americans at this time.
I thought this was a profound statement to make since posterity means all future generations. The future certainly did not look promising for slaves on Sept. 17, 1787, when the Constitution was signed, especially with the Three-Fifths Compromise outlined in Article 1. As we were discussing the Three-Fifths Compromise with our LLI audience, Bill pointed out that this language on how slaves would be counted in southern states’ populations to determine taxation and representation in the House of Representatives unabashedly justified the chattel system.
Looking at this from a CRT lens, it would be asserted that the Constitution upheld the institution of slavery, which was a foundation for the systemic and racial disparities we have today. From this point of view, we can consider some of the other examples of institutions of power that benefitted from slavery such as the financial sector. Bill explained that slaves gained more monetary value after the 1808 Act prohibited their importation into the US. The slave trade was driven underground, and slave owners often mortgaged their property to buy slaves. Oftentimes, northern banks provided loans for these mortgages and then turned them into bonds to sell overseas. Slavery became an economy, as Bill put it, that was seen as “too big to fail.” However, while acknowledging the grave and wretched racial injustice of our country during this period, Bill kept coming back to posterity in the preamble, maintaining that there was still hope.
I transitioned into my section of the lecture by elaborating more on Bill’s theme of posterity, explaining how I encourage students in my television diversity course to examine constructions of power. “Let’s fast forward now to 1971,” I told our audience, “and take a look at Archie Bunker.” I explained how I ask my students to think about racial, social and economic progression by analyzing a character like Archie in “All in the Family” episodes, who believed that anyone could make it in America if they worked hard enough, despite his own prejudice.
In reflecting on posterity in the country by the 70s, a little over 100 years had passed since slavery ended and the Black middle class was growing. Under the Nixon administration, the civil rights enforcement budget was increased, which resulted in more funds being sent to historically Black colleges and universities. The Office of Minority Business Enterprise was established, enabling small minority businesses access to loans and Black entrepreneurs greatly benefitted as purchases grew in the millions.
Archie’s character was written as a supporter of Nixon, and the comedic genius of the show comes into play in Archie’s arguments with George Jefferson, a Black owner of thriving cleaning stores who purchases a home in Archie’s neighborhood. George’s character was middle-aged, so he would have been at least two generations removed from slavery. Archie, who resents George and fails to see his own racial biases, supports a president whose civil rights policies opened doors for Black business owners like George to succeed. I shared with the audience that I ask my students for their opinions on America’s social and racial progress after watching “All in the Family” and critiquing Archie’s character. I instruct them to do this from a generational perspective, which always comes back to the optimism of posterity for our country, even in the midst of our present callous divisions.
As our presentation came to an end, Bill reminded our audience of a well-known quote from Thomas Jefferson that spoke to the promise of America’s potential: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between slave and master is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate that these people are to be free.” I definitely believe that God’s justice has been revealed through the long and arduous road to freedom. This is something we need to contemplate, along with posterity, when addressing the tough discussions of CRT.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at email@example.com. @JjSmojc