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My Family Owned Slaves. Here’s What I’m Doing About It

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Like most American’s I’m not just one thing. My Father was the first in his family born in the United States. My Mother’s lineage dates back much longer.

My mother’s, father’s side of the family came to America in 1751. A married man and woman, he was a Lutheran Minister, and she a homemaker and link between church and congregation. They left the Nekkar Valley in Duhren, Germany in 1750 to escape religious persecution from the Catholic Church.

After years of preparation and planning while they saved just enough money to book passage to the new world, their journey started on a small boat down the Rhein River. They were simple folk from a small farming community and didn’t anticipate crossing paths with unscrupulous people on their journey out of Germany. As they passed each town along the river, the small vessel they shared with other New World hopefuls was met by boats full of armed men demanding “tolls” for the right to continue unharmed. By the time they made it to the port housing the ship bound for America they were out of money.

Instead of turning back they made the choice to exchange indentured servitude lasting seven years for the cost of travel. They made it to America no worse for the wear, and were placed in the employ of a wealthy family in Philadelphia. She provided maid and housekeeper services, and he was taught a trade as a mason working at their employers business.

They learned English, assimilated into American culture, and fulfilled their contracts. After seven years their employers gave them clothing, supplies, extra household items, a letter of recommendation confirming the mason training and experience, and enough money to sustain them until they found permanent work. They moved to Virginia where they built a life and started a family.

When I first heard this story I asked my Mom how lower class servants, recent immigrants with barely a thing to their name, were able to start over in a new city and be accepted into middle class society? Her response was simply “Because they were white”.

She went on to explain that my ancestors most likely lost their accents during their seven years of service, their work gave them exposure to middle and upper class American society, and the husband had the proper documentation to obtain a well-paying job in a new city in which no one identified them as lower class. They started a family, had four sons, bought a home, and melted seamlessly into America’s white melting pot of European cultures.

I knew there was one more question I needed to voice. “Mom, did our relatives own slaves?”

“Well,” she said, “all four of the Minister’s sons fought in and survived the Revolutionary War. And like most American family’s from that time we had relatives on both sides of the Civil War. Southern plantations were the largest individual slave owners, and a large number of slaves were owned by white people in Southern cities. Our family didn’t own a plantation, but they were middle class white Southern Americans living in a city. Based on the number of slaves in cities, there’s a 50/50% chance our family owned at least one”.

I’m proud to be an American. I don’t feel guilty because I’m white. I’m not ashamed. I don’t owe anyone an apology for who I am. I don’t feel personally responsible for choices people made so long ago. And, in that moment while speaking with my Mother I made a choice. I choose to believe my family owned at least one slave. In my mind, to choose otherwise was to intentionally absolve myself of my country’s past.

I was prepared for that choice to distress me, but in actuality it gave me strength. It gave me purpose outside myself as someone qualified to take action. White America is searching for absolution from the sins of our ancestors and countrymen. I found peace by acknowledging there’s a debt that needs to be repaid. I know it’s not my fault, and, I know it’s my responsibility to do something about it.

Prove it you say? Sure, no problem. The stated justification for Affirmative Action by its authors is that it “helps to compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture and to address existing discrimination”.

As true when those words were put into law in 1961 as they remains today, chattel slavery perpetrated against African Americans; first by English citizens in colonized America, and then by America’s first citizens after the United States won its independence in 1776; is this country’s first or second most egregious and regrettable act; depending on your personal ranking system for deciding if slavery is worse than what happened to the Indigenous Tribes of Native Americans.

The enslavement of Africans is America’s violent past preventing a current peace, the invisible blood stained start on our flag which can never be cleaned, our original shame and sin forever tainting our relationship with our country, ourselves, each other, and the world.

Slavery will forever be America’s cross to bear. Our history is painted with a thick, continuous swath of African American’s blood and suffering, paired intermittently with blood in small dabs of various densities and lengths from white American’s who momentarily chose the correct side of history.

I would be remiss to not acknowledge that an important fraction of every American minority group has bled for and alongside Black American’s in their struggle to obtain what frankly they are due by birthright. The sheer duration of our country’s history during which Black American’s suffering at the hands of white violence and white silence was warning to the World’s non-white citizens to stay away from America, is the leading factor in white American’s as a group being our Black brethren’s most abusive oppressor and also their longest-term ally; albeit by no means in close to equal proportions.

It is this duality within the American Black/white relationship that has caused the inability for us to make amends. We are guilty or not guilty, responsible or absolved, racist or woke; all at our own discretion. Add to this significant increases in Latinx, Asian, and Asian-Indian (Indian) peoples immigrating to the US, while at the same time American Women of all ethnicities gain more empowerment and legal protections with each passing decade, and we arrive at the reason why America is still unable to reconcile her broken, unjust relationship with African American’s.

It is imperative I articulate clearly that my solution to fixing our above described woes is to set aside additional resources for the African American community; not to reallocate opportunity and resources already being put to work achieving much needed inclusion and diversity elsewhere in America. My mission is to unify the cannabis industry around acknowledging, making amends for, and moving forward from a part of our history that not all of our ancestors were here to perpetrate, but that all non-Black American’s are responsible for ensuring never happens again by allocating reparations to the decedents and children of those American’s who have had the most taken from them.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order No. 10925 which included a provision that introduced Affirmative Action to the United States. Its intention was to require government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure the applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin.” President Kennedy was assassinated less than two years later in part because of this. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, extending the same requirements to include all government agencies.

Enacted and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2 of its namesake year, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark civil rights and labor law that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. The Act guaranteed all citizens equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifteenth Amendment protected the voting rights of all citizens, including minority groups not previously explicitly protected. In 1967, gender was added to the non-discrimination list.

In 1961 the United States had a total population of 183.7 million; 85% of which were White (156.15 million), 11% Black (20.2 million), 3.5% Latinx (6.43 million), and 0.26% Asian & Indian (491,000).

In 1965 the “Immigration and Nationalization Act” was passed, removing national-origin quotas established in 1921 barring immigration from Asian and Arab countries and sharply limiting arrivals from Africa and eastern and southern Europe. The elimination of quota’s and new civil rights laws granting protections to non-white citizens, coupled with key events in nations oversees, caused the total number of Asian & Indian immigrants granted American citizenship to grow from 491,000 in 1960 to 16.5 million in 2014, representing a 3,360% increase.

In 2014, According to the Pew Research Center’s tabulations of the 2014 American Community Survey, the US was composed of 197.44 million white American’s (61.9%), 55.25 million Latinx American’s (17.3%), 39.3 million African American’s (12.3%), 16.5 million Asian & Indian American’s (5.2%), and 10.36 million American’s of other races (3.2%).

President Kennedy and President Johnson’s executive orders, along with the Immigration and Nationalization Act, were direct results of the African American community’s Civil Rights movement. Affirmative Action was a victory won by Black American’s at the cost of Black lives, Black futures, Black families, and Black suffering. It is no coincidence that the increase in Asian, Indian, and Latinx peoples immigrating to American is correlated with rights and freedoms earned by African American’s.

The unintended result of this was a significant portion of the educational and career opportunities granted by these new laws intended for Black American’s were instead reaped by other groups. As Michael Eric Dyson writes in his book Tears We Cannot Stop, “White women have actually been the “minority group” who have benefited the most from Affirmative Action laws.”

And while I’m in no way advocating white women and non-Black People of Color did anything wrong or should have their opportunities reduced in any way, I am pointing out another historical instance where Black American’s work and blood went into producing tangible results, wealth, and opportunity that non-black people disproportionately benefited from.

Don’t believe me? The United States poverty rate has been fairly static over the last 30 years, hovering around a 13.5% average. Any group below that number is doing better than average as a whole, and any group above it is doing worse. Two benchmarks that help explain these statistics are foreign born non-citizens living undocumented in the US, and non-working adults; of whom 21% and 31% respectively lived in poverty in 2016.

One would assume that any American citizen, regardless of race or number of generations their family has been here, would have a significantly lower chance of living in poverty than a foreign born person living here undocumented. Additionally, one can assume that you could pick a racial group at random and any group selected would have a substantially lower chance of living in poverty than a group who don’t work and earn income by choice or circumstance outside their control.

In 2016 27% of African American’s lived in poverty; as did 10% of Asian + Indian American’s, 21% of Latinx American’s, and 9% of white American’s. It’s staggering that Black America as a whole is only doing 4% points better than American’s who don’t work by choice, are twice as likely to live in poverty than the national average, and are three times as likely to be poor than white American’s. Given both groups have been in the United States roughly the same number of generations, it’s a travesty this has been allowed to happen.

In 1959 the Black poverty rate was 55%. By 1969 it had fallen to 32%. In the last 48 years Black poverty has fluctuated heavily dependent on the overall economy, and currently stands at 27%.

America is extremely lucky to be the destination for a large percentage of the world’s best and brightest looking for a better life, as we are equally lucky immigrants are lining up to come here and do the jobs most American’s don’t want. Our Federal and State governments have been investing less and less in the public school system for thirty years, and the influx of educated immigrants has kept us far better positioned on the global stage than we would be without them. I don’t believe a solution is possible without every non-Black group. Large portions of white America refuse to be singled out as “payers of reparations” because of the attached implied blame. I believe we can only make this work if someone points the finger at themselves; which is what I’m doing.

I’m not saying, “No one does anything” for the Black community. I’m saying we collectively don’t do enough. It’s hard to hear. It’s hard to write. It’s hard to accept. Most of us are good people. Most of us aren’t racist. And also, most of us have racial biases, and all of us benefit from white and/or not-black privilege. This doesn’t make us awful people. This doesn’t make us anti-black. It does, however, make us two-faced, complacent, and complicit in prolonging fixable systemic issues that plague the Black community. The sooner we all just acknowledge this, the sooner we can start solving it.

Before starting Kind Culture, my cannabis industry startup, I had a 20 year long career in business-to-business sales. I learned a lot about communication and negotiating from both experience and extensive formal training. Every single sales process shared two similarities.

First, someone at my prospect company selected the vendor or vendors I was trying to replace. If I went in to the sales process bashing the incumbent vendor, that person would be put on the defensive because I was challenging their capacity as a professional. To support me would be to support the notion that they were ineffective at their work, saved only by my random cold call. Making them an ally meant carefully constructing a talk track that alleviated them of real or perceived responsibility while crediting them with the solution.

Second, the bigger the company the bigger the sale; the bigger the sale the more complex problems that required real, tangible solutions to fix. When I tried solving one problem at a time, each in their own isolated silo independent of the company inner workings as a whole, my solutions often caused unintended problems; rendering my solutions useless. I found I had the most success when I solved multiple problems at once and got “wins” for every department of the company.

Which bring me to finally answering the question at hand; why should the cannabis industry take responsibility for paying reparations to Black America? My answer comes in parts.

Metaphorically, there’s a beauty in one plant participating in healing wounds opened by another. There’s a beauty in a plant with so many healing properties helping to heal one more pain. There’s a personal beauty for me to know I’m giving freely to try to help make up for a pain caused by stealing and enslavement. Our industry is in the middle of grappling with how, exactly, we acknowledge and make amends for the war on drugs. I believe the war on drugs was a continuation of the war against Black American’s that started the minute we kidnapped and enslaved the first African.

The marijuana industry is going to transition $50 Billion more dollars of illegal demand annually to legal channels once it’s legalized nationally; totaling $80 billion dollars according to current projections by Arcview, the cannabis industry’s most trusted data source. An additional $240 Billion annually in “Cannabis-Adjacent” industries will be created in economic benefit. Five-percent of that is $16 Billion a year. I have some ideas about how to invest that $16 billion a year, but it’s ultimately not my decision, or even my place to try and lead the conversation.

So here’s my sales pitch to a few different American “departments” as to why this plan is in your best interest…

If you don’t consume cannabis, and you don’t get any immediate benefit from the additional taxes that legalization would generate, you should support my vision because your support equals actively doing something tangible to close the racial divide between white and Black America.

If you consume cannabis in a State where it’s legal, you can support businesses that voluntarily take the pact to contribute a percentage of their profits to the Black community. Kind Culture is the first. I’m looking for the second.

If you are a white, conservative with traditional American Christian values living in a small community, you should support Federal Marijuana legalization with my proposed financial requirements for enhancing the Black community because support means you help fix systemic racial inequalities you may or may not believe exist, simply by voting for State and Federal legalization when the time comes. You lose nothing directly, and nothing that was ever going to be allocated to you indirectly. The wealthy city people who like to tell you what to do get stuck with the bill. The money comes out of the pockets of people who will gladly pay it in exchange for Federal legalization, and you get to be part of the solution. You show the world you aren’t who they say you are. You can pass individual town ordinances banning cannabis businesses or limiting them to specific areas so you can ensure your preferred way of life is respected and maintained.

To the cannabis industry; they can’t call us drug addicts and point to junk science and reefer madness stereotypes if we’re volunteering to change the world. They can’t slow legalization if we convert them to allies by choosing to be an industry with a soul, a social conscious, and a real mission outside our own desires for success. We’re legal pioneers standing on the shoulders of generations jailed, destroyed, and impoverished for participating in the same activities we now freely advertise in public for a profit. Without them there is no us. It’s our responsibility to act accordingly.

The thing about me is I’m no-one special. I’m a random, 40 year old white middle class guy. I’m not woke, or elevated, or enlightened, or any better, smarter, or more qualified than anyone else to take action; which in lies the simple beauty of my mission. I’m nobody, from nothing, with nothing, who plans to find more nobodies to stand on my shoulders and by my side until our collective nothing transform into something special.

About Galen M. Pallas

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