Trayvon Martin, White America and the Return of Dred Scott

Tim Wise » Trayvon Martin, White America and the Return of Dred Scott

For a while now we’ve known that there were significant numbers of white Americans who wanted to “take their country back” to some mythical period of the nation’s hagiographic past. We’ve known it because they’ve told us so, as often and endlessly as their lungs will allow.

Little did we realize, however, that for at least some in the white community that prior era of glory was not merely the too-often-nostalgized 1950s — with its misremembered innocence still fresh in their minds — but rather, the 1850‘s. Not 1957, the year in which the CBS television network gave us Leave it to Beaver, but instead, 1857, the year in which the Supreme Court gave us its decision in Dred Scott.

But now we know.

It was there, after all, that the nation’s brightest, most accomplished and yet most ethically decrepit jurists reminded the nation that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” They could never be citizens, “entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by (the Constitution),” because the framers of that document (to whom the Court referred as “great men,” “high in their sense of honor”) had never intended them such. And much like today’s conservative theorists, who are equally enamored of the so-called “jurisprudence of original intent,” the highest court, beholden as it was to the insipid moral views of 18th century white supremacists, insisted things must stay that way.