Tuesday, February 8, 2022

What's It Like To Be 3/5 of a Person?

What's It Like To Be 3/5 of a Person?

by C.A. Matthews

February is Black History Month. I thought I'd explore topics linked to the African American experience. One thing that's always been a puzzle to me as a mostly white person born in the 20th century is what it was like to be considered 3/5 of a person.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this short article. It might come as a surprise to many Americans that while enslaved people weren't entitled to vote, own land or even their own bodies they were considered 3/5 of a person when it came to the population census. This meant that the South had way more representation in the US House of Representatives than it had voters. This is one reason why slavery was allowed to grow and spread across the country in spite of reservations held by other Americans.

Now, before you object and say something like, "Well, women and children couldn't vote, either, so things were pretty fair representation-wise for voting males between the North and South," just listen to yourself. You're assuming that only African Americans males couldn't vote, and you'd be wrong. Before 1920, most white women and children at least had some legal rights, but at that time Asian immigrants and Native Americans didn't even count as persons at all.

Zip. Nada. Native Americans obtained citizenship and voting rights in 1924. Indigenous peoples are often the very last to have any legal standing in white settler-colonial societies, but Asian Americans couldn't vote until 1948. Blows your mind doesn't it?

Do you feel super awkward in saying the pledge with the phrase "with liberty and justice for all" now? Do you feel extra stupid for ever thinking the United States of America is now and has always been a "democracy" where all human beings are treated equally? You should.

So, what's it like to be considered a partial person (or not even a person) without any legal standing? I think the closest any modern American can come to empathizing with how demoralized enslaved people must have felt is when a person finds out he/she can't afford badly needed health care.

Consider this scenario: You're deathly sick or in great pain. You go to a local medical facility, and once there you are forced to plead for assistance to ease your suffering. Hours later, you're finally told, "Sorry. You don't have any private health insurance we can bill. You don’t have enough savings in the bank to cover the costs of the treatment. We can't do anything for you. Have a nice day."

In your agony as you crawl away, you realize all hope is lost. You might look like a person, but you aren't really a person, are you? You have no legal rights or protections under the law not to suffer and die needlessly because of your lack of money or health insurance status. You're very much an object that can work a job, pay taxes, pay rent, pay off student loan debt, etc., but let's face it. If you don't have any health insurance or a personal fortune and you become ill and need medical treatment in the US you simply don't exist legally.

You simply don't exist. Just like Native Americans, enslaved Africans, Chinese laborers, and so many others on this continent have experienced over the last half-millennia, you are here but you're also not here at the same time. Perhaps we should call an individual caught in this horrible state of affairs a Schrödinger’s Person after the famous thought experiment involving a cat.

That's about as close as I can get to what being considered 3/5 of person must have been like for enslaved people. And what did it feel like for them once the Emancipation Proclamation declared they were no longer enslaved? Eventually African American males would be considered a "whole person" as a voter. I suppose on paper it sounded wonderful, but Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and other devious ways soon prevented African Americans from voting. These racist actions prevented "whole personhood" from ever fully taking. Some of these tactics continue on to this very day under the guise of gerrymandering districts, strict voter ID laws, and preventing ex-felons from being able to vote again.

Potential Black voters exist and don't exist at the same time. Sound familiar?

The saddest thing about the 14th Amendment granting personhood to African Americans is that corporations used it to argue (and win) the right to be considered "persons" in their own right. This travesty led to recent Supreme Court rulings such as Citizens United, which equates money with free speech

Corporations have never suffered the evils of discrimination like African Americans and others have, but they possess all the legal rights of personhood. Corporations have "free speech" through spending large sums of money to purchase politicians' cooperation at all levels of government. Bought-off politicos gladly do their corporate masters' bidding by relaxing worker protections and environmental regulations. Corporations force their workers to increase productivity but share little of the company's profits with them, thus creating the "wage slaves" of the 21st century.

Are you starting to grasp now what being 3/5 of a person really meant and continues to mean to all Americans to this day?

Isn't it time we emancipated ourselves from the tyranny of our corporate slave masters? Isn't it time to consider an Earth Day General Strike?

Happy Black History Month. Never forget that you are a whole person with legal rights. Never let the corporations take them away from you!

Related Articles:

Black History Month: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month

Three-fifths Compromise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-fifths_Compromise

Democracy in America? https://www.rsn.org/001/democracy-in-america.html 

Democrats Renew Title 42, Trump's Racist Border Policy https://www.directleft.com/p/democrats-renew-title-42-trumps-racist 

ICE Jail Accused of Abusing Black Immigrants https://truthout.org/articles/democrats-demand-biden-close-ice-jail-accused-of-abusing-black-immigrants/

US Border Patrol Hiding Information https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/community-voices-project/story/2022-01-28/opinion-u-s-border-patrol-hiding-information

State Standards Misteach the Meaning of Reconstruction https://popularresistance.org/how-state-standards-misteach-the-meaning-of-one-of-the-united-states-most-important-eras/

Seen on Twitter:


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Two people holding anti-war signs.

Photo: Jon Krieg/AFSC

Diplomacy, not weapons, in Ukraine

As tensions escalate between the U.S. and Russia, Congress is debating sending even more weapons into the region. 

Tell Congress: Stop the military escalation in Ukraine.

Peaceful ends can only be achieved through peaceful means. Flooding the region with more weapons and military financing is not the answer. The U.S. has over-invested in the military and under-invested in diplomacy and international cooperation. Additional military funding will only increase tensions and further enrich defense contractors.

Urge policymakers to say NO to more weapons and invest in diplomacy and international cooperation instead.

Now is the time to engage in talks to protect human lives and dignity. Please join us in urging Congress to invest in our shared security through nonviolent means.  


In peace,

Aura Kanegis

Director, Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, American Friends Service Committee


A small-town Mississippi library is facing tremendous financial pressure from its mayor after putting up a display featuring pro-LGBTQ books -- and he's citing his conservative Christian faith as the reason why, even though several of the books are by Christian authors.

The display includes memoirs by a transgender pastor and a survivor of gay conversion therapy, as well as a collection of essays titled "The Queer Bible."

Now, Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee is using his personal religious beliefs to justify withholding $110,000 from the library, even though he lacks the legal authority to do so. The mayor says he won't release the badly needed funds until the library agrees to remove the books.  

McGee's anti-LGBTQ bigotry doesn't reflect the Christian values of love, dignity, and equality. Let's make sure he hears from a nationwide movement of Christians who are sick of seeing our faith hijacked to censor books and exclude LGBTQ people.

Tell Mayor McGee: Blocking library funds over LGBTQ books is not Christian

In an interview with the local newspaper, Madison County library director Tonja Johnson said the mayor told her the books "went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there."

In a stunning display of Christian nationalism -- abusing his office to merge personal religion with government -- Mayor McGee even told the library director that "the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above."

McGee is not only turning his back on Madison County's LGBTQ and non-Christian residents; he is also attacking the religious freedom of all pro-LGBTQ Christians. He should listen to Johnson, the library director, who gave this beautiful quote to the Mississippi Free Press about why LGBTQ books matter to the whole community:

"Those books are for all of us: whether we can see ourselves reflected in those materials or so that we can develop understanding, empathy and respect for someone else... We all live in this world together. We sit next to people in church, we work with people, we live next door to people, our children go to school with children who don't look like us and don't have the same experiences. 

"If we're going to be together, we have to at least understand each other's stories."

Tell Mayor McGee: Stop withholding library funds and censoring pro-LGBTQ books >>

Thank you for everything you do to love your neighbor and honor the image of God in LGBTQ people.

In peace,
- Guthrie, Rev. Nathan, Karli, and the Faithful America team


"The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice." - Proverbs 12:15



Families Belong Together (Logo)

One glaring sign of how inhumanely immigration is being handled right now: the backlog of cases in the U.S. immigration court is now over 1.6 million – that’s the size of the city of Philadelphia! 

This backlog – including children, families, people in desperate need for safety – is a damning indictment of a broken system that prefers spending BILLIONS on militarized border security to treat migrants as criminals over supporting families with caseworkers to get people to safety.

You know what’s cheaper than a deportation flight? A hearing in court. 

One person who can fix this problem is Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Will you join us to demand he does everything in his power to restart processing so families can at last reach safety in the U.S.?

take actioN NOW

The immigration system that currently exists in the U.S. is flat-out dangerous for people seeking safety. 

It completely denies children and families access to safety by either deporting them through Trump-era policies, like Title 42, or by putting them in the racist Remain in Mexico program where they are forced to wait for months, sometimes years, in border cities where they are disproportionately targeted for extortion and violence. 

That’s why restarting and speeding up processing is so important: the faster families are processed, the quicker they are out of danger and into safety. 

This is about families’ humanity, but it’s also just common sense – like actual cents. Instead of spending $330 billion over the last 20 years on border enforcement and detention centers, we could be investing in caseworkers and judges that could help families get to safety. 

But instead of providing adequate safety and certainty, which would provide legal processes and order, our current immigration system almost entirely skews towards detention centers and deportation, which delivers cruelty and chaos.

This is not how we should be as a country. Will you demand DHS Secretary Mayorkas do everything in his power to restart and speed up processing to make certain the United States is a country that welcomes all people seeking safety with dignity and compassion?

take actioN NOW

Our government must end its cruel treatment of children, families, and adults to swiftly and safely admit people seeking the refuge they need. Policies that block, expel, or jail those seeking the right to protection in the U.S. have no place here. 

Thanks for taking action,

Erin Mazursky | Organizing Director
Families Belong Together



  1. It's amazing and disheartening to see how many people believe their employer effectively owns them-and how many employers feel they do. We need to educate people to get rid of this inherently unjust impression once and for all.

  2. The brainwashing is deep in the 99%. They have fallen for the idea that their bosses "care" for them like benevolent slave masters. Here's hoping that the pandemic has awakened a few million of them so we can have a successful revolution.


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