Trailing the History of Racism in America and it’s Impact

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This article has been written by Ritu Janjani, a student, Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur.


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’.”
following passage from a famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963[1].

SLAVERY IN THE US

Slavery existed in the US in the ancient time as in every other country especially, America being one of the colonies of the British, Africans were deported to this country as enslaved labours[2].

Earlier back in the 19th century existed some Jim Crow laws in the South[3], disallowing the black people to use similar facilities as the white , however,  the Supreme Court  in Plessy v. Ferguson  declared that facilities for black and white people could be “separate but equal.” Even during the time of the second world war, the blacks were not given the opportunity to join the military services which was later opened only after a threatened march towards Washington DC, that the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the defence services and other government jobs for the blacks[4].

The abolitionist movement emerged in states like New York and Massachusetts which was one similar to the struggle in the England to abolish slavery from Africa which was established earlier to meet the needs of the cheap labour force in the agriculture based economy of southern America. Many articles suggest that these abolitionists were divided among themselves in their views as some wanted the abolision  rightaway, some gradually while, some desired an armed rebellion.[5] In the 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected to power and just Thirty-nine days after Lincoln’s inaugration, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, which marked the onset of the U.S. Civil War.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

The Civil rights movement was a struggle against the abolition of slavery from America. Although the movement was successful to that extent, but failed to remove the discrimination practised against the blacks[6].The movement was launched in 1950s and 60s. The Civil rights Act of 1964, the most prominent of all the other Civil Rights Acts passed before as in( 1866,1871, 1875,1957) was proposed by John F Kennedy led to the abolishment of various segregation laws against the blacks. Shockingly, Kennedy was assassinated that November in Dallas, after which new President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately took up the cause and signed the law.This Act abolished various forms of segregation in public and employment places and created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to file lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved workers. The Act also paved the way for two major laws i.e the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited literacy tests and other discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of property.

The three AMMENDMENTS MADE TO THE US Constitution after the American civil war are are the 13th Ammendment[7] which abolished slavery by removing those provisions which institutionlised slavery, the 14th Ammendment[8] which granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and slaves, including them under the umbrella phrase “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”

The 15th Ammendment[9] that guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

INFAMOUS STRUGGLES AND REVOLTS

Time and again there had been many instances of discrimination against the black population some of them being struggles against the segregation laws such as reserved seats in the buses for the black and white population, a movement against which was supported by Martin Luther King Jr. As an insight drawn  from the recent examples of the current strong democracies of the world,  whenever the executive has neglected the rights of a smaller group in order to have support of the majority, Judiciary has always intervened to secure the interests of such minority groups. Hence, the Supreme court’s judgement in the case of Brown v. Board,  ended the segregation in schools and other public places.[10]

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A famous instance noteworthy to be mentioned here is of the two US Athletes,Tommie Smith and John Carlos who are AFRICAN-AMERICANS had won the gold and bronze medals respectively in the Mexicon Olympics. They received their medals wearing black socks and no shoes to represent Black poverty and they held up a black shoe in order to demonstrate their protest against the discrimination associated with raciasm. The struggles haven’t ended here ofcourse, the recent violence enraged on the death of George Floyd is no less an insight to this ongoing struggle[11].

POLITICS OF SOCIAL DIVIDE

“From the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character,” declared Hannah Arendt, in her essay, “Truth and Politics.” “Unwelcome opinion can be argued with, rejected, or compromised upon,” she goes on, “but unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies.” She further opines that

“The plain fact is that Blacks are vastly over-represented among those who suffer the maladies and afflictions of social marginality in America, however measured. Some districts in the middle of our great cities, occupied almost exclusively by Blacks, are among the most miserable, violent, and despairing places in the modern, industrial world. The prisons are filled to overflowing with black men, and the welfare rolls are crowded with black women and children. Rates of infection with the AIDS virus run five to ten times higher among black than white populations. Black Americans as a group experience lower life expectancies, higher infant mortality rates, lower levels of academic achievement, higher poverty rates, greater unemployment, and a higher incidence of mental illness than do white Americans. Historical trends give us no reason to anticipate that these disparities will attenuate in the foreseeable future”[12].

OUTCOMES OF SUCH DEMOCRACIES

History suggests that wherever and whenever the leaders have engaged in the politics of social divide, the result has been detrimental to the integrity of the nation. Leaders seemed to have played the game of community based politics which has been a cause of widespread violence across the nation. Be it the great economies of the world such as, the UK which has since ages been through the rivalry between the two communities of Christians i.e. The Protestants and the Catholics, The Republic of Ireland[13], Yugoslavia and many others are prominent examples. Recently, the US Government seemed to have changed the trend where the death of the black man led to widespread protests not just in the US but throughout the Globe. Such a massive call from other white-dominated countries, shows that the massacres associated with discrimination towards a particular community is now no more limited to the concern of an individual nation but  invites a huge call from the human rights activists throughout the world.

Other References:

https://www.britannica.com/event/American-Revolution/Washington-takes-command

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Crispus-Attucks

https://www.britannica.com/event/Boston-Massacre

https://www.britannica.com/event/American-Revolutionhttps://www.britannica.com/event/American-Revolutionhttps://www.britannica.com/event/American-Revolution

https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/john-f-kennedy

[1] Political science for Class X , Chapter 3  available at file:///C:/Users/Ritu/Desktop/NCERT-Book-for-Class-10-Political-Science-Chapter-3.pdf last accessed 6th June 2020 AT 9:00 PM

[2] Slavery in United States available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/slave-code last accessed 6th June 2020 AT 9:00 PM

[3]Jim crow laws available at https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws  last accessed 6th June 2020 AT 9:00 PM

[4] Slavery in the US available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/African-American/Slavery-in-the-United-States last accessed 6th June 2020 AT 9:00 PM

[5]Abolition and abolitionists  available at https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/abolition-and-abolitionists/

[6] Civil Rights Act available at https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-act last accessed on June 6 AT 7:00PM

[7] Thirteenth Ammendment  available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Thirteenth-Amendment last accessed on June 6 AT 7:00PM

[8] Fourteenth Ammendment  available at https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fourteenth-amendment last accessed on June 6 AT 7:00PM

[9] Fifteenth Ammendment available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Fifteenth-Amendment last accessed on June 6 AT 7:00PM

[10] Slave rebellion available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/slave-rebellions last accessed on June 6 AT 8:00PM

[11] Supra note 1

[12] The Divided Society and the Democratic Idea by Glenn C. Loury University Lecture

Boston University October 7, 1996https://www.bu.edu/irsd/articles/divided.htm last accessed on June 6 AT 7:00PM

[13] Great Britain available at https://www.britannica.com/place/Great-Britain-island-Europe

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