Racism: Does it still exist?
Marcia Thomas – Henry
Submitted in partial Fulfillment of
English 3401- Law Thru Literature
December 18, 2014
Throughout history, racism has been one of the major deterrents of unity amongst humans and one of the causes of many historical events in the United States, such as, the establishment of Jim Crow Laws, Slavery, Civil War and the implementation of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. “Martin Luther King was brilliant in showing that racism is a cancer in the heart of those who have prejudice and discriminate and that it violates the most basic human an American values of justice and equal opportunity.” (Mandle) Rights that’s allows the pursuit of happiness in a land known to be the land of opportunity.
Cases such as Dred Scott v. Stanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), highlighted an example of the injustices faced by people of color in the pass, (Inhumane treatment) which continue to haunt them today and draw attention to the inequality in society where blacks are concern. Scott was a slave in Missouri he resided in a Louisiana territory where slavery was forbidden. After returning to Missouri, Dred Scott unsuccessfully in Missouri courts sued for his freedom claiming that his residence in a free state made him a free man. The Court decided that Dred Scott was not recognized as a citizen because was black and since he was not a U. S citizen he could not bring a law suit before the federal court. (Dred)
The writings of Harper lee in To Kill a Mocking Bird and Frederick Douglas in What to the Slave is the Fourth of July also the case United States v. Cecil Price, 383 U.S. 787 (86 S.Ct. 1152, 16 L.Ed.2d 267) addressed issues of the pass that was originated as a result of racism such as biasness, segregation, systemic racism and racial injustices. After comparing the events of the pass and present, one is left to wonder whether racism still exists and if it does, is it responsible for the prejudices and unfair treatment of people of color in society today which cause rebellion, is it responsible for the sentiment by specific ethnic groups that they are superior to blacks or is it responsible for the lack of diversity in certain areas which cause problems such as poverty and
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unemployment. In this paper I will examine the pass and present issues faced by people of color in America and conclude whether the biasness experienced in the pass still subsist today and will continue in the future.
Racism is defined by Google.com as 1. the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. 2. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (Google) The basic problem with racism begins with the notion that there is a difference between races. We are all taught that we are created equal so the ideology that one group is inferior to another goes against what Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence strived to attain, when he created these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient cause.” (U. S 1776) There are so much discussions over what “ Created equal” meant to Thomas Jefferson and what it might signify to us today, one thing that can be understood from the start is that it must not only refer to more than possession of equal rights but can also mean “ human differences and freedom of choice.
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Racism has been in the United States throughout the years. One of the most significant forms was the ingress of Displaced African American and the injustices they suffered. Racism began with the inhumane enslavement of black people. The slavery colonies began to strip blacks of all the titles of their native land then reduced their status to chattel or property. Blacks in America were given names such as Negro, Nigger, colors and other words of hate. Blacks, the third work force in America were brought in as replacement labor after the failure of work force one, the Irish and work force two, the Native American. Displaced Africans, as they were called at the time, were discriminated against and forced to endure injustices such as poverty and segregation which cause them to become scared and oppressed people.
Today, society is aware of how constant racism has been throughout the years; the separation of blacks and whites has continued to be a major reason for cultural division and the prevention of integration amongst all citizens of America. People of color and whites have a history of being treated differently. According to american-historama.org, one of the important events during the presidency of the 18th American President, Ulysses Grant, was the Jim Crow Laws. The Jim Crow Laws were statutes enacted by Southern states, for example Mississippi and Missouri, in the 1880s which created segregation between African Americans and whites. People of different ethnicity were not allowed to socialize. The Jim Crow laws restricted the freedom of African Americans to use public facilities, schools, to vote, to find decent employment, basically excluding African Americans from exercising their rights as citizens of the United States. Examples of the Jim Crow Laws are, 1. Separate official records of black births, marriages, and deaths from records of the lives of white people. 2. Segregating black and white prisoners in state penitentiaries and 3. Factories and workplaces were required to maintain separate bathrooms.
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Even though Enforcement Acts were passed to end segregation and help to prevent inequality, the 13th Amendment of 1865, which abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment of 1868 which related to citizenship rights and the 15th Amendment of 1870 that declared the voting rights of black male citizens. (Historama) Racism continued through white brotherhood groups like the Klu Klux Klan(KKK).
The Ku Klux Klan was one of a number of secret, oath-bound organizations using violence, which included the Southern Cross in New Orleans 1860s. One of the aims of the KKK was to suppress black voting in the south in the 1960s. One of the most memorable events associated with the Klan was the Mississippi Burning Trial. This case arose from the murders of three civil rights workers who volunteered to register black voters of Mississippi in 1964. The voter’s registration program was conducted for the presidential election year through freedom summer. Twenty one members of the local KKK were prosecuted in this matter and were only found guilty of civil rights violations. (See United States v. Cecil Price, 383 U.S. 787 (86 S.Ct. 1152, 16 L.Ed.2d 267). While United States v. Price (1967) produced a landmark decision that signaled a huge shift in American’s legal history and race relations, for it meant that local authorities could no longer shield racist lawbreakers, Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System still lingered. “Decades after the era when the Ku Klux Klan lynched African-Americans, the hate group is still fighting for white power.” Said Harrison Jacobs in his article What The Ku Klux Klan Look like today. Mr. Jacobs said that, “There are active chapters in 41 U.S. states, with between 5,000 and 8,000 active members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Members are split among local organizations like the Fraternal White
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Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee and a few national organizations, like the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”(Jacobs)
To Kill a Mocking bird by Harper Lee highlighted the South of America during a time of segregation. It showed that justice was served based on the socio economic class and race of the person charged with the crime. For example, in the book, Tom Robinson a black man was faced with an undeserved charge of raping a white woman. Despite the facts in the case that showed that Mr. Robinson was innocent he was found guilty, his crime was being black in a country where there is a verdict for black American and there is a verdict for white American. Andrew Hacker in his book Two Nations, Black and White separate, Hostile, Unequal, paints a stark picture of racial inequality of blacks in America. His reasoning shows that the issues tackled by blacks previously continue to be the difficulties confronted by blacks presently, Hacker wrote, “Quite clearly, the phrase “black crime” does not make people think of tax evasion or embezzling from brokerage firm. Rather the offenses generally associate with blacks are those that carry threat of actuality for bodily injury. In a word, crimes involving violence: most particularly, murder, robbery and rape. Blacks comprise of only 12 percent of the American population, they account for a high proportion of 60.9 percent of all arrest. In instances where race of assailants are known, blacks were responsible for 55.4 percent of all criminal deaths and accounted for 55.1 percent of murder and manslaughter arrest. Altogether 70.9 percent of the people who reported that they had been robbed said that their assailants were black. While this is higher than the 60.9 percent of black robbery arrest, it still supports the view that blacks are more
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likely than whites to commit these kinds of crimes.” (Hacker) The American Prospect, by Sophia Kerby states that “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.” (Kerby)
The issues with racism were clearly understood then and its relevance to society in this era is acknowledged by many. Being discriminated against based on race cut more deeply and cause more harm than other presumptions American may make about another and cause further division today as was done previously. Abraham Lincoln in his speech “House divided” tells what can be the results of a conflicted nation, He said, “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure; permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” (Representatives)
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On Wednesday, 11 August 1965, Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old black man, was arrested for drunk driving on the edge of Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. The ensuing struggle during his arrest sparked off 6 days of rioting, resulting in 34 deaths, over 1,000 injuries, nearly 4,000 arrests, and the destruction of property valued at $40 million. (Stanford). On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the resultant protests and civil unrest received considerable attention in the U.S. and abroad, and have sparked debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African Americans and police use of force doctrine. (Wikipedia)The trend of discriminating against black males has been around has been around for a long time and has been responsible for the minimal progress of black in America. Discrimination leads to rebellion and mistrust.
On February 26, 2012 an unarmed seventeen year old boy, Treyvon Martin was fatally shot by a Hispanic male. After the fatal racial incident a number of controversies followed under the claims of racial discrimination. Shortly after, On April 14, 2012, Brent Staples publish an article in the New York Times “Young, Black, Male, and Stalked by Bias” Mr. Staples used Treyvon’s incident to further imply an understanding he believes society had African American men. The article states, “Society’s message to black boys — “we fear you and view you as dangerous” — is constantly reinforced. Boys who are seduced by this version of themselves end up on a fast track to prison and to the graveyard. But even those who keep their distance from this deadly idea are at risk of losing their lives to it. The death of Trayvon Martin vividly underscores that danger.” (Staple) Jere Hester, in his article in response to the deaths of Eric garner a black man who died of a choke hold by a white police officer, “Chris Rock’s
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Resonance: Comedian Highlights Racism in Hollywood, Grand Jury Decision” States, White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.” (Hester) This simply means that little or no progress has been made in the area of combating racism.
Andrew Hacker in his bestselling analysis of a divided society in Two Nations, Black and White separate, Hostile, Unequal, explains why racial disparities persists, he clarifies the meaning of racism, conflicting theories, superiority, equality as well as such subtle factor as guilt and sexual fears. Hacker looked at the racial inequality of this nation, then show that despite efforts to increase understanding, black and white American still lead separate lives. He highlighted the reality of family life, income, employment as well as controversies affecting education and shows how race influences the attitudes and behavior of all Americans. According to Hacker, “If you are black and young and a man, the arrival of the police does not usually signify help but something very different. If you are a teenager simply socializing with friends, the police may order you to disperse and get off the streets. They may turn on a search light, order you against a wall. Then come the command to spread your legs and empty out your pockets and stand splayed there while they call in your identity over the radio. You may be a college student and sing in the choir, but that will not overcome the police presumption that you have probably done something wrong.” (Hacker 51)
Frederick Douglas in his speech asked this rhetorical question, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” His question to a mostly white audience was, “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended
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to us blacks?” He then said “This Fourth July is yours, not mine”; to ask a black person to celebrate the white man’s freedom from oppression and tyranny is “inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony” (Evil defilement of sacred American principles, democracy, freedom, and equal rights). Douglass tells the audience, “your 4th of July is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license (enslaving Negros), your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery. (Zirin). Douglass criticized American system as being unpredictable, a system that professes freedom it does not give all people. He implied that this system does not grant complete right to its own entire people. Similarly, he argues that while the American Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal,” American society creates an under-class of men and women. (Zirin) Even though Douglass’ words addressed his moment is history, his words are still applicable today. He said, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade it, neither persons nor property will be safe.” (Frederick Douglass) In society today, the rate of black unemployed males doubles the amount in comparison to the rate for white males. Statistics shows that the average unemployment rate for whites in The Unites States is 6.8 percent; the percentage for African American is 12.4 percent. (Hacker189).
History shows us that society has suffered because of racism. The injustice done to blacks and the torture inflicted upon them have been recorded over the centuries and illustrated in movies like the Mississippi Burning. Oppressors and hate mongers use an already distressed system to continue racial prejudices, continue biasness and control a system already living in fear. In “Freedom of Fear” a quote, Aung San Suu Kyi said “Within a system
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which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.” (Kyi) Individuals now- a- days seem to have pre- conceived ideas about the other, persons who is of a different skin color, habits and culture is classed as “other”. Such discriminating terms and credentials of so many aspects of people’s everyday lives (black/ white) can spur hatred among persons causing racial separation and distrust.
Racism has shaped the United States throughout its existence. As a whole, many in society have adapted to its presence and choose to act as it does not exist. When looking back at certain circumstances and their results people realize the true nature of racism. Black people in America continue to endue unfair treatment. Black children and their community has a greater chance of not obtaining a good education , black men will always be in fear of being stopped and searched for just being the race they are and people of color will always be oppressed in America. Mark Twain in his study of class, culture and power categorized man as the lowest animal. He wrote:
I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the lower animals (so- called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.
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Man is the only one that harbors insults and injuries, broods over them, wait till a chance offers, then takes revenge. The passion of revenge is unknown to the higher animals. Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country–takes possession of it and drives him out of it or destroys him. Man has done this in all the ages. There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner, or that has not been taken away from owner after owner, cycle after cycle, by force and bloodshed. Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another, and has always held other slaves in bondage under him in one way or another. In our day he is always some man’s slave for wages, and does that man’s work; and this slave has other slaves under him for minor wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who exclusively do their own work and provide their own living. Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other peoples countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns, he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man, with his mouth. Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a
fox , a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally, a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Mark Twains’ feeling is that Man’s moral sense is his greatest defect. He can be cruel and will do anything to achieve what he wants as long as the laws allow it. He can discriminate, He can be prejudice and he can condone racism even if it is goes against the principle of the United States. (Twain)
Although some may say that racism does not exist because slavery was abolished in 1865 and laws such as the Jim Crow laws are no longer in existence; however, clues display on television such as Freedom march, unexplained murder of blacks, research and every day experiences show it is still a reality years later. Racism can be seen when blacks are sent to jail at a more rapid rate than other ethnic groups in America. Blacks make up 12.5% of the United States population and 1.1 million of this percentage is in jail. (Class lecture) Racism can be seen when our first black president tries to implement new regulations that will benefit all American
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citizens but these regulations are dismissed by congress for no logical reason other than being declared by a black man. It is a belief that people are products of their surroundings so if restraints are built into the system to oppress specific groups, there is never going to be an end to prejudice and discriminations. Racism never ended it is still here, so there will be no diversity in communities, there will be no equality for all and the unity that will bring about change, freedom and liberty for all will continue to be a dream for black American at present as it was a dream for our fore parents.
Douglass Frederick, Frederick Douglass Quotes, Brainyquote.com
Hacker Andrew, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, Ballantine Books, 1995
Hester Jere, Chris Rock’s Resonance: Comedian Highlights Racism in Hollywood, Grand Jury Decision, Nbcbayarea.com, 2014
Dred Scott Decision, Historyplace.com
Jacobs Harrison, What The Ku Klux Klan Looks Like Today, Bbusinessinsider.com, 2014
Jim Crow Laws- reconstruction, American – Historama. Org /1866-1881
Kerby Sophia, The American Prospect: 1 in 13 black men go to prison? The 10 most disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U. S Criminal Justice System, alternet.org, 2012
Kyi Aung San Suu, Freedom from Fear, Goodreads.com, 102486
Lee Harper, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Mass Marked Paperback, 1982
Mandle Joan, Do you believe that there is still racism in the US? Do you believe that the promise of Equality has been fulfilled now, in the year 2001, crmvet.org, 2001
Representatives Hall Lecturm, House Divided Speech, 1858
Stanford.edu, Watts Rebellion Los Angeles, 1965, 1965
Staples Brent, Young, Black, Male and Stalked by Bias, NYtimes.com, 2012
Twain Mark, The Lowest Animal, Google.com
United States v. Cecil Price, 383 U.S. 787 (86 S.Ct. 1152, 16 L.Ed.2d 267).
Wikipedia, Shooting of Michael Brown, Wikipedia.org, 2014
Zirin Dave, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? By Frederick Douglas, Thenation.com, 2012