Modern-Day Discrimination: The Hidden Truth
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of
English 3401 Law through Literature
Professor: Julian Williams
December 17, 2014
Despite the fact that we are in the twenty first century, this country still battles inequality and racism at its fullest level. This paper will examine the experience certain groups of Americans have had as a result of specific laws such as the Jim Crow Laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965. The focus will be on the different types of oppression that the African Americans and other minorities have suffered because of these laws as well as other circumstances which contributed to their oppression. Additionally, I will attempt to illustrate how several improvement have been made while in others areas there have only been an appearance of change; however, it is a far cry from transformation. Further discussion will be on the treatment of these groups as second class citizens even though equal opportunity is “supposedly” available to all. Is there such a thing as “equal opportunity” in America or if there is does it only apply to a specific of group individuals?
THE HIDDEN TRUTH
Lerone Bennett in The Challenge of Blackness states, “History is not something added to life; it is not something you read about in textbooks and view from afar as a spectator… The past is not something back there; it is happening now.” Black history is the negation of the Constitution… it (black history) cannot be incorporated into [ ] history without radical surgery and revolution. We are a part of history whether we are conscious of it or not; it will not go away because we don’t consider history as the life which we live. I believe history can indeed be summed up as Bennett puts it, “history is knowledge, identity and power.” Since we gather facts, information and gain skills through experience or education; this allows us to examine, identify and understand certain things about our past in order to move forward. America, the land of “equal” opportunity; this statement is deceiving because many are not given the same opportunities as others.
In accordance to an article written by Russell G. Brooker, PhD, the system of the Jim Crow Laws can be seen more vividly if we look at its five parts; economic, political, legal, social and personal oppression. “The Jim Crow system was originally established by middle-class and upper-class whites who were afraid of poor blacks and poor whites working together. In order to keep the poor people from threatening the power of the ruling whites, new laws were made that separated the poor of both races. Blacks were given the worst jobs for the lowest pay. Certain good jobs were set aside for whites only. Workers of both races were stopped if they tried to form labor unions. Many blacks, and a few whites, were arrested and forced to work as slaves in plantations and mines,” according to Dr. Brooker, this is economic oppression. Can we honestly say that significant progress has been made economically for blacks in America since the segregation laws ended? In a lot of ways progress was made for blacks and others after Jim Crow, for instance the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was past, this outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public known as public accommodation.” Blacks and other minorities were finally given the opportunity to venture into areas in the workforce they had never been able to before the Civil Rights Act. It was an incredible break through because it was the beginning of something new and a sign of change. Many barriers that once prevented minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and older persons from freely choosing the educational opportunities and careers they would like to pursue have been eliminated. No longer would there be blatant public discrimination because of the color one’s skin or race without serious repercussion; this was what the law was suppose impose, protection for minorities. However, according to an article on www.workplacefairness.org, this is yet to be accomplished, it states, “Although some of the worst employment discrimination was eliminated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination laws, there has been strong resistance to enforcement of existing laws and political opposition to remedial affirmative action. As discrimination has become more subtle and more difficult to identify and correct, many Americans continue to endure unfair and unlawful discrimination in the workplace.” According to this article discrimination still exists in many ways, especially in the workforce, only it is completely disguised as something entirely different. “African Americans have faced the stiffest opposition in their attempts to obtain fair and nondiscriminatory treatment in the workplace. Overt discrimination, reliance on false and negative stereotypes, and subconscious bias pervasively limit the ability of African Americans to obtain fair treatment in hiring, evaluations, promotions, and other aspects of employment.” This information was also taken from the above mentioned website. The unemployment rate for Americans is 14.8 percent, 16.1 percent of which are Blacks, 12.4 percent are Hispanics, 8.4 percent are white and 6.4 percent are Asians this statistic was published on www.blackcareerzone.com. Why is there such a huge unemployment gap for African Americans as opposed the whites? Is this equal opportunity when it has been proven that blacks are in many ways set up for failure or sabotaged before they even begin?
“One goal of the Jim Crow law was to ensure that poor whites and blacks would never unite again. To stop the black political threat, blacks were “disenfranchised,” or not allowed to vote. Lack of voting power made blacks unable to remove elected officials they did not like. It also made them easy targets for politicians who wanted to distract the white voters’ attention from unfair taxes and corrupt governments.” Dr Booker calls this political oppression, this type of political oppression mirrors the Mississippi burning trial and the struggle of women’s fight for the right to vote. The Mississippi burning trial three American civil rights workers were shot attempting to register African Americans to vote. The trial turned out to be a complete mockery of justice because the men that committed these murders were not even convicted of murder, (but civil rights violations), and spent little or no time in jail. However in June of 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, the man that organized these murders was found guilty of manslaughter after forty-one years, at the age of eighty. Is this justice? He was allowed to live out his entire life then when is near death he was then charged with murder. The killings of these student is a perfect example of trying to suppress progress of certain people preventing them from moving forward as citizens under one nation. Today because of the past and the fight that was fought the Voters Rights Act gives new meaning to freedom for blacks and other minority groups. The same can be said about said about attempting to establish equal rights in the workplace and education for women. Over the years great achievements have been accomplished as a result of those who actively support and advocate feminism. One of the most astounding achievements for women was the right to be able to vote; this only occurred because of the dedication and determination of many women. Others “fought and campaigned for women’s right to equal pay, while others fought and won women’s right to enter into contract and own property; plus countless advocated to protect girls and women from domestic violence. However, violence against women needs more serious attention because it is very easy to blame a woman victim especially in a case where she is raped. Society tend to look the other way, blame or judge women when the woman act, behave or dress a certain way, this was so in the film, The Accused and the reading by Wolf, “The Making of a Slut”. In Wolf’s reading the character Dinah got called a slut because she was too poor, too proud of her body and because of the way that she dressed. As stated on (p 54) paragraph 7 last line and (p 55) first paragraph, “They saw a heavily made-up girl, in her short read-leather jacket and midriff cropped T-shirt, leaning against a graffiti-stained wall every afternoon with the guys in the band, smoking; and they knew all about Dinah.” They judged her solely based on her appearance and the way she carried herself. Additionally, “for many years the fight continued for the right to get maternity leave and against discrimination in the work place. The basic assumption shared by all feminists is that women suffer certain injustices on account of their sex. Women were also paid less than men until the Equal Pay Act 1970;” this is progress. According to Center for American Progress, “Women of color make up 33 percent of women in the workforce. Breaking it down by race and ethnicity, 67 percent of women in the workforce are non-Hispanic white, 13 percent are Hispanic, 13 percent are black, 5 percent are Asian, and 2 percent are other. By 2020 the number of women in the workforce is expected to grow to 77,232,000, an increase of 6.2 percent from today. Moreover, by 2020 women’s participation rate in the labor force is expected to be greater than that of men.”
Still the fight must continue because every aspect of the socioeconomic level blacks and other minorities are at the bottom. According to an article from www.apa.org, it states “African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children. American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian families are more likely than Caucasian and Asian families to live in poverty (Costello, Keeler, & Angold, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).” It further confirmed Minorities are more likely to receive “high-cost mortgages: African Americans (53 percent) and Latinos (43 percent), in comparison to Caucasians (18 percent) (Logan, 2008).” Is this equal opportunity for all? Are everyone given the same options or advantages? These are just a few of the areas where African Americans and other minorities are lagging behind and where the white group always seems to be thriving. Within the legal system the whites were also in control, this was so with the segregation laws; where black were continually legally oppressed. They had a very difficult time in court, all the judges were white and blacks were not allowed to testify against whites.” It was no different for Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man who had been taken by his master to free states and territories and then back to Missouri where slavery was legal. In 1846 Dred Scott petitioned the Missouri court for his freedom on the claim that his freedom was established by his stay in a free state and territory. The court found that Scott was not a citizen and as such was not entitled to bring suit in the courts and that slave master could take his slave into a free territory if he chose and still retain title to him. Again, where is the equality and justice?
Once more, such behavior was perpetuated in To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee. Tom Robinson a black man was tried and convicted even though his innocence was proven; that he could not have possibly committed the crime of which he was accused. Everyone knew that it was Bob Ewell, that beat his daughter and that she falsely accused Tom, however, no one did anything to assist him but Atticus, his lawyer. After Tom’s conviction, even Atticus children were bewildered by the jury’s decision to convict. Atticus simply tried to explain why the jury’s decision was in many ways an inevitable conclusion. While Bob Ewell and his family were considered to be white trash by whites because they were poor and lived next to dump, they were still believed to be better than Tom Robinson because they were white and he was black. In the court’s eyes white lives carried much more value then any black person. The issue was never about Tom being guilty or innocent it was Tom being black; he was only convicted because he was black, a perfect example of systemic racism. “The Ewells’ Tom draws both on white fears of African-American men, especially where white women are concerned, and also on the stereotypes that justify white oppression of supposedly inferior African-Americans.” This injustice in Tom’s case has been ongoing for blacks in the court system for as long as one can remember; even in the movies black men are most times portrayed as the villains. They are also judged by people of a different race as being criminals, animals or thugs without knowing who they are as a person. Sadly, this behavior towards blacks especially black young men still continues today. In relation to an article on www.civilrights.org, it states, “Our civil rights laws abolished Jim Crow laws and other vestiges of segregation, and guaranteed minority citizens the right to travel and utilize public accommodations freely. Yet today, racial profiling and police brutality make such travel hazardous to the dignity and health of law-abiding black and Hispanic citizens. Today, our criminal justice system strays far from this ideal. Unequal treatment of minorities characterizes every stage of the process. Black and Hispanic Americans, and other minority groups as well, are victimized by disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment by police and other front-line law enforcement officials; by racially skewed charging and plea bargaining decisions of prosecutors; by discriminatory sentencing practices; and by the failure of judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policy makers to redress the inequities that become more glaring every day.” Is it fair to stop and frisk someone because of the way that they look or to pull them over because they are black? Is there justice in the practice of racial profiling among blacks? Or is it fair to shoot an unarmed man because you think he might be dangerous or carrying drugs or he may look suspicious? Or is it justice to suffocate and kill someone (black men), for selling illegal cigarettes? As Emerson said, the notion of laws is always based on the moral sense, where is our moral sense as human being? Who is to be blamed for such injustice is there a systemic pact against African Americans or is it just the way of life for blacks? What part of “I can’t breathe” is difficult to understand? Sadly, those were Eric Garner’s last words, before he was suffocated to death by the hands of the police. Where is justice and equality? This brings to mind The Pact, written by Jodi Picoult, when Emily dies everyone points their finger at someone. Where the blame really lies, however, is an answer that will challenge everything these people thought they knew about themselves. Have we gotten so corrupted that we no longer know the difference between right and wrong or between human beings and animals? How does equality fit into injustice and prejudice today for the African Americans?
Segregation was the most famous part of the Jim Crow laws. “These laws forced blacks and whites to be separate from each other in a variety of public accommodations. There were separate black and white rest rooms, drinking fountains, and waiting rooms. Blacks sat in the balcony of movie theaters or in separate theaters for blacks only. Blacks could not order food at the front of restaurants. Many restaurants simply refused to serve blacks at all. Blacks and whites went to county fairs on different days. Blacks were not allowed to use public libraries.” This is known as social oppression, which is defined as a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other. In social oppression, all members of a dominant and subordinate category participate regardless of the individual attitudes or behavior. “African Americans have been the subject of racialized and discursive discourse that has socially constructed them as criminals and amoral human beings, which challenges their humanity and their right to a legitimate social and racial identity. Such racialized discourse has its roots in slavery, was reproduced during the Jim Crow era, and is maintained today through systemic racism to keep them from having a healthy identity, one that the world can appreciate and respect.” So even though segregation has ended many years ago it still silently and subtly rears its ugly head from time to time. According to the National Association for Advancement for Colored People, “The promise of a quality education is an important civil and human right that has yet to be fully realized in the American public education system. African Americans are more likely to attend high-poverty schools, that is, public schools where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and are less likely to graduate from high school. They subsequently attend college at rates lower than any other racial group.” The black communities always come up short because they face such issues as educational including the need for adequate funding for schools serving minority and disadvantaged students. Their living standards are less appealing since most blacks and minorities live in urban areas where rent and the cost of living is sky high, forcing them to seek government assistance. Where is the equality for all Americans?
African Americans were constantly being oppressed from slavery to Jim Crow Laws and beyond simply because of the color of their skin. “Black people were rarely shown common courtesy by the whites. In fact, whites often single out blacks for harassment as well threaten, beat, rape, torture, and kill blacks with little fear of formal retribution. There is some semblance of these injustices lingering in today’s society, only occurring in different forms. For instance, the recent rise in occurrence of police brutality in many prominent states in the country, illustrates the harsh, unfair treatment of minorities on a daily basis. The education system are robbing black children and other minority children of a proper education system by “ill” equipping the schools in urban areas schools with what it seem as inferior equipments, facilities, program, and teachers who many deem are not properly qualified to deal with the situations that they are put in. Another instances would be that of the prisons, where most of the inmates are minorities – while not all of these prisoner are innocent many recent events have shown that a great deal of them are; henceforth America is not the land of “equal” opportunity for all because many are not given the same opportunities as others.
Work Cited Page
Bennett, Lerone. The Challenge of Blackness. Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co, 1972. Print
Brooker, Russell G. “America’s Black Holocaust Museum.” Americas Black Holocaust Museum The Five Pillars of Jim Crow Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.
“Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
“Workplace Fairness – Short-Changed || Discrimination.” Workplace Fairness – Short-Changed || Discrimination. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
“Statistics on Blacks in the Workplace.” Statistics on Blacks in the Workplace. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.
“Justice On Trial.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
“Feminism”. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2014. Web.
Burns, Croby, Kimberly Barton, and Sophia Kerby. “The State of Diversity in Today’s Workforce.” Name. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.