America is a country that was taken from the Native Americans and colonized by immigrants from all over the world. It claims to be a melting pot where people of all different races, ethnicities, and religions will be accepted with open arms. It is seemingly touted as somewhat of a utopia where all people can come and be treated fairly and they will be given an opportunity to achieve the “American Dream”. There is just one little problem with that dream, and that is the discrimination, prejudice, and racism that is very much alive and well in America.
Some people would have you believe that racism is a non-issue for Americans in the new millennium, but I assure you that racism is as prevalent as ever. There are several different racial and ethnic groups that are currently powerless in American society. However, there is one powerless racial group in particular that I believe bears the brunt of the racism in this country, and that is the African Americans. In order to look at the racism and prejudice against African Americans today, I feel it is important to take a look at the history of how Africans were brought to America and their journey throughout the centuries leading up to today.
According to a narrative titled “The Terrible Transformation”, As the European explorers were on their way to America, they also traveled to Africa. While in Africa in the mid 1400’s, the European explorers, specifically the Portuguese, were hoping to find gold and take it back to their country to expand their wealth. When the Portuguese explorers arrived back to their country they brought not only gold back, but they also brought with them Africans that were to become slaves.
This marked the beginning of the European’s African slave trading (The Terrible Transformation). The narrative illustrates that the Portuguese explorer’s initial intentions were to set up a trading post for trading resources such as gold and ivory, as well as to mine for the gold. And as other European explorers continued to travel to Africa, they began to kidnap the African people and trade them for goods. “By the start of the 16th century, almost 200,000 Africans had been transported to Europe and islands in the Atlantic” (The Terrible Transformation).
The slave traders found their business to be quite lucrative, and as people started to settle in the Americas, they found that there was a great need for additional people to cultivate certain crops. Because of this great need for additional workforce, the slave traders sent more than 12 million Africans to the Americas to become enslaved. “This slave trade would over time lead to a new social and economic system: one where the color of one’s skin could determine whether he or she might live as a free citizen or be enslaved for life” (The Terrible Transformation).
Eddie Becker gives us “Chronology of the History of Slavery: 1619-1789”. With this chronology, we can see how slavery became such a huge part of American history. From the 16th to the 19th century, it has been estimated that around 20 million Africans were taken from their homes during their forced migration to the Americas. Almost half of those people would end up losing their lives because of the greedy slave traders and slave owners. The year of 1619 marks what I believe to be one of the more significant and sad moments in American History, when the first Africans were traded on American soil for food by Dutch traders.
The 20 slaves that were traded for food by the Dutch trader were traded in Jamestown. Jamestown would come to play an integral role in the history of slavery in America. It was the first sight of a slave trade, as well as the first public slave auction of more than 20 slaves. The Africans were initially called “indentured servants” and they were used for a number of purposes. There soon became a much greater desire for slave labor with the success of the tobacco farms in northeast America, and because of that desire Virginia and Maryland were the first states to make slavery legal (Becker, 1999).
In the many years following those first actions that enslaved the African people who came to America, there was a lot of confusion as to what the rights of the African slaves were. Many of the people who owned slaves took cues from what they had know to be true about the indentured servants in Europe, so some of the slaves were freed after serving for a predetermined period of time. However, because of the confusion and certain people’s beliefs that the African slaves were not worthy of freedom, there would be several laws created that would essentially enslave the African people in America for the rest of their lives.
The slaves we considered property that could be bought, sold, or traded by their owners without their consent. The owner’s of the slaves were not considered murderers if they killed a slave by extreme punishment. And children born to a woman who was a slave would become slaves themselves, without a chance to be free, no matter whom the father of the child was. There were even laws created to allow slave owners to use the women slaves as breeders in order to add to the owner’s labor force. Also, as Professor Bunger had mentioned in class, there was a law created that banned whites from marrying blacks.
The African slaves would endure much more heartache, torment, racism, and discrimination in the few hundred years that follow that first slave trade in America. The Civil War marked a huge turning point in slavery for Americans. Although there was a growing population of free African Americans in the northern states, there were still many more African Americans enslaved in the southern states. According to Ronald Davis, free African American men from the north wanted to fight in the war, but President Lincoln initially would not allow them to because he didn’t want the war to be considered a war on slavery.
However, after Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation on January of 1863, the African American men were allowed to become soldiers and fight in the war. The African American soldiers would become a huge part of the Civil War. And even though the African American soldiers fought and died for the Union just as the White soldiers had, they would still have to endure racism and discrimination from the white soldiers they were fighting beside. (Davis). In the mid 1900’s, we see the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
During this tumultuous time in American history, segregation was deemed unconstitutional, college students were protesting and demonstrating against segregation, and laws were created to protect the rights of all American citizens, regardless of their race. Although the events that occurred throughout the mid to late 1900’s marked a very important time of changes for the African American community, it certainly didn’t end the racism and discrimination that the African Americans were experiencing. At certain points in time, the demonstrations and changes to legislation only seemed to exacerbate the people who were against ending segregation.
One of the people who I believe made a significant impact during the years of the Civil Rights Movement is Martin Luther King, Jr. His main goal was to demonstrate and protest in a non-violent manner. He preferred to use the power of his words to move people to see things in a different light. One of his speeches, his “I Have a Dream” speech, was one of the most prolific speeches of that time. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the Emancipation Proclamation, and about the problems facing African Americans at that present time. He said, “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. ” Martin Luther King, Jr. fought to change the way that African Americans were still be treated after one hundred years of supposedly being freed from the confines of slavery.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also spoke of the African American’s determination and hope to make lasting changes that would end the discrimination and racism acted out towards African Americans, and that they would be treated as equal citizens. He said, “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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. ” Martin Luther King, Jr. would eventually lose his life because of his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement (King, 1963).
In an article written by Song-My Tran, Professor of African American Studies Stephen Small discusses the current existence of racism in America today. Small claims that racism today is “more than just and old problem – it is an ignored, hard fact. ” Small also stated that although the ideas about racism have changed throughout the history of slavery up to today, “the definition, too, needs to be changed. He explains that even though racism isn’t as visible as it once was, it is still just as destructible as it used to be. A lot of Americans would like to believe that racism, prejudice, and discrimination in the United States is a thing of the past, but it can be seen in everyday life all around us. It is not only towards African Americans, but also towards many other racial and ethnic groups in America. However, I personally think that the African American people are still one of the most powerless racial and ethnic groups.
Mostly I believe this because they have been here for centuries now, brought over by Europeans against their will, and they should have been given appreciation from Americans for all that their ancestors have done to help build this country to what it is today (Tran 2005). Throughout the last few decades of the 1900’s and to date, I do believe that there have been major shifts towards ending racism and discrimination against African Americans, as well as all other powerless ethnic and racial groups. However, I certainly do not believe that the problem no longer exists.
I believe that people have simply changed the ways in which they inflict racism and discrimination upon others. It is almost as if people have just found ways around the laws that are supposed to protect all citizens, no matter their race. People are not as blatant about their beliefs about one race or another, but there is still a very powerful undercurrent of racism towards African Americans that flows throughout American culture.
- Wood, Peter H. The Terrible Transformation. A Narrative of Africans in America. Retrieved on April 30, 2011 from http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/aia/part1/1narr2. html Becker, Eddie. (1999).
- Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism. Retrieved on April 29, 2011 from http://www. innercity. org/holt/slavechron. html
- Davis, Ronald L. F. Slavery in America: Historical Overview. Retrieved on April 29, 2011 from http://www. slaveryinamerica. org/history/hs_es_overview. htm King, Martin L Jr. (1963).
- I Have a Dream Speech. Retrieved April 30, 2011 from http://www. mlkonline. net/dream. html Tran, Song-My. (2005). Professor Says Racism is Still Alive in the United States.
- The Daily Californian. Retrieved on April 30, 2011 from http://www. dailycal. org/article/17700 Power Points from March 14, 2011, provided by Professor Bunger.