It is not unheard of to hear about acts of racism and discrimination in our modern day society. The majority of Americans are aware of our nation’s history with slavery and know that slavery has ended in 1865. However, even though slavery was abolished by the thirteenth amendment, we still see the lasting effects of racism and discrimination in our contemporary society. As a whole nation, we still witness that acts of racism and discrimination to not only African Americans, but to all people of color, and by extension religion and sexual orientation. We all have rejoiced over the civil rights movement and integration of schools, yet years later we still see acts of racism. We see discrimination through police brutality, in our own schools and work places, online and even in our own government. Although we as a country has made significant improvement since 1619, we still have many issues with racism and discrimination in our country. Racism is the biproduct of slavery and the legacy of the 200 year institution led
African-Americans down the toughest road to progress due to government actions, the industrial revolution, the progressive era and coming almost to fruition with the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century.
Origins of Slavery:
Beginning in the state of Virginia in the summer of 1619 are when the first slaves arrived in America. The Sáo Joáo Bautista was a ship that was transporting three-hundred and fifty slaves from the capital of Portuguese Angola, Luanda, to the port of Vera Cruz in Mexico; where than half of the salves were taken by the English ship the Treasurer who were working with a Dutch man of war, the Trier (Brown & Webb, 2007). The Trier ended up in the Virginia Colony in 1619 when Virginia was only twelve years old and was not of much interest for slave traders. Throughout the 17th century, European settlers in North America turned to African slaves as a cheaper and more efficient source of labor than servants.
Slavery had been present many years before 1619, however the Atlantic slave trade was “by far the largest, most sustained and highly organized movement of people into bondage, it became more incessant and business-orientated” (Brown & Webb pg. 11). The ideology of black inferiority and white superiority was on the rise and more and more people were accepting slaves to do their work for them. Slavery was something used in America that helped to boost the economy. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, slaves mainly worked on tobacco, rice and indigo plantations from Chesapeake Bay all the way to the south in Georgia (Slavery in America, 2009). American historians have had and still currently have debates on whether slavery came first, or if racism came first.
The Dred Scott Case:
Dred Scott, was a slave who had lived with his owner in a free state before returning to the slave state of Missouri. Scott had argued that his time that was spent in a free state has entitled him to emancipation. The court had decided that no black whether they were free or a slave could not claim citizenship and blacks were unable to petition the court for their freedom. Dred Scott was a slave who sought his freedom through the American legal system. The 1857 decision by the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case denied his plea, determining that no Negro, the term then used to describe anyone with African blood, was or could ever be a citizen. The decision also invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had placed restrictions on slavery in certain U.S. territories. Northern abolitionists were outraged. The Dred Scott case became a rallying point for them and contributed to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.
The Dred Scott decision was the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford which was one of the most controversial events preceding the Civil War. The Dred Scott case set the foundation of racism in post slavery America. According to Konig, Republicans agreed that Taney’s assertion of proslavery nationalism died with confederacy. And with some reluctance, and many misgivings, conservative Unionists eventually accepted emancipation: slavery also died with the Confederacy. “Taney’s insistence that African Americans could never be citizens of the United States created the conditions for the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Konig, pg. 69). However, president Lincoln thought opposite. “Lincoln recognized that blacks were to make their future as citizens of the United States” (Konig, pg. 70). It is really great that we had a president who fought for everyone to be equal, and we can also wonder what life would be like currently if we did not have a president like Lincoln.
Race and discrimination in the Age of Barack Obama:
Some would say that just because an African-American president was elected, that discrimination no longer occurs, or it occurs minimally and that the racial divide is no longer existent. According to Bruce and Cunnigen, Barack Obama won the election with 53% of the popular vote compared to 46% of the popular vote for the presidential candidate John McCain. This may show that people are now welcoming in all races to run the country; however that is not what this shows. When analyzing the voting by race, a strong persistent pattern appears. Obama only received 43% of the white vote in comparison to 55% for John McCain. According to Bruce and Cunnigen, Obama received 95% of the African American voters while John McCain received only 4% of the African-American votes. Another statistic shows that Obama received 67% of the Latino vote and 62% of the Asian vote.
These statistics show that Obama won the election primarily due to the extremely high percentage of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians who had voted for him. Bruce and Cunnigen state that the Obama victory was the result of the votes of the minorities, especially in African-Americans. “The results may highlight just how racially polarized we still are as a nation rather than indicating a developing inter-racial unity” (Bruce and Cunnigen pg. 178). Bruce and Cunnigen state the research shows that while negative stereotypes of African-Americans are present in today’s world, they are shown with a greater measure of subtlety and qualification than that would have been in the past. “The reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in American politics”.
For a lot of African-Americans, racism involves the ideas and practices that create and maintain a system of white racial privilege which is responsible for both the past and the present forms of racial inequality. White Americans have deemphasized the role that contemporary and historic racism have played in creating and perpetuating the disadvantaged African-Americans. Bruce and Cunnigen state that scientific racism is one of the oldest explanations of racial inequality. “This perspective contends that racial inequality is a by-product of inborn genetic differences between the races. Specifically, genetically based racial differences in intelligence or cognitive ability produce racial inequality”.
Stereotypes of African-Americans really put a straw on things and make things worse. People get the idea that African Americans would rather receive welfare than work and young women would rather have babies before they get married. Some whites believe that African Americans do not place a high value on education and are “unwilling to do what it takes to be successful in America”.
Today we see police brutality more than ever and we can thank that for the media and body cameras. Police brutality against males according to Chaney and Robertson is defines as “the use of excessive physical force or verbal assault and psychological intimidation”. Police are supposed to protect us from crime, but instead some police officers are inducing the crime. Blacks are not the only victims from police brutality, but they are the main victims which is very sad and unfortunate. According to Chaney and Robertson, a recent study has found that the New York Police Department has become better worked due to the greater race and gender diversity, blacks are more likely to be the victims of police brutality. “The department of Justice off of Civil Rights has investigated more than a dozen police departments in major cities across the USA on allegations of either racial discrimination or police brutality”. According to Chaney and Robertson state that since black people in general and in more specific terms black males, are stereotyped as aggressive and criminal, police are more likely to view black men as a threat which would justify the unlawful deadly force that police officers use.
Some could say that blacks are the main race to resist a police officer, but that is not entirely true; the media is the one who misleads the public about that topic. Depictions of black males on television and on the news are often about negative things and stories which creates the stereotypes of blacks which is very unfortunate. “It is important to keep in mind that media consumption is an active process, with viewers existing attitudes and beliefs playing a larger role in how images are attended to, interpreted, and remembered”. Chaney and Robertson state that most whites believe that blacks are more inclined to engage in criminal behavior and then deserve harsher treatment. Have you ever heard that in a horror movie that the black person is the one to get killed first? Well, if you haven’t, it is true. The majority of horror movies have the black person get killed first and this is portraying a negative image on African Americans as well.
Chaney and Robertson talk about police brutality statistics and they are quite interesting. Research question number one asks “What do findings from the NPMSRP suggest about the rate of police brutality in America?” Chaney and Robertson state that “statistics from the NPMSRP were compiled between the months of April 2009 and June 2010. During this time, there were 5,986 reports of misconduct, 382 fatalities linked to misconduct”.
Chaney and Robertson include in their journal some civilians words of anger towards the police, and here are few. “The police are freaking stupid for not seeing what’s going on and maybe some of them should quit being so in their own little world and thinking they’re so high and mighty, and being more help to us. They are supposed to be around to help our community and all they do is beat up people to make them feel like they actually did something good which in reality all they did was hurt some person. I also think that if you’re going to be a police officer, do it the right way not your way. or maybe you should talk to people before jumping to conclusions for real”. “The reality is that this country has armed our law enforcement with 21st century technology, yet continues to hold them to a 19th century code of conduct. We make excuses for the damage they cause, while we look the other way and hope nobody embarrasses us into actually doing something about their behavior. Either you conduct yourself with some personal control, or you don’t”.
It is very clear to us that slavery is no longer existent, however we still face many issues of racism in the 21st century. According to Winant, racism has a structure; he states that a lot of people have the common view that they do not look at skin color, they say a person is just a person. Winant says that this type of thought is implying that racism is equivalent to “colour-consciousness and consequently non-racism must be a lack of colour-consciousness. We should recognize that this type of idea is a true product of the civil rights era”. Some say that racism is a “system of power” which implied that only white people have the power and are the only ones who can be racists.
We can say that slavery practices or the era of Jim crow is no longer existent, but can we say that racism is much alive and stronger than ever? Winant questions whether the concepts of racism developed before or after the civil rights era. “Today we live in a situation in which the old is dying and the new cannot be born, in which formerly unquestioned white supremacy is now questioned. It is a situation in which an anti-racist counter-tradition in politics and culture has made significant gains. But despite all the changes wrought by this anti-racist project, this radical democratic initiative which derives from the postwar black movement, it has not been possible to overthrow the deeply rooted belief that the US is still, as the phrase goes, a white man’s country. It has not been possible fully to transform the social, political, economic and cultural institutions that afford systematic privileges to whites. It has not been possible to alter the displacement of the burdens and problems of the society on to the shoulders of non-white”.
Poor treatment of African Americans and other minorities has a heavy history in the United States. Our country, over time has worked to improve the mistreatment of African-Americans, but we still see discrimination today. African-Americans, have had a long fight and will continue to fight. Starting with slavery to the civil war and standing up for their rights, African Americans were still being discriminative against even after being free from slavery. The statistics during the Barack Obama election, still show that we have racism and discrimination in contemporary society. Police brutality is a very strong and heavy topic which shows us just how racism is still incorporated into today’s world. It definitely can be argued that African Americans have came a long way in our society, but it would be ignorant to say that racism and discrimination is gone.