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America's history of prejudice, racial conflict and segregation shaped the status of race relation in America today. The discrimination netted towards the blacks in the slave era contributed greatly to the relations between the black and white American and could have served to determine the current problems that mark their economic and social life. Segregation was so much a part of the African American that it almost became a part of his culture too. The feeling of inferiority to the white race is not something that can be wiped out easily. While most whites are for the opinion that most of the problems resulting from social intolerance have been solved with time, most colored people on the other hand support the claim that racism has never actually stopped but has only changed faces. The gap in perception is a result of the different forms of life that the two groups are exposed to. Blacks experience more violence in their daily encounters than do whites and the fear of violence is therefore not easy to erase from their minds.
The American society is still characterised by stereotypes such as blacks being less intelligent than whites, or blacks being inferior and since most people are exposed to such stereotypes in their childhood, they grow up with the attitude. As a result whites will continue to live with denial that racism exists and that it is exaggerated while the colored continue to advocate for the abolition of racism.
Race In America
The American Civil War fought between 1861-1865 marked a four year period of brutal and bloody warfare in American History. This war sparked by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, a man who was greatly opposed to slavery. As a result, 11 sates from the South that wished to extend slavery broke away from the Union of American States and elected Jefferson Davis as their president. This posed a threat to the future of America as a union and it was inevitable that a war be fought to preserve this union. This factor and the issue of slavery culminated in the outbreak of the civil war in 1861. During this war, the South lost considerably and as a result slavery was abolished in America but with a very high cost to human life (Hall Simon Hall.).
After the war ended, need arose then to amend the constitution so as to accommodate the new freed slaves and this led to a change in the federal and state laws of the time. Three major amendments were made namely, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments through which slavery was officially abolished, racially biased restrictions to voting were done away with and all Americans were now entitled to federal legal protection irrespective of their racial background.
The freed slaves now were privileged to enjoy a kind of life that their brothers had earlier only dreamed of. The blacks could now vote, had the privilege of holding office and their children could now attend school. But freedom was not easy to come by for the African Americans especially in the South. During the reconstruction, the whites in the South designed some laws known as the black codes, which were aimed at reducing the opportunities that the blacks had received upon being freed. Free blacks were now entitled to taxation and they could not enjoy the privilege of either owning guns or even renting property. However in the year 1875, a new act that would favour the blacks was enacted in the American Constitution and it stated that all persons within the United States had equal rights. President Lincoln in his efforts to make life easier for the blacks established the Freedman's Bureau, a federal agency aimed at supporting the freed slaves from the south to get out of their economic suppression.
This gave new strength to the black struggle against racial discrimination. After the reconstruction ended, the rights granted during the Reconstruction took a downhill trend and several laws passed by the Supreme Court overturned the legislation that had been introduced during the reconstruction. A supreme courts ruling in the Plessy v Ferguson suit in 1876 for example gave a leeway for racial discrimination against blacks where the south passed laws that restricted African Americans access to schools, hospitals, restaurants and other social amenities. Public utilities were divided into separate and unequal sectors to serve the whites and blacks and the freed slaves could no longer mingle freely with the whites. Voting laws were made very difficult and the African Americans in the South could not elect a representative to the congress meaning that they also had no participation in the justice and law enforcement systems.
The blacks reacted by strongly rejecting the regime and they started to voice their grievances through a succession of lawsuits secretly funded by Booker.T. Washington that was aimed at addressing the political, social and economic issues that affected the black population. He also organised how these lawsuits would be funded. A movement to press for civil rights was born among the black community but any attempts by the African Americans to defy these laws or air their grievances was met by widespread violence against them by such groups as the Ku Klan (KKK) that advocated supremacy of the white race. This group lynched and terrorised the blacks with no legal action being taken against them (http://www.teacheroz.com/reconstruction.htm).
In the early days after the reconstruction, state governments engaged in a legal process of drawing up new constitutions that favoured the black people. New democratic reforms such as free public education were introduced in the south. Blacks could also now elect officials into the government, legislatures and the U.S Congress. Though the African Americans had been freed from slavery through am amendment in the constitution, the issue of their colour however continued to enslave the. The federal governments move to grant voting rights to African Americans and the fact that they could now enjoy all rights brought a lot of conflict between the North and the South.
The Southern whites still desired to continue the exploitation of blacks and the issue of social equality became an issue in society worse than slavery itself. In the southern society, it became a norm to be associated with blacks and anyone trying to do so was subjected to a lot of psychological torture. These southerners immediately moved in and enacted some laws whose main objective was to put the blacks back to slavery. Labour would now become legal in such a way that any black that left his work to go and seek for better pay would be arrested and charged with vagrancy.
Democratic legislators belonging to the white community also introduced new rules that suppressed voter registration for the black community and complicated rules for election. Because state legislators were now under the control of the whites, they went on to pass new type of laws known as the Jim Crow Laws that made segregation in all public a requirement. This marked the beginning of the nadir of American race relations. Also affected by these laws were poor whites who, together with the African Americans were completely shut out from the political process and left without any representation whatsoever. For a period of about 60 years, blacks were to live under the oppression of these white laws (McPherson J. M.).
Blacks were not ready to give in to these types of oppression and the war for freedom continued. They reacted by openly protesting against these new rules of segregation through strikes and boycotts some of which could go on for several months. The African Americans were determined to get rid of the Jim Crow laws at all cost. They reacted by staging in protests against the new rules of segregation through non-violent resistance known as civil disobedience, which involved widespread strikes, and boycotts that could extend even to a period of two years. These protests however triggered a reaction from the whites that resulted in race riots such as the Elaine Race Riot of 1919, which attracted international attention due to its widespread mob violence and, high number of fatalities. Another notable race riot was the Tulsa Race Riot that was characterised by massive destruction of property and several injuries. (Alexander William T.).
African Americans also came up with several other strategies that could bring about social and political development and a period that was marked by extensive legal wars began and this led to the formation of such movements as the Universal Negro Improvement Association under Marcus Garvey that aimed at stressing the importance of culture to the black people. Several cultural activities led to the Harlem Renaissance. The National Association for the Advancement of collared People (NAACP) and other organisations were also founded at this time. These organisations subjected sate-sponsored segregation to massive legal assault. Marcus Garvey's (UNIA) however pointed to the opposite direction of other civil rights organisations as NACCP and just as fast as it had gathered support, it collapsed but having inspired other movements like Father Divine and the Nation of Islam. Massive political rallies like the March On Washington that was organised to press for employment and freedom marked this era (Hall Simon Hall).
In the period between 1900 and 1949, the civil rights movement was engaged in various activities. Abolitionists from the North began intervening on behalf of the blacks arguing that their loyalty in fighting for the union helped greatly in keeping it together. Movements were set up in the North that included churches and other organisations that began to give basic education to the blacks and poor whites. Training for black teachers began and through the Freedman's Bureau the first black schools were established. Majority of blacks now had become literate and on July 11, 1901, the first interracial meeting towards civil rights was held under the umbrella Niagara Movement. 1909 saw the birth of another movement that would become a power to reckon with in the racial struggle, the NAACP.
The period between 1910-1940 goes down in the history of America as a time of the Great Migration. African Americans in an open resistance to the oppression in the south massively moved to the north and Midwest in search of employment, better education for their children and also the opportunity to vote. But in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson came to power with a new order. Physical re-segregation of employment and work places was enacted after 50 years in which facilities had been integrated. This acted as a trigger of more fire in the fight against racial segregation. 1954, the supreme court of the United States in the Brown V. Board of Education suit gave a verdict against the doctrine of separate but equal in education. After this ruling, it was evident that the state could no longer create laws that affected only one class, the second class and the aspect of equality was as clear to everyone as it could have been. This served as a major turning point in the civil rights struggle but sparked increased resistance by the whites in the south. Segregation continued in buses and other means of public transport.
Between 1940-1970 the great migration continued and the reform movements advocating against discrimination as well as political struggles became very widespread.
Between 1955-1968, the Black Power Movement expanded the aims of the Civil Rights movement. The struggle was now included but was not limited to the fight for racial dignity, freedom from white rule as well as the desire to attain political and economic self-sufficiency. This was a period marked by widespread civil disobedience that led to situations of crisis between state authorities and protestors. These included boycotts such as the Selma to Montgomery marches in Albama in 1965 and the Birmingham campaigns, that organised sit-ins, a march to the county building to press for voter registration as well as kneel-ins at local churches. Participation in these activities was organised by churches and community centres through mobilisation of volunteers. Prominent figures in the Civil Rights struggle during this time were such as Malcom X, W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King Jr. Through such people, blacks were charged up to move on with the struggle but to result to the least violent methods in achieving such a cause. Martin Luther King Jr is remembered for organising people into non-violent protests such as the March on Washington. Even though he was assassinated in 1968, the march continued and the Civil Rights Movement grew even stronger. (R.H.Cox ).
But the civil rights struggle was far from being won. Though the blacks now enjoyed a lot of social amenities, there was the issue of their colour that continued to subject them to widespread racism and hatred by the whites.
Racism spread to include not only blacks, but also poor white and Asians as well as other races that had migrated to America. (Hall Simon Hall,).
Over the spun of time, it has become evident that racism is not about to end and different faces of the scourge have been manifesting themselves in the American society. America has continually been characterised by civil suits such as the O.J Simpson civil trial that have revealed new evidence that the American justice system could still be racially biased. Acts of brutality by the police against blacks continue to be good evidence that racism is far from over. Police brutality against Rodney King for example and the subsequent racial unrest that led to rioting in Los Angeles and other U.S cities only stand to support the argument that racism is not about facilities but it is a disease deep within man that is very difficult to heal (Lewis D L, Eagles C W.)
Racism in the early 20th Century was largely about the relationship between the whites and the blacks. Today, the face of racism has changed to have a multicultural and multicoloured aspect. America has been characterised by massive immigration of communities of diverse cultural origins who have over a period of time established their own communities. This has led to widespread racism as it now involves hostility between several cultures (Hall Simon Hall,).
Many efforts have been made to combat the racist issue in America but even with every visible effort to make progress, the country still faces serious setbacks in its pace towards genuine reconciliation of the racist issue. From the onset of the 21st century, the federal government has been making several attempts to bring change in the American society with the establishment of legislative laws and memoranda that rule against any form of discrimination. Affirmative action has also been used in an attempt to balance people's rights to equal employment opportunities, housing and other aspects of provision in society. The media has been widely used in spreading propaganda about the evils and negativity of racism (Shiao Jiannbin Lee).
But there is one simple fact that legislation can only be done on paper and never in the hearts of men and it is because of this that society has cunningly continued to hold separate views about different races. Ancient barriers that have marked the history of racism continue to have a strong place in men's hearts dividing the society into those that welcome change and those that continue to resist it. Man's uncontrolled desire to control power, the economy and cultural superiority continue to derail the fight against racism. The issue of African American and white conflicts continues to be a part of America's history and racism is still a very sensitive issue in American society today. Unless change comes from within the hearts of men, racism will still continue to be part of today's society (Alexander William T.)
How the problem of race can be dealt with in present day American Society is a suggestion that anyone would want to hear. Diversity of culture seems to have led to a new face of racism probably different from what anti-racists have been fighting about. Only time will tell how well this fight against racism can be achieved.
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