Racism from 1865 to 2013

This is another paper I wrote for a college class.

          Racism is not a thing of the past; unfortunately racism is still alive and well today, and it permeates our lives now just as much as it did in 1865. Our country was built on structural racism, and it has affected every aspect of the lives of African Americans since Europeans first set foot in Africa, and it is the root cause of the underdevelopment of our society and the African American community today. We have been talking about rights in class, and today many people of color are still fighting for their basic rights. Slavery was abolished in 1865, and African Americans were supposedly given freedom, the right to vote, and the right to an education.  This just wasn’t true in 1865 and in many cases it still is not true in 2013, because African Americans experience racism on a daily basis all over America not just in the south.  African Americans have the right to an education, the right to feel safe in their communities, and the right to a fair and just law enforcement system.

Our education system has been built upon the foundation and the walls of structural racism. It has been set up to hold back people of color from achieving success, to prevent them from receiving an education, and to prevent them from feeling any sense of pride of their own culture. At first glance an educated person would see that our education system is based on Eurocentric ideals and history, purposely leaving out any traces of other cultures, and even changing history to fit the mold and mindset of white supremacist ideas. Until more recently we never learned about other cultures and their histories, unless you took a specific college class to expand your horizons, you never learned anything but European history. Even today we barely cover other cultures, and in terms of African American history we barely cover the topic of slavery, we have set goals to try and forget this horrible past of ours. I keep hearing in the media that the Jewish people are taught to never forget the holocaust, and to never forget their past. Jewish people have been trying to assimilate into modern culture, and there are far less prejudices against the Jewish people today then there was in the past. Jewish people also have the benefit of being able to blend in, because they don’t have dark skin. African Americans are taught to forget their past; they constantly hear yes we know it sucked but get over it already! One of my White  classmates even said to me one day and I quote “we already know about slavery, we need to learn about other things that we don’t know yet.” African Americans have had a much different struggle assimilating into modern day culture, and in many cases they are still struggling. This struggle is based solely on the color of their skin, and the darker your skin, or the “blacker” you are the struggle becomes downright impossible. When African American students or any other student of color sits in a school classroom and never hears anything positive about their past, they never hear about the Kings and Queens of Africa. They never hear anything about authors, scientists, doctors, educators, mentors, inventors, warriors, or heroes from their own culture. The only thing that is taught about African American culture is that they were slaves, and about the two or three African Americans that fought for their freedom and rights such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr.  This neglect to include all of our histories has left an empty space in our souls, it has taught African Americans that they are not interesting enough to study, and that they haven’t offered any positive contributions to our society. Actually it has taught all of us this unfortunate lesson, and this is one of the reasons why racism pervades our minds and our society today. This neglect is breeding racism. The best way to raise a racist child is to never talk about race, our beautiful differences, or our cultures. This neglect is breeding low self-esteem in young African Americans, and many have given up on themselves, because if society doesn’t believe in them then why should they believe in themselves and try to rise above.

Another issue with our education system is that there is a great disparity in disciplining different groups of students from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. Educational policies are being used unfairly and it is causing racial disparities in disciplining, grading, and dropout rates. Students of Latino and African American backgrounds are receiving harsher punishments for the same infraction as their White counterparts. The Zero Tolerance policy is one of the rules that are being used in the school systems today, and it is being used unfairly against students of color.  One in Four African American students are being suspended for non-violent minor infractions such as tardiness or not following the dress code policy.  The studies also show that one in three African American males from middle school is suspended at least once a year, and the numbers are higher if the child has a disability. At my son’s grade school, Kindergarten through fourth grade, there was an African American male student taken away from the school in a police car last year for an emotional outburst, and I am sure this is not an isolated incident. My child who has ADHD has been suspended for emotional outbursts, but an African American child is hauled away in a police car; there is something wrong with this system! Research shows that when teens are suspended they have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, for example a single suspension in ninth grade doubles the chance of dropping out. Schools are also encouraging high dropout rates of certain minority groups due to low test scores. The No Child Left behind Act is one school policy that creates incentives to push out low-performing students to boost overall test scores. Many schools lack resources to provide a proper education and support groups for students. These schools lack trained teachers, counselors, or even textbooks to keep struggling students in school. School drop outs are more likely to commit crimes due to boredom, or the need to pay for increased living expenses and taking care of their own families. The high dropout rate of Latino and African American students is causing an increase in crimes, and these teens are then being pushed into the prison system. The school to prison pipeline is the result of African American students experiencing high stress racism inside their high schools today. Once children are pushed into the juvenile justice system through the school to prison pipeline it is very difficult for them to reenter traditional schools and to assimilate back into society due to their records. Ida B. Wells says “ But threats cannot suppress the truth, and while the Negro suffers the soul deformity, resultant from two and a half centuries of slavery, he is no more guilty of this vilest of all vile charges than the white man who would blacken his name.” Schools need to take a serious look at the damaging effects of the school to prison pipeline, and concentrate on education, counseling, and programs to help these children succeed instead of relying on suspensions and law enforcement to discipline these children.

The prison system is another defining moment in the racist history of America from 1865 to 2013.  America’s addiction with the mass incarceration of African American and Latinos didn’t start with the war on drugs in the 1980’s. WEB Dubois says “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The ‘shades of the prison-house’ closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly watch the streak of blue above.” White people have always needed a scape goat and an enemy to hate though out history, as I have learned in class about “the other.” After slavery was abolished in 1865 White people needed cheap labor to work on the plantations and in the surrounding communities, and so they devised a plan to re-enslave African Americans through the convict leasing system, wage peonage, and share cropping. The Black Codes that were set in place in the South took away many of the rights that African Americans were given after the abolition of slavery. The Black Codes made it impossible for African Americans to vote, to be on a jury, to own land, and to protect themselves in any way.  Law enforcement could basically trump up charges and haul innocent men into prison.  The convict leasing system was the first system to systematically imprison African American men in large quantities.  Many African American men were picked up and charged with vagrancy and sentenced to six months in jail, but unfortunately they would be dead in five months because of the harsh working conditions.  The working conditions in prison through the convict leasing system were more brutal than the conditions of slavery on Southern plantations. The government and law enforcement officers didn’t care that they were working their prisoners to death, because they felt that these men were disposable and they could just go pick up another man any time they wanted.  The convict leasing system helped build the South, they grew all of the agriculture, they built the rail road, and they did all of the mining.  The convict leasing system was finally shut down in the 1940’s when President Roosevelt passed laws outlawing it. When I hear people say that slavery was abolished in 1865 I feel compelled to tell them that this just is not true, because the convict leasing system was “slavery by another name,” so slavery did not end until the 1940’s. I recently found a website saying that Wisconsin has started a convict leasing system in their state, and they are so excited that they are saving tax payers money.  Many companies and businesses are relying on convict labor for making military uniforms and McDonald’s uniforms, and also IBM, Dell, Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Revlon, Boeing, Microsoft, Chevron, Eddie Bauer, Victoria’s Secret, Kmart and JC Penney all use convict labor. I am outraged by this information knowing that our law enforcement officers are imprisoning African Americans and Latinos at alarming rates, and most of these convicts are in prison for minor nonviolent drug charges. Many officers make cheap drug arrests by trolling certain neighborhoods just to make their quotas. They harass innocent people by racially profiling them; especially in New York City where officers are allowed to “Stop and Frisk,” and this law is widely used to make their monthly quotas. 80-90% of minority inmates should be in drug treatment centers not prison and if our capitalist society starts using free convict labor, slavery will be reborn once again. African Americans do not use, buy, or sell drugs more than their white counterparts. In fact more white people use, buy, and sell drugs, and yet there are more African American and Latino’s in prison for drug charges. The U.S. Census says that in 2009 there were 845,974 White drug arrests verses 437,623 Black drug arrests,” but there are more African American convictions compared to their White counterparts.  The damaging effects of the school to prison pipe line, the stop and frisk law, and the war on drugs for African Americans is numerous. The African American home has been destroyed, these children are growing up without a father , their mothers are working hard to feed and clothe them, and many children are left alone without supervision to find trouble to ease their boredom. Broken families are doomed to repeat the cycle, and when children see their fathers going to jail, they are most likely going to follow him, and end up in jail too. Once an African American man goes to jail his life is forever changed. The jail record will follow him for the rest of his life, and it will prevent him from being able to get a job, from receiving certain grants in college, from living in certain neighborhoods, from receiving certain health care benefits, and they lose the right to vote.  This will affect him and his family for generations due to poverty and alienation from society. This cycle has been repeating since 1865, and Americans keep pointing their fingers at African Americans and especially African American males and blaming them for the condition that they have been in since the beginning of time. This racism has to end, and it has to end today. Racism is not an African American problem, it is a white problem, and white people have to clean it up.

I am under the belief system that eradicating racism is the responsibility of you and me. Racism won’t go away unless we talk about it. We have been raised to never talk about it, because it causes people to feel uncomfortable. People are afraid to talk about racism or to confront it, because they are afraid someone will think that they are racist. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to feel bad, and it is still a problem and it’s not going to go away. Our education system, our government, our neighborhoods, our own families, and our law enforcement are all affected by racism. White people are also affected by racism, the repression of it, and the fear if it and the stigma attached to it. It’s time to start talking. We are all affected by racism and we are passing it down to our children. Keeping quiet will only perpetuate the problem.  Keeping quiet will only breed racism, and if we don’t talk to our children openly and honesty about race and racism, we will continue to pass on the legacy.  We need to reeducate society, we need to learn about other cultures, and we need to celebrate them too. We need to talk about race openly in our homes, and we need to teach our children to celebrate our differences not to feel uncomfortable because of them. This silence in our communities is breeding fear, and it is making many people uncomfortable to talk about race. This silence is breeding fear, and it is making people uncomfortable around people of color.  This silence is breeding racism, and it has to stop now. We need to break the silence, we need to speak up, and we need to stand up for our friends and neighbors of all races.


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