A Brief History
On March 16, 1995, Mississippi became the last state to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the amendment that outlawed slavery in the United States. With decades of Affirmative Action and other forms of perceived reverse discrimination, we take a moment to remind Americans how recently some of the outlandish discriminatory laws and practices against Americans because of race have finally been put to rest. Millions of adult African Americans were alive when some of these most egregious slights were in effect, so a certain amount of wariness about declaring the end to racism in the United States may not be so silly. Today we list 10 indications that racism was alive and “well” in the last few decades, although we applaud those measures that ended discriminatory laws and regulations. The point of the list is that racism is NOT ancient history in the US, but recent enough for millions of people to remember quite clearly, well within the lifetime of millions of Americans.
1. 13th Amendment final ratification.
As stated above, it was about 13 decades after the Civil War supposedly ended that Mississippi joined the rest of the country in agreeing that slavery was not a good thing. Mississippi still incorporates the Confederate flag in its own state flag, and did not repeal a law against interracial marriage until 1987. Mississippi has an African American population of 37% of the total in the state, almost triple the national average, and that is even with the mass migration out of Mississippi by African Americans in the early 20th Century and again from 1940-1970.
2. Laws against interracial marriage.
In 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Loving V. Virginia that laws banning marriage between people of different races were unconstitutional. In spite of what appeared to be the end of such a discriminatory and blatantly racist practice, Mississippi persisted in keeping their own anti-miscegenation law on the books until 1987. Only barely over 50 years ago, over a century after the Civil War, Blacks could not marry Whites in some states, and it took another 20 years for the practice to actually end.
3. Confederate flag incorporated in state flags or flown at official locations.
We understand the desire of Southern European Americans to honor their ancestors as other people are encouraged to do the same, even though anyone’s ancestors are certainly far from perfect. The catch is that when this honor is made an official part of the policy of a state or local government, it should not be at the expense of insulting another group of people. The fiercely debated decision to stop flying the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State Capital happened in 2015, just 3 years ago, in spite of South Carolina having an African American population of 28% of the state’s total. The Georgia state flag featured the Confederate flag (as does Mississippi) until 2001, and still looks similar to the “Stars and Bars” version of the Confederate flag, as does the Texas and North Carolina state flags. Many state and local governments were flying the Confederate flag until recently, and some still do. In the eyes of White Southerners, the flag is a symbol of heritage and loyalty to their state, but to others the Confederate flag is a symbol of the slave era and a hated sight, even a symbol representing traitors to the United States. Given the contentious nature of the Confederate flag in all its forms, it seems such a real reminder of racism belongs on private property where people have a right to express themselves, and not on public property that belongs to all the people. Tell us what you think. (Confederate statues are a similar point of contention.)
4. Other Confederate flag displays.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, or so my Dad used to tell me. No matter what your motivation may be for displaying the Confederate flag at your house, on your car, on your cigarette lighter, your tattoo, or whatever, the fact remains that it is an insult to African Americans. Such display is blatant disregard for the feelings of a large part of America’s population, a slight not often missed by people of color. Most Black Americans take such a display as a non-verbal insult, a snide dig at their African heritage. It does not matter if that is not your intention, that is the reality of how it is perceived and why to you, Blacks may seem to have a “chip on their shoulder.”
5. Racial Segregation.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 supposedly ended racial segregation in the United States, a fact of life well known to those older African Americans that actually lived under such discriminatory laws. In spite of the law of the land, de facto segregation existed for many years beyond 1964, with real estate agents steering White and Black Americans into racial homogenous areas and old patterns persisting in some places for decades. When Federal Courts found school districts to be segregated and ordered busing to achieve racial integration in schools, White families moved en masse from central cities into ever farther away suburbs to avoid sending their children to school with African American kids. Even President Trump is often cited as a landlord known to make every effort to exclude African Americans from his properties!
6. Voting disenfranchisement.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a variety of laws to discourage African Americans from voting were in effect in many states, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The game played was to require a person to read a prepared passage, and then explain what it meant so that the voter could proved he or she actually understood what was written. Alas, it seems Blacks could often read the passage quite easily, but the finicky (White) poll worker would deem the explanation as not indicative of literacy. Sadly, other attempts to limit Black access to voting has continued into the 21st Century, with blatant attempts to discourage Blacks from voting, including putting up billboards warning convicted felons would be arrested if they showed up to vote, although not all felons are prohibited from voting. Billboards warning people with arrest warrants for minor offenses to stay away from voting places where they will surely be arrested also keep African Americans away. The point is not so much that Black voting rights are being infringed, but rather that an attempt is being made to infringe on those rights which is an indication that racism is all too real in today’s United States. Other tricks such as removing polling places from Black neighborhoods, requiring a government issued ID card, creating extremely long lines in Black neighborhood polling places and others are overt indications of discrimination and racism.
7. Racially exclusive membership.
Not so long ago, well within the memory of many Americans, African Americans were excluded from all sorts of clubs and organizations, even major league baseball (until 1947). The National Hockey League did not admit their first Black player until after I was born (January 1957). The prestigious Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, the home of the Masters Tournament, excluded African Americans until 1990! The USPGA did not require private golf course to admit Blacks as a prerequisite for hosting a PGA tournament until 1991, which is the impetus for Augusta to get with modern racial reality. Of course, some clubs and other organizations persisted in discriminatory practices longer, even to this day! Augusta did not admit its first African American female member until 2012, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was admitted. Many women, Jews, Catholics, and other minorities can also remember such discriminatory membership policies.
8. Residency requirements.
Many cities and other local governments had long used the requirement that people working for that government be residents within the corporation limits of the entity. In this way, an almost all White city could easily exclude African American job applicants without blatantly discriminating against Blacks that did well on a Civil Service exam. Lawsuits against this practice have eliminated many of these places from their sneaky discriminatory practice, but now we find inner cities using the same sort of rule to exclude White people and favor the Black residents! Oddly enough, this reverse logic does not seem to be often reversed in court when White people sue for discrimination. A variant on this theme is to grant extra points toward hiring for residents, effectively keeping the undesired race out of contention for the available jobs.
9. Barack Obama.
While it is true that George W. Bush was made fun of probably more than any preceding President of the United States, when Obama was elected in 2008 things reached a new level of vitriol, a condition not lost on African Americans. Obama was the target of more disrespect and more hatred than any President in our history, much of it seemingly based on his African heritage. Never before had a Congressman yelled, “You lie!” at a President addressing Congress (that was not even lying) or had journalists and other politicians shown so little respect. The “birther” conspiracy theory about Obama being born in Kenya is perceived by Black Americans as a racially motivated attack on the legitimacy of a Black man becoming President. Even Michelle Obama got a ton of disrespect as First Lady (although so did Hillary Clinton) which is usually a subject avoided even by political enemies. While Donald Trump is made fun of (a lot), he still gets more respect from journalists and other politicians than Obama did and is not commonly insulted to his face. (Watch the incredibly snide and disrespectful Bill O’Reilly interview with President Obama.)
10. Driving/Shopping/Whatever While Black.
African Americans make up around 13.2% of the American population, and yet make up around 34% of the prison population. This means Black American men are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than White American men. But wait! Doesn’t this mean Blacks are committing more crimes? Probably, but the perception is that Blacks are more often arrested and prosecuted for crimes that White people are let go for or treated with more leniency than Blacks convicted of crimes. Plus, the inability of many African American defendants to afford a quality lawyer means miserably ineffective legal representation and the likelihood of jail time when a good attorney may have achieved an acquittal. (It worked for OJ Simpson!) Black perception is that police officers disproportionately make traffic stops of Black drivers for minor offenses that White people are not stopped for and are subsequently ticketed for these minor offenses while White people are merely warned or advised. The fact that African Americans are more likely to be impoverished and drive cars with equipment violations probably contributes to a greater incidence of traffic stops, but the perception is clearly of White police on the prowl looking for anything to cite or arrest Black people for. African Americans also complain of regularly being followed around stores by security or other employees while shopping, an irksome course of events to an honest shopper of means with no intention of stealing. Again, whether or not Blacks have a higher likelihood of being a shoplifter does not matter to the highly insulted honest Black shopper being followed around. Stop and frisk police tactics are proven to be effective crime fighters, but are seen by Blacks as legal harassment. Police suburban “border patrol” police patterns are likewise suspect.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever experienced racism? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Loewen, James. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. Touchstone, 2006.