Racism in the United States

Racism in the United States has existed since the colonial era, when white Americans were given legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights while these same rights were denied to other races and minorities. European Americans — particularly affluent white Anglo-Saxon Protestants — enjoyed exclusive privileges in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure throughout American history. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, particularly Irish, Southern Europeans, and Eastern Europeans, were also victims of xenophobic exclusion and other forms of discrimination in American society until the late 1800s and early 1900s. In addition, groups like Jews and Arabs have faced continuous discrimination in the United States, and as a result, some people who belong to these groups do not identify as white. East, South, and Southeast Asians have similarly faced racism in America.

Major racially and ethnically structured institutions include slavery, segregation, Native American reservations, Native American boarding schools, immigration and naturalization laws, and internment camps.[note 1] Formal racial discrimination was largely banned in the mid-20th century and it came to be perceived as being socially and morally unacceptable. Racial politics remains a major phenomenon, and racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality.[note 2][2] Racial stratification continues to occur in employment, housing, education, lending, and government.

In the view of the United Nations and the U.S. Human Rights Network, "discrimination in the United States permeates all aspects of life and extends to all communities of color."[3] While the nature of the views held by average Americans has changed significantly over the past several decades, surveys by organizations such as ABC News have found that even in modern America, large sections of Americans admit to holding discriminatory viewpoints. For example, a 2007 article by ABC stated that about one in ten admitted to holding prejudices against Hispanic and Latino Americans and about one in four did so regarding Arab-Americans.[4] A 2018 YouGov/Economist poll found that 17% of Americans oppose interracial marriage, with 19% of "other" ethnic groups, 18% of blacks, 17% of whites, and 15% of Hispanics opposing.[5]

Some Americans saw the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, who served as president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and was the first black president, as a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era.[6][7] The right-wing populist radio and television host Lou Dobbs claimed in November 2009, "We are now in a 21st-century post-partisan, post-racial society."[8] Two months later, Chris Matthews, an MSNBC host, said that President Obama, "is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour."[9] The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has been viewed by some commentators as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama.[10]

During the 2010s, American society continues to experience high levels of racism and discrimination. One new phenomenon has been the rise of the "alt-right" movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the expulsion of sexual and racial minorities from the United States.[11] In August 2017, these groups attended a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, intended to unify various white nationalist factions. During the rally, a white supremacist demonstrator drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19.[12][13] Since the mid-2010s, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have considered white supremacist violence to be the leading threat of domestic terrorism in the United States.[14][15]

African Americans

Pre-Civil War

Atlantic slave trade

Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769.

The Atlantic slave trade had an economic foundation. The dominant ideology among the European elite who structured national policy throughout the age of the Atlantic slave trade was mercantilism, the belief that national policy should be centered around amassing military power and economic wealth. Colonies were sources of mineral wealth and crops, to be used to the colonizing country's advantage.[16] Using Europeans for labor in the colonies proved unsustainably expensive, as well as harmful to the domestic labor supply of the colonizing countries. Instead, the colonies imported African slaves, who were "available in large numbers at prices that made plantation agriculture in the Americas profitable".[17]

It is also argued that along with the economic motives underlying slavery in the Americas, European world schemas played a large role in the enslavement of Africans. According to this view, the European in-group for humane behavior included the sub-continent, while African and American Indian cultures had a more localized definition of "an insider". While neither schema has inherent superiority, the technological advantage of Europeans became a resource to disseminate the conviction that underscored their schemas, that non-Europeans could be enslaved. With the capability to spread their schematic representation of the world, Europeans could impose a social contract, morally permitting three centuries of African slavery. While the disintegration of this social contract by the eighteenth century led to abolitionism, it is argued that the removal of barriers to "insider status" is a very slow process, uncompleted even today (2017).[18]

As a result of the above, the Atlantic slave trade prospered. According to estimates in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, between 1626 and 1860 more than 470,000 slaves were forcibly transported from Africa to what is now the United States.[19][20] Prior to the Civil War, eight serving presidents owned slaves, a practice protected by the U.S. Constitution.[21] Providing wealth for the white elite, approximately one Southern family in four held slaves prior to the Civil War. According to the 1860 U.S. census, there were about 385,000 slave owners out of a white population in the slave states of approximately 7 million.[22][23]

Groups of armed white men, called slave patrols, monitored enslaved African Americans. First established in South Carolina in 1704, the slave patrols' function was to police slaves, especially runaways. Slave owners feared slaves might organize a revolt or rebellion, so state militias were formed to provide a military command structure and discipline within the slave patrols to detect, encounter, and crush any organized slave meetings that might lead to revolt or rebellion.[24]

Steps toward abolition of slavery

Scars of a whipped slave, April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In the early part of the 19th century, a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to greater freedom and equality in Africa,[25] and in 1821 the A.C.S. established the colony of Liberia, assisting thousands of former African-American slaves and free black people (with legislated limits) to move there from the United States. The colonization effort resulted from a mixture of motives with its founder Henry Clay stating, "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore, as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to drain them off".[26]

Advertisement by a slave trader offering various amounts for slaves in Lexington, Kentucky, 1853

Although in 1820 the Atlantic slave trade was equated with piracy, punishable by death,[27] the practice of chattel slavery existed for the next half century. The domestic slave trade was a major economic activity in the U.S. which lasted until the 1860s.[28] Enslaved family members would be split up never to see each other again.[28] Between 1830 and 1840 nearly 250,000 slaves were taken across state lines.[28] In the 1850s more than 193,000 were transported, and historians estimate nearly one million in total took part in the forced migration.[28]

Ashley's Sack is a cloth that recounts a slave sale separating a mother and her daughter. The sack belonged to a nine-year-old girl Ashley which was a parting gift from her mother, Rose, after Ashley had been sold. Rose filled the sack with a dress, braid of her hair, pecans, and "my love always"

The historian Ira Berlin called this forced migration of slaves the "Second Middle Passage", because it reproduced many of the same horrors as the Middle Passage (the name given to the transportation of slaves from Africa to North America). These sales of slaves broke up many families, with Berlin writing that whether slaves were directly uprooted or lived in fear that they or their families would be involuntarily moved, "the massive deportation traumatized black people".[29] Individuals lost their connection to families and clans. Added to the earlier colonists combining slaves from different tribes, many ethnic Africans lost their knowledge of varying tribal origins in Africa. Most were descended from families who had been in the U.S. for many generations.[28]

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia. 1853

All slaves in only the areas of the Confederate States of America that were not under direct control of the United States government were declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.[30] While personally opposed to slavery, Lincoln believed that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to end slavery, stating in his first Inaugural Address that he "had no objection to [this] being made express and irrevocable" via the Corwin Amendment.[31] On social and political rights for blacks, Lincoln stated, "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race."[32] The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to areas loyal to, or controlled by, the Union. Slavery was not actually abolished in the U.S. until the passage of the 13th Amendment which was declared ratified on December 6, 1865.[33]

About four million black slaves were freed in 1865. Ninety-five percent of blacks lived in the South, comprising one third of the population there as opposed to one percent of the population of the North. Consequently, fears of eventual emancipation were much greater in the South than in the North.[34] Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of males aged 13 to 43 died in the civil war, including 6% in the North and 18% in the South.[35]

Reconstruction Era to World War II

Reconstruction Era

The mob-style lynching of Will James, Cairo, Illinois, 1909. A crowd of thousands watched the lynching.[36]

After the Civil War, the 13th amendment in 1865, formally abolishing slavery, was ratified. Furthermore, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which broadened a range of civil rights to all persons born in the United States. Despite this, the emergence of "Black Codes", sanctioned acts of subjugation against blacks, continued to bar African-Americans from due civil rights. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only, and in 1868 the effort toward civil rights was underscored with the 14th amendment which granted citizenship to blacks.[37] The Civil Rights Act of 1875 followed, which was eliminated in a decision that undermined federal power to thwart private racial discrimination.[38] Nonetheless, the last of the Reconstruction Era amendments, the 15th amendment promised voting rights to African-American men (previously only white men of property could vote), and these cumulative federal efforts, African-Americans began taking advantage of enfranchisement. African-Americans began voting, seeking office positions, utilizing public education.

By the end of Reconstruction in the mid 1870s, violent white supremacists came to power via paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League and imposed Jim Crow laws that deprived African-Americans of voting rights and instituted systemic discriminatory policies through policies of unequal racial segregation.[39] Segregation, which began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, with signs used to show blacks where they could legally walk, talk, drink, rest, or eat.[40] For those places that were racially mixed, non-whites had to wait until all white customers were dealt with.[40] Segregated facilities extended from white only schools to white only graveyards.[41]