Full version Racism In America

Racism In America

This print version free essay Racism In America.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 27 September 2010

Words: 3113 | Pages: 13

Racism has taken on several forms in America over the past several hundred years. The most substantial or well known is the plight of the African American slaves and the injustices they suffered. Today, a new form of racism is developing; one that has always been around but has now entered the forefront of most Americans minds. This new racism is against members of the Middle Eastern culture and religion. The actions of September 11th have not created a new problem, they have just shed light on a problem that we have had for some time. Racism is everywhere in one form or another. To understand it, I think it is necessary to look at the history, causes, and ways to resolve it in detail.


Between 1450 and 1850, at least 12 million Africans were shipped from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean — the notorious Middle Passage — primarily to colonies in North America, South America and the West Indies. Eighty percent of these kidnapped Africans were transported during the 18th century. Ten percent to 20 percent of them died en route.

Unknown numbers of Africans, probably at least 4 million, died in slave wars and forced marches in Africa. In 1619, a Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in Jamestown. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years of labor for passage to America. The race-based slave system did not develop until the 1680s. In 1638 an African man could be sold for about $27 and

serve his entire life as a slave. In contrast, an indentured European laborer could earn as much as 70 cents a day toward paying off his debt and ending his servitude. In 1660 the trans-Atlantic slave trade begins, producing one of the largest forced migrations in history. From the early 16th to the mid-19th centuries, between 10 million and 11 million Africans were taken from their homes.

The American colonies began enacting laws that defined and regulated slave relations, including a provision that black slaves, and the children of women slaves, would serve for life. Slave owners gave a great deal of attention to the education and training of the ideal slave. In general, there were five steps in molding the character of a slave: strict discipline, a sense of his own inferiority, belief in the master’s superiority, acceptance of the master’s standards and a deep sense of his own helplessness and dependence.

In 1797 George Washington writes,” I wish from my soul that the legislature of [Virginia] could see a policy of a gradual abolition of slavery.” Two years later, Washington revised his will, providing for his slaves to be freed after his death. Some 122 of the 314 slaves at Mount Vernon were freed; the others were Martha Washington’s and by law owned by her heirs. Washington left

instructions for the care and education of his former slaves, including financial support for the young and pensions for the elderly.

In 1865 on June 19, two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers land at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war

has ended and that the slaves are free. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

After the Civil War, Congress authorized the creation of six segregated black regiments to serve in the peace-time army, under white officers. The Ninth and 10th cavalries and the 38th through 41st infantries were formed. The new cavalries were mainly stationed in the Southwest and the Great Plains, where it was their responsibility to build forts and maintain order on a frontier overrun by outlaws and occupied by Native Americans who were battling land-grabbing intruders. The black troops earned the nickname "Buffalo Soldiers" — as much for their ability in battle as for their dark skin — from the Cheyenne Indians.

In 1866 Congress overrides President Andrew Johnson’s veto on April 9 and passes the Civil Rights Act, giving black Americans citizenship and equal rights. On May 1-3, white civilians and police in Memphis, Tenn., kill 46 African Americans and injure many more, and burn 90 houses, 12 schools and four churches. On June 13, Congress approves the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. The amendment also grants citizenship to blacks. The Ku Klux Klan,

an organization formed to intimidate blacks and other ethnic and religious minorities, first meets in Memphis. The Klan was the first of many secret terrorist organizations organized in the South to re-establishing white authority.

In 1869 on Feb. 26, Congress sends the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for approval. The amendment would guarantee black Americans the right to vote. In 1875 Congress approved the Civil Rights Act on March 1, guaranteeing equal rights to black Americans in public accommodations and jury duty. The legislation was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1883.

On Dec. 19, 1910, the City Council of Baltimore approves the first city ordinance designating the boundaries of black and white neighborhoods. This ordinance is followed by similar ones in Dallas; Greensboro, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Norfolk, Va.; Oklahoma City; Richmond, Va.; Roanoke, Va., and St. Louis. The Supreme Court declared the Louisville ordinance to be unconstitutional in 1917.

In 1932 the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment begins. For 40 years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. Their doctors, who had no intention of curing them, told them they were being treated for “bad blood.”

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is established in 1957 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and others to help local groups working for the full equality of African Americans. The sit-in movement is launched three years later in Greensboro, N.C., when black college students insist on being served at a segregated lunch counter. In 1961, testing desegregation practices in the South, the Freedom Rides, sponsored by CORE, encounter overwhelming violence, particularly in Alabama, leading to federal intervention.

In 1963 the Rev. Martin Luther King leads the March on Washington, D.C. for “jobs and freedom” and passage of the Civil Rights Act. King delivers his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. In this same year in Birmingham, Ala., four girls attending Sunday school are killed when a bomb explodes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a popular location for civil rights meetings.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense is founded in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to protect residents from police brutality. By 1969 the Black Panther Party cofounder Bobby Seale is ordered bound and gagged by the judge in the Chicago “conspiracy trial” after Seale protests that he is being denied his constitutional right to counsel. In 1983

Civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson announces his intention to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first African American to make a serious bid for the presidency. In 1989, President George Bush nominates Colin Powell chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the first black officer to hold the highest military post in the United States. In 2001, President George Bush, Jr., appoints Colin Powell Secretary of State.


It would be nearly impossible to pinpoint one specific cause for racism as there are several that effect different people. Most are somehow related to our various upbringings and the beliefs our parent’s and friend’s had. This is referred to as social learning. The development and expression of prejudice toward

others often stems from this tendency. Another cause of racism may be the idea or view that prejudice sometimes stems from direct competition between social group over scarce and valued resources. A third concept is that of social categorization which is an activity that people engage in everyday, and it determines, to a large part, who these people will interact with, who they will trust, and ultimately, who they will judge to be similar to them. I want to make it clear that there can be and are many other causes for racism and I have only touched on a few. I am not attempting to justify racism but rather would like for people to look at and try to rationalize what others may be thinking as it may help us to communicate and understand one another.

Social learning is the idea that prejudice is learned. Young children observe their parents speaking negatively about a specific social class or group and then the child adopts this negativity as their own. They are rewarded for this behavior by both their parents and their peers, so they continue to believe it and will eventually pass these ideas onto their own children thus continuing the cycle. The media has also played a role in the social learning theory up until the past few decades. Previously, racial and ethnic minorities were type-cast to play demeaning or low-status roles in various types of film. Only in the past 20 or so years has there been an obvious change in these practices.

The realistic conflict theory is based on the idea that prejudice is caused by the idea that a certain social class or group is competing over resources. This is an idea that most people of my generation have not considered. We feel that

there is a bounty of resources and feel no need to hoard or protect it in order to survive. But earlier in America, it was hard to attain the valued things in life such as a nice house, good job, or even a high ranking in society. This lead people to develop prejudices passed on the idea that others were competing for the same things thus making it much more difficult to attain and keep them. People begin to look at individuals outside their ‘group’ as enemies and set up boundaries proclaiming themselves morally superior.

Social categorization, or the ‘Us versus Them Effect’, is when the people divide themselves into two specific categories in the social world; us and them. People distinguish themselves as belonging to the in-crowd and view all others in a negative light. This may be due to the other people’s race, ethnic background, religion, or economic standing. Another part of this cause is called ultimate attribution error which is the tendency to give more flattering attributions to members of one’s own group. This is where a self-serving bias is used in regards to intergroup relations. We must also remember that social categorization has often been in regards to race, but religion is also a huge victim of this type of prejudice. The western idea is that we, as a majority Christian religion, view them, anyone of eastern or middle eastern religions, as the enemy or certainly as being morally different and perhaps even morally lacking to us. Since September 11th, anyone can see social categorization in action.


The resolution of racism is not something that is undoable. It takes one person to start the change and others that are willing to follow and stand up for that idea. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are just some of the many individuals that started this change. True, many will argue that Lincoln is a poor example, but I would tend to disagree. He knew what would benefit the country and that an injustice was befalling many African Americans and did something about it. He may have whole-heartedly believed in what he was doing, but he was working the greater cause and who’s to say he wouldn’t have come around had he stayed alive longer?

The first step, in my opinion to resolving the racism issue is education. Children starting at a very tender age need to be taught love and compassion towards all human beings regardless of their differences. True this step is beginning, but we must continue and not falter especially because there is still much racism in the world. We may never completely rid the planet of racism, but the future is in the hands of children and if we can present a non-biased few of why there are differences in the world, than we can also teach children to be accepting of them and not judge an individual because they are different. As far as education goes, I think it is imperative to as well to not allow adults to tell children that they cannot achieve a goal because of their heritage. Many minorities have a ‘chip’ on their shoulder because of a comment someone made to them early on in live about what they could or could not achieve. We must put a stop to this as well.

Ignorance seems to be a big cause of racism and parent’s or peers carry this well to those that they associate with. I do not expect or even think that the whole world can change their ideas about someone completely, but I would advise parents to be watchful of their tongue. Do not speak negatively about a race or religion in front of your child. If you have strong feelings on something of that nature, keep them to yourself. There have been many cases of children repeating something they heard at home and being beaten up or even shot for their parent’s comments. The world is an increasing danger to it’s inhabitants and if we continue to pump hatred and ignorance into it, there will never be a recovery and children will continue to hate and even kill one another because they are different.

The final idea or suggestion that I can give on how we can best remedy the racism problem, would have to be compassion. If we practiced compassion towards one another on a regular basis I think that would alleviate several problems that we continue to have in the world. Racism is born from the thought or feeling that one group is ‘better’ than another. If we take a step back and really think about that, it is easy to see how flawed that thinking is. We are not here to judge ourselves in comparison to others. No one can determine why we were put on this planet as all of us have different religions and ideas on the subject. But most religions preach compassion towards one another regardless of the differences. This is something we should all remember and try to change.

It only takes one person to begin this change and once it starts, there is no telling where it can go.


I have briefly discussed the history of African American racism, some of the typical and most basic causes of racism in America, and finally discussed the ideas of resolution for racism and prejudice today. There are many more ideas and discussions on these topics and I know that there is obviously much more information, but my intent was to provide a broad and simplistic approach to this terrible problem. Many people think that racism doesn’t regularly occur or that it occurs in excess of what we are aware. I think racism has definitely decreased over the past several hundred years, but I also think it is changing.

We are a very different nation post-Sept. 11th. We are in some ways more cynical and in nearly all ways more careful. Religion as a very real cause of racism has not been discussed very often, but now nearly every American is aware of the drastic differences that envelop the world. Whether it be religious beliefs or even on basic concepts like death, heaven (or the afterlife), and commitment to country, we are well aware that we do not share these ideas with everyone. But we have to also remember that just because we are different, does not mean that we should act in anger against our own people that share those believes. We need to understand and remember that America is known as

the ‘giant melting pot’ and that should not be considered a bad thing. It makes us a stronger country, not weaker.

I enjoyed researching this paper. I myself have experienced racism or prejudice, both as a woman and because I was born in and have a strong German heritage. Throughout much of my life I was aware of my parents feelings towards people outside our race, but I did not adopt these ideas as my own. I am now facing a very real decision with them as I am dating and will in all likelihood marry a man that is not white. My parent’s are not willing to accept this or change their opinion on the matter. Through many discussions the excuse of their upbringing came up. To me saying ‘that was the way you raised’ seems a petty excuse to hate another human being that you don’t know. I have tried hard to understand how they could hold these ideas to be so true and the research in this paper most definitely allowed me to take a deeper, un-biased look. I was able to see why they would be unable or unwilling to change things that were caused by years and years of social learning.

It most definitely saddens me that there are still many people in this world that hold deep-seeded prejudices against others. I begin to think that the road to recovery has begun and then I will hear a slanderous word uttered against another person or see a terrible story on the evening news. Even the motivation behind some of our wars leaves me wondering. I believe in protecting ourselves,

but at the same time things seem to move from retaliation to racial prejudice in many wars. We begin to lose focus on why we are there and who or what we are fighting for. That is a shame.

I truly hope that this paper will enlighten someone other than myself, not because of how it was written, but because of the contents contained herein.


Spring, Joel.Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality.McGraw Hill: Boston,