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Introduction

America's Legacy of Racism

America’s legacy of Racism from 1607 to 2023 CE is a lasting inheritance from a very different past than what we understand in the first quarter of the 21st century. The United States of America’s history is marred by a deeply ingrained legacy of racism that spans over four centuries. From the arrival of the first African slaves in 1607 to the present day, racial discrimination and oppression have been persistent themes in the nation’s social, political, and legal landscape.

This essay explores significant examples, key Supreme Court decisions, and immigration policies that have contributed to the perpetuation of racism in the United States. Racism remains a stain on the core values of the United States. It is important to understand that racism is nothing new and efforts to maintain racist divisions in the American culture is more disturbing than ever before.

America’s Legacy of Racism: Slavery and the Institution of Chattel Slavery (1607-1865)

The origins of racism in the United States can be traced back to the early colonial period when European settlers sought cheap labor for their plantations and economic ventures. African slaves were forcibly brought to the British colonies, and by the mid-18th century, slavery had become an entrenched institution in the South. Slaves were treated as mere property, denied basic human rights, and subjected to inhumane conditions, with families often torn apart due to forced sales. This brutal institution further entrenched racial hierarchies and notions of white supremacy, laying the foundation for generations of racial inequality.

Despite the inhumanity of slavery, it took several decades and a bloody civil war to finally abolish the practice. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 formally ended slavery in the United States, but racial discrimination persisted in various forms.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

One of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions in American history, Dred Scott v. Sandford, further solidified the unequal treatment of African Americans in the eyes of the law. Dred Scott, an enslaved man, sued for his freedom, arguing that he became free when he lived in a territory where slavery was prohibited.

However, the Court ruled that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, were not considered citizens and had no legal standing in federal courts. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, delivering the majority opinion, declared that people of African descent “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” This decision reinforced the idea that people of African descent were fundamentally inferior to white Americans and had no claim to basic civil rights.

Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow Laws (1865-1954)

Following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the period of Reconstruction promised hope for African Americans as they gained citizenship and suffrage rights. However, Reconstruction was short-lived, and Southern states quickly sought ways to reassert white dominance. The rise of Jim Crow laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries effectively legalized segregation, denying African Americans access to education, public facilities, and voting rights.

The “separate but equal” doctrine, established in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, provided a legal basis for continued racial segregation. Under this doctrine, states were allowed to maintain separate facilities for Black and white individuals, as long as they were deemed “equal.” These facilities were far from equal, perpetuating systemic racism and social injustices.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)

Racism in the United States was not limited to African Americans; other minority groups also faced discrimination. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 marked the first significant federal immigration restriction, banning the entry of Chinese laborers to the United States. This discriminatory policy exemplified the racial prejudice directed at Asian immigrants, viewing them as a threat to American jobs and culture. The Chinese Exclusion Act was followed by a series of other discriminatory laws targeting immigrants from various Asian countries.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1960s)

The mid-20th century witnessed a resurgence of activism and resistance against racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Movement, led by figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and countless others, sought to challenge segregation, secure voting rights, and achieve equality for African Americans. Mass protests, freedom rides, and sit-ins challenged the status quo, leading to landmark civil rights legislation.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were significant milestones in the fight against racism. The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, while the Voting Rights Act aimed to overcome racial barriers in voting. However, despite these legislative victories, racism persisted in various forms, leading to ongoing struggles for racial justice.

Immigration Act of 1965

While the Civil Rights Movement brought some positive change, it also highlighted the discrimination faced by immigrants from non-European countries. The Immigration Act of 1965 aimed to end racial bias in immigration policy, abolishing the national origins quota system and prioritizing family reunification and skilled labor. However, even after the passage of this act, racial biases persisted, leading to various challenges faced by immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Shelby County v. Holder (2013)

In a controversial Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, the Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that racism in the United States was a thing of the past.

Nothing could have been further from the facts on the ground. This decision weakened federal oversight of voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination, leading to the resurgence of voter suppression efforts that disproportionately affected minority communities. This setback underscored the ongoing struggle to protect voting rights and ensure equal political participation for all citizens.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Ongoing Racial Disparities (2023)

As of 2023, racism remains a deeply rooted issue in the United States. Despite some progress in civil rights and race relations, systemic racism continues to manifest in various aspects of American society. Education, housing, criminal justice, and economic opportunities all show disparities based on race, with minority communities often facing disproportionate levels of poverty, discrimination, and unequal treatment.

The racial wealth gap, for example, persists, with Black and Hispanic households continuing to lag behind white households in terms of median wealth. Additionally, racial profiling and the overrepresentation of minority communities in the criminal justice system remain pressing issues.

The War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration (1980s-2023)

Another significant aspect of America’s history of racism is the “War on Drugs” initiated in the 1980s. While officially aimed at curbing drug abuse, this campaign disproportionately targeted minority communities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses led to a surge in incarceration rates, contributing to what became known as mass incarceration.

Research has shown that drug usage rates do not significantly differ between racial groups, yet people of color, particularly African American and Hispanic individuals, were more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to longer prison terms for drug offenses compared to their white counterparts. The consequences of mass incarceration have been devastating for minority communities, with families torn apart, limited economic opportunities, and profound social consequences, perpetuating cycles of poverty and despair.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Redlining and Housing Discrimination (20th Century)

Throughout the 20th century, housing discrimination played a crucial role in perpetuating racial segregation and inequality. Redlining, a discriminatory practice carried out by government agencies and financial institutions, involved denying or limiting financial services and investment in certain neighborhoods based on their racial composition. African American communities, in particular, were systematically denied access to mortgages and loans, while white neighborhoods received preferential treatment.

The long-term effects of redlining and housing discrimination persist to this day, as minority communities were denied opportunities to build wealth through homeownership and were confined to neighborhoods with fewer resources and poorer living conditions. These practices contributed to the stark racial disparities in homeownership rates, wealth accumulation, and overall quality of life.

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America’s Legacy of Racism: Voter Suppression (2000s-2023)

Despite the progress made during the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, voter suppression tactics continue to plague minority communities. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of voter ID laws, the purging of voter rolls, and the closing of polling places, disproportionately affecting African American, Hispanic, and Native American voters.

Supreme Court decisions, such as Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, weakened federal oversight of voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination, allowing for the implementation of restrictive voting measures. These tactics hinder access to the ballot box and undermine the democratic principles of equal political representation and participation.

Black Lives Matter Movement (2013-present)

In response to numerous incidents of police violence and systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement emerged in 2013. Sparked by the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer and further fueled by high-profile cases like those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the movement called for an end to police brutality, racial profiling, and the broader systemic issues affecting Black communities.

BLM protests gained momentum, demanding justice, accountability, and systemic reforms in law enforcement and other institutions. The movement brought issues of racial injustice to the forefront of national conversations, leading to widespread public discussions about the need for significant societal change.

Conclusion

The history of racism in the United States spans over four centuries, leaving a profound and lasting impact on the nation’s social fabric. From the era of slavery to the present day, African Americans and other minority groups have faced persistent discrimination, oppression, and marginalization.

While significant strides have been made in the fight against racism, much work remains to be done to dismantle systemic inequalities. Addressing this long-standing issue requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, and policymakers to challenge ingrained biases, confront discriminatory practices, and advocate for inclusive policies that promote equality and social justice.

By recognizing the painful truths of the past and engaging in honest discussions about racism, the United States can move forward toward a more equitable and inclusive society for all its citizens. It is only through collective action and an unwavering commitment to change that the nation can build a future free from the shackles of its troubling history and create a more just and united America.

By Politics-as-Usual

Roger is a retired Professor of language and literacy. Over the past 15 years since his retirement, Roger has kept busy with reading, writing, and creating landscape photographs. In this time of National crisis, as Fascist ideas and policies are being introduced to the American people and ignored by the Mainstream Press, he decided to stand up and be counted as a Progressive American with some ideas that should be shared with as many people who care to read and/or participate in discusssions of these issues. He doesn't ask anyone to agree with his point of view, but if entering the conversation he demands civility. No conspiracy theories, no wild accusations, no threats, no disrespect will be tolerated. Roger monitors all comments and email communication. That is the only rule for entering the conversation. One may persuade, argue for a different point of view, or toss out something that has not been discussed so long as the tone remains part of a civil discussion. Only then can we find common ground and meaningful democratic change.

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