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American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960
Race riot in New Orleans is sparked by a shoot-out between the police and a negro laborer. Twenty thousand people are drawn into the riot that lasted four days.
Race riot in New York City.
South Carolina – Railroads [Statute]
Amended the act of 1898, repealing section six. The new law stated that railroads were not required to have second-class coaches. Penalty: Employees violating the law faced misdemeanor charges punishable by a fine between $25 and $100. Passengers who refused to sit in their assigned car were guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined from $25 to $100.
1901-1909, Theodore Roosevelt Administration
Congress becomes resegregated when George H. White of North Carolina fails in his reelection bid. Negroes would not serve again in Congress until 1929.
Alabama – Miscegenation [Constitution]
Declared that the legislature could never pass any law authorizing or legalizing “any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a Negro.”
Alabama – Education [Constitution]
Separate schools to be provided for white and colored children. No child of either race to be permitted to attend a school of the other race.
Assassination of President McKinley.
Booker T. Washington publishes Up From Slavery.
Between 1901 and 1947, the California state government enacted laws that created segregated communities for “Asian Americans.”
Thomas Dixon, Jr. publishes his response to Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Leopard’s Spots: An Historical Romance of the White Man’s Burden, 1865-1900, a best-selling novel which introduces readers to the Negro Problem and trauma that the North inflicted upon the South during Reconstruction.
Louisiana – Streetcars [Statute]
All streetcars must provide separate but equal accommodations. Penalty: Passengers or conductors not complying could receive a fine of $25 or imprisonment up to 30 days. A railway company that refused to comply could receive a fine of $100, or imprisonment between 60 days and six months.
W.E.B. DuBois publishes his landmark polemic, The Souls of Black Folk. It pronounces that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
Florida – Miscegenation [Statute]
Intermarriage with a Negro, mulatto, or any person with one-eighth Negro blood shall be punished. Penalty: Imprisonment up to ten years or a fine not more than $1,000.
South Carolina – Railroads [Statute]
Amended 1900 law stating that railroads were required to furnish separate apartments for white and colored passengers only on passenger trains, not on freight trains.
Arkansas – Streetcars [Statute]
Streetcar companies are to separate white and black passengers. Penalties: Passengers who refused to take their assigned seat will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $25. Companies that fail to enforce the law will also be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $25.
Race riot in Springfield, Ohio.
Congress bars Chinese immigration with amendments to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Kentucky passes the “Day Law” which requires racial segregation of all public and private schools.
Mississippi – Streetcars [Statute]
Streetcars were to provide equal but separate accommodations for white and colored passengers. Penalties: Passengers could be fined $25 or confined up to 30 days in county jail. Employees liable for a fine of $25 or confinement up to 30 days in jail. A streetcar company could be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to carry out law and be fined $100 and face imprisonment between 60 days and six months.
Georgia – Public accommodations [Statute]
Any person could donate lands to a city for a park, with the condition that the use of a park be limited to the white race only, or to white women and children only, or to the colored race. Municipalities could accept such gifts for the “exclusive use of the class named.”
Florida – Streetcars [Statute]
Separation of races required on all streetcars. Gave Caucasian mistresses the right to have their children attended in the white section of the car by an African nurse, but withheld from an African woman the equal right to have her child attended in the African section by its Caucasian nurse.
South Carolina – Streetcars [Statute]
Authorized streetcars to separate the races in their cars. Penalty: Conductors who failed to enforce the law could be fined up to $100, or imprisoned for up to 30 days for each offense.
Thomas Dixon, Jr. publishes The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, the second installment of his Reconstruction trilogy.
Founding of American Breeders Association.
The Niagara Movement forms. An organization of black intellectuals who opposed Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Machine, the Niagara movement promoted negro political equality and voting rights.
The Burke Act provides citizenship to Indians in certain areas under certain conditions.
Founding of U.S. based journal, Eugenics and Social Welfare Bulletin.
Founding of the Race Betterment Foundation.
Berea College v. Kentucky, Supreme Court upholds Kentucky law that forbids the education of whites and negroes in the same facility.
Rumors of negro assaults on white women lead to a race riot in Atlanta. The riot claims the lives of 25 negroes and one white. Hundreds are injured.
Race riot in Brownsville, Texas.
Race riot in Greensburg, Indiana.
Mississippi – Railroads [Statute]
Railroad commission to provide separate waiting rooms for white and black passengers. Separate restrooms were to be provided also.
Mississippi – Miscegenation [Statute]
Prohibited marriage between a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person with one-eighth or more Negro blood, or with an Asian or person with one-eighth or more “Mongolian” blood.
South Carolina – Railroads [Statute]
Firms providing meals to passengers at railroad stations were prohibited from serving meals to white and colored passengers in the same room, at the same counter, or at the same table. Penalty: Misdemeanor, could be fined from $25 to $100, or imprisoned up to 30 days.
Alabama – Miscegenation [State Code]
Restated 1867 constitutional provision prohibiting intermarriage and cohabitation between whites and blacks. Penalties remained the same. A political code adopted in the same year defined the term “Negro” to include “mulatto,” which was noted as “persons of mixed blood descended from a father or mother from Negro ancestors, to the fifth generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person.” Note: This code added two additional generations to the original 1867 definition of what constituted a “Negro” person.
Florida – Railroads [Statute]
Separate waiting rooms for each race to be provided at railroad depots along with separate ticket windows. Also called for separation of the races on streetcars. Signs in plain letters to be marked “For White” and “For Colored” to be displayed. Penalties: Railroad companies that refused to comply with the provision could be fined up to $5,000.
Texas – Streetcars [Statute]
Required all streetcars to comply with the separate coach law passed in 1889. Penalty: Streetcar companies could be fined from $100 to $1,000 for failing to enact law. A passenger wrongfully riding in an improper coach was guilty of a misdemeanor, and faced fines from $5 to $25.
The “Gentleman’s Agreement” between President Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese leaders restricts Japanese immigration to the United States.
First use of “racialism,” as “prejudice based on race difference” (Barkan, 2), in the English language.
Oklahoma admitted to the Union with a constitution modeled on Mississippi’s.
Georgia – Penal institutions [Statute]
Separate eating and sleeping accommodations were required for white and black prisoners, and while working.
Race riot in Springfield, Illinois.
Jack Johnson, a negro, reigns as heavyweight boxing champion until 1915.
Louisiana – Public accommodation [Statute]
Unlawful for whites and blacks to buy and consume alcohol on the same premises. Penalty: Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine between $50 to $500, or imprisonment in the parish prison or jail up to two years.
Louisiana – Miscegenation [Statute]
Concubinage between the Caucasian or white race and any person of the Negro or black race is a felony. Penalty: Imprisonment from one month to one year, with or without hard labor.
1909-1913, William Howard Taft Administration
Federal patronage of negroes sharply curtailed under President Taft.
Florida – Railroads [Statute]
Separate accommodations required by race. Penalty: Passengers who failed to comply with law would be fined up to $500.
Texas – Railroads [Statute]
Depot buildings required to provide separate waiting areas for the use of white and Negro passengers.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is founded in New York City. Some of the members of the Niagara Movement contribute to the founding of the NAACP. The board of directors of the NAACP includes several white progressives.
“Great Migration” of 500,000 negroes to the North.
Founding of the Urban League (NUL).
Founding of the Eugenics Record Office.
The NAACP launches its monthly magazine, The Crisis.
Louisiana – Miscegenation [Statute]
Restatement of the law passed in 1908, using the words “Persons of the Caucasian and colored races.”
Alabama – Jails [Statute]
Unlawful for any sheriff or jailer “to confine in the same room or apartment of any jail or prison white and Negro prisoners.”
Franz Boas (Jew) publishes The Mind of Primitive Man, a turning point in anthropological thought, ushering in the notion of cultural relativism and the ethnological method.
First International Conference on Eugenics.
Hispanics in New Mexico finally receive full citizenship after admission to the Union. Texas restricts the right to own land to members of the white race.
Jones Act confers U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans.
Louisiana – Residential [Statute]
Building permits for building Negro houses in white communities, or any portion of a community inhabited principally by white people, and vice versa prohibited. Penalty: violators fined from $50 to $2,000, “and the municipality shall have the right to cause said building to be removed and destroyed.”
Woodrow Wilson Administration, 1913-1921
In the Wilson administration’s first congressional session “there were no less than twenty bills advocating ‘Jim Crow’ cars in the District of Columbia, race segregation of Federal employees, excluding negroes from commissions in the army and navy, forbidding the intermarriage of negroes and whites, and excluding all immigrants of Negro descent.
President Wilson issues an executive order segregating the federal government’s operations in Washington. (Gilmore, 18) Wilson segregates the federal civil service.
President Wilson segregates the U.S. Navy and replaces negroes who hold appointed offices with whites.
U.S. v. Sandoval, Supreme Court describes American Indians as “essentially, a simple, uninformed and inferior people” incapable of exercising the privileges of citizenship.
Florida – Education [Statute]
Unlawful for white teachers to teach Negroes in Negro schools, and for Negro teachers to teach in white schools. Penalty: Violators subject to fines up to $500, or imprisonment up to six months.
1914-1918, First World War
World War I engulfs Europe, and involves much of the world through colonial empires and alliances.
Louisville, Kentucky enacts a law forbidding whites and negroes from residing in areas where members of another race were the majority.
Louisiana – Public accommodation [Statute]
All circuses, shows and tent exhibitions required to provide two ticket offices with individual ticket sellers and two entrances to the performance for each race.
Texas – Railroads [Statute]
Negro porters shall not sleep in sleeping car berths nor use bedding intended for white passengers.
Alabama – Health Care [Statute]
White female nurses were prohibited from caring for black male patients.
Texas – Miscegenation [State Code]
The penalty for intermarriage is imprisonment in the penitentiary from two to five years.
The Great Migration begins. Many negroes move first from rural areas to cities in the South, then to Northern cities. The Great Migration peaks in the early 1940s.
Lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia.
Film director D.W. Griffith adapts several novels by Thomas Dixon, Jr. into the nation’s first modern motion picture, The Birth of a Nation, which depicts the Ku Klux Klan as heroic defenders of white womanhood and civilization.
Rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States strikes down the grandfather clause in voting.
Founding of U.S. based journal, Eugenical News.
Madison Grant publishes The Passing of the Great Race.
1917-1918, First World War (U.S. involvement)
The Immigration Act of 1917 bans “idiots,” “feeble-minded persons,” “criminals” “epileptics,” “insane persons,” alcoholics, “professional beggars,” all persons “mentally or physically defective,” polygamists, and anarchists.
Asiatic Barred Zone Act bans immigration from all of Southwest and South Asia.
June – A race riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, erupts over housing and jobs between working-class whites and negroes. Eight whites and about 100 negroes are killed in the riot. Thousands of fleeing residents of the city lose their possessions and homes in the aftermath.
August – A race riot in Houston erupts between the negro soldiers stationed at Camp Logan and the white residents and police officers in nearby Houston. Over 100 soldiers are arrested, and 63 of them are court-martialed. Twenty are later executed, seven are set free, and the rest are given life sentences.
U.S. buys the Virgin Islands from Denmark.
U.S. Army officials try to force the French to segregate troops on the basis of race.
Buchanan v. Warley, Supreme Court invalidates laws requiring racial segregation of neighborhoods.
First use of “racialist” in the English language.
The Asiatic Barred Zone act restricts Asian Indian immigration to the United States. The law deems Asians ineligible for American citizenship.
Louisiana – Prisons [Statute]
Provided for the segregation of the races in all municipal, parish and state prisons.
Texas – Public accommodations [Statute]
Ordered that Negroes were to use separate branches of county free libraries.
Congress passes the Indian Veterans Citizenship Act which gives U.S. citizenship and full civil rights to Indian WW1 veterans.
Race riots across the nation claim more than 200 lives. The biggest riot is in Chicago. (Brown and Stentiford, xxv) Race riot in Charleston, South Carolina; in Longview, Texas.
“Red Summer” – an estimated 25 race riots in the United States.
Founding of Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
Decline in scientific respectability of racial typology.
Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) gains thousands of followers, until the group’s dissolution in the late 1920s. The popularity of UNIA stems from the Black Star Line, a shipping company, founded in 1919.
Resegregation of Harvard University dorms.
North Carolina repeals its poll tax.
Mississippi – Miscegenation [Statute]
Persons or corporations who printed, published or circulated written material promoting the acceptance of intermarriage between whites and Negroes would be guilty of a misdemeanor. Penalty: Fine up to $500 or imprisonment up to six months, or both.
August – The Nineteenth Amendment passes, granting the right to vote to women.
Lothrop Stoddard publishes The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy.
1921-1923, Warren Harding Administration
Second International Conference on Eugenics.
A race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, nearly wipes out the entire negro area, including the “Black” Wall Street.
Louisiana – Housing [Statute]
Prohibited Negro and white families from living in the same dwelling place.
Louisiana – Education [Constitution]
Called for separate, free public schools for the education of white and black children between the ages of six and eighteen years.
Arkansas – Miscegenation [Statute]
Prohibits cohabitation between whites and blacks and defines the term “Negro” as any person who has any Negro blood in his veins.
Texas – Voting Rights [Statute]
“…in no event shall a Negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic party primary election held in the State of Texas…” Overturned in 1927 by U.S. Supreme Court in Nixon v. Herndon.
Ozawa v. United States, Supreme Court confirms the policy which refused American citizenship to Japanese immigrants.
Dyer anti-lynching bill passes the House with Republican support, but fails in the Senate due to Southern Democratic resistance.
Virginia passes a law that makes negro-white intermarriage a crime.
1923-1929, Calvin Coolidge Administration
Rosewood Massacre in Florida.
Dyer federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
Supreme Court in Moore v. Dempsy overturns some criminal cases in which negroes had been excluded from juries.
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Supreme Court rules that Indians (subcons) are not white and denies citizenship to “Indian-Americans.”
Immigration Act of 1924 restricts immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Asian Exclusion Act, a component of the Immigration Act of 1924, prohibits individuals from Asian nations from immigrating to the United States. The language of the law defined any individual from an Asian nation as ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
Virginia passes the Racial Integrity Act. The law requires the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics to record a racial description of every newborn baby. It outlaws marriages between white and nonwhite partners.
Virginia passes a eugenic sterilization law.
Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gives U.S. citizenship to all American Indians born in the United States.
American Communists alone arguing for complete equality of the races.
Negro literature, art, and criticism form the Harlem Renaissance, an influential cultural movement. The Harlem Renaissance leads to similar cultural movements in Chicago and Kansas City.
Georgia – Business licenses [Statute]
No license would be issued to any person of “the white or Caucasian race to operate a billiard room to be used, frequented, or patronized by persons of the Negro race” and vice versa.
Texas – Education [Statute]
Required racially segregated schools.
Texas – Public accommodations [Statute]
Separate branches for Negroes to be administered by a Negro custodian in all county libraries.
Texas – Miscegenation [Penal Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal.
Psychologists begin to attack the concept of inherent mental differences between racial groups.
A. Philip Randolph forms the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Georgia – Race classification [State Code]
Classified a “Negro” as any person with at least one quarter Negro blood.
Georgia – Education [State Code]
Required schools to be racially segregated.Teachers who were guilty of receiving or teaching white and colored pupils in the same school would not be compensated.
Georgia – Miscegenation [State Code]
Colored clergyman can marry Negroes only. Also nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal.
Texas – Public carriers [Statute]
Public carriers to be segregated.
Historian Carter G. Woodson founds Negro History Week, later evolving into Black History Month.
Arthur Estabrook and Evan McDougle publish Mongrel Virginians: The Win Tribe.
Corrigan v. Buckley, Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of racial covenants.
Carl Brigham develops the SAT test.
Alabama – Education [State Code]
All schools to be segregated by race.
Georgia – Miscegenation [Statute]
“Unlawful for a white person to marry anyone except a white person.” Another statute enacted the same year changed the law to read that all persons with any ascertainable trace of Negro blood must be classified as persons of color. Penalty: Both races would be imprisoned in the penitentiary for one to two years.
Georgia – Public accommodations [City Ordinance]
No Negro barber in Atlanta allowed to serve white children under fourteen years of age. Court later declared the ordinance unconstitutional.
Florida – Education [Statute]
Criminal offense for teachers of one race to instruct pupils of the other in public schools.
Florida – Race classification [Statute]
Defined the words “Negro” or “colored person” to include persons who have one eighth or more Negro blood
Buck v. Bell, Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of state eugenic sterilization laws.
Supreme Court rules in Lum v. Rice that “separate but equal” applies to Asians and is within the discretion of the State in regulating its public schools and does not conflict with the 14th Amendment.
Founding of U.S. based journal, Eugenics: A Journal of Race Betterment.
Alabama – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony.
Alabama – Race classification [State Code]
Classified all persons with any Negro blood as colored.
Alabama – Public accommodations [State Code]
Forbid the use by members of either race of toilet facilities in hotels and restaurants which were furnished to accommodate persons of the other race.
The Ku Klux Klan makes a large march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Anti-lynching bill dies in Congress.
American communists continue their campaign against segregation. The national platform of the CPUSA includes calls for full racial equality, the abolition of Jim Crow laws, enfranchisement of African Americans, integration of schools, juries, unions, and the military, a federal law against lynching, the end of chain gangs, and equal job opportunities and pay.
Louisiana – Public Carrier [Statute]
Equal but separate accommodations to be provided on all public carriers.
Georgia – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony. Also unlawful for Caucasian persons to marry Asians or Malays.
Georgia – Race classification [Statute]
Required all persons to fill out voter registration forms with information concerning their racial ancestry. If there was any admixture of Negro blood in the veins of any registrant, person would be considered a person of color.
1929-1933, Herbert Hoover Administration
Debut of Amos ‘n’ Andy on the radio.
The crash of the stock market reveals serious problems with the American economy.
“Raciology” a vanishing vocation.
The Hays Code prohibits depictions of miscegenation in Hollywood films.
Nation of Islam founded in Detroit, Michigan.
Mississippi – Education [State Code]
Required schools to be racially segregated, and the creation of separate districts to provide school facilities for the greatest number of pupils of both races. In addition, authorized the establishment of separate schools for Native Americans.
Mississippi – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited marriages between persons of the Caucasian race and those persons who had one eighth of more Asian blood.
Georgia – Public carriers [Statute]
Motor common carriers could confine themselves to carry either white or colored passengers.
Scottsboro Boys trial.
Third International Conference on Eugenics.
Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment lasts from 1932 to 1972.
First use of “racist” as a noun in the English language.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president. His promise of a New Deal and a “Black Cabinet” in 1933 attracts many negro voters to the Democratic Party.
Louisiana – Miscegenation [State Code]
Outlawed interracial marriages. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited Negroes and Indians to marry each other.
Louisiana – Residential [State Code]
No person or corporation shall rent an apartment in an apartment house or other like structure to a person who is not of the same race as the other occupants.
South Carolina – Public accommodations [Statute]
All circuses and tent show must provide separate entrances for white and black customers.
South Carolina – Education [State Code]
Required racially segregated schools.
South Carolina – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a misdemeanor. Also forbid marriages between persons of the Caucasian and Asian races.
1933-1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration
Georgia – Education [State Code]
The board of education was responsible to provide instruction of black and white children in separate schools.
NAACP begins its legal campaign to desegregate education.
Negroes launch the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” economic campaign.
The act which establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps forbids discrimination on the basis of race.
Louisiana repeals its poll tax.
Indian Reorganization Act overturns the Dawes Act.
Tydings-McDuffie Act promises independence to the Philippines, strips Filipinos of citizenship, and caps immigration at 50 per year.
The Nation of Islam comes under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad.
Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
A domestic ideal of racial tolerance, necessitated by the demands of fighting fascism, becomes the “American way.”
Arkansas – Public accommodations [Statute]
All race tracks and gaming establishments were to be segregated.
Georgia – Miscegenation [State Code]
Illegal for a white to marry anyone but a white. Penalty: Felony, one to two years imprisonment.
Georgia – Health Care [State Code]
Separate mental hospitals to be established for blacks.
Georgia – Public Carriers [Statute]
Required segregation on all public transportation.
South Carolina – Education [Statute]
Required school bus drivers to be of the same race as the children they transported.
Texas – Health Care [Statute]
Established a state tuberculosis sanitarium for blacks.
Texas – Public carriers [State Code]
Directed that separate coaches for whites and blacks on all common carriers.
Delaware state law requires racial segregation in public education.
A repatriation act is passed that pays Filipinos their passage back home on condition they never return.
Ethiopia, the last African nation under native rule, is attacked by Italy.
The National Council of Negro Women is formed.
W.E.B. Du Bois publishes Black Reconstruction, a book that reinterpreted Reconstruction to highlight the gains that came about for negroes.
Segregation of CCC camps.
Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
Pearson v. Murray, Maryland Supreme Court orders the University of Maryland Law School to admit negro students.
Opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention delivered by a negro.
Samuel Dickstein’s (Jew) House of Un-American Activities Committee becomes a permanent feature of Congress.
First use of “racism” in the English language (from the French term, “racisme,” in 1935).
Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
Florida repeals its poll tax.
Death of Madison Grant.
Department of the Interior under Harold Ickes produced the first of 26 episodes of American All, Immigrants All, broadcast on the CBS network, celebrating the contributions of immigrant and minority Americans.
The American Anthropological Association unanimously passes a resolution condemning racism.
The Carnegie Corporation commissions Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal to write a comprehensive study of American race relations.
Gunnar Myrdal arrives in the U.S.
First use of “racist” as an adjective in the English language.
Gaines v. Canada. Supreme Court rules that states which provide a legal education for white students must also make a comparable education available to negro students.
Boxer Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling in a rematch from a 1937 fight.
Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
1939-1945, Second World War
On the personal invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial.
Television is introduced to the American public at the New York World’s Fair.
Thomas Dixon, Jr. publishes his final novel, The Flaming Sword, which claims communism and miscegenation threaten to destroy America.
The University of Pennsylvania, the most racially egalitarian university in 1946, boasted only 40 negroes out of an institutional enrollment of 9,000. Negro enrollment in the North and the West never exceeded 5,000 negroes in the 1940s.
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund is chartered.
Nationality Act further clarifies the citizenship status of American Indians.
Alabama – Miscegenation [State Code]
Prohibited intermarriage and cohabitation between whites and blacks or the descendant of any Negro. Penalty: Imprisonment in the penitentiary for two to seven years. Ministers and justices of the peace faced fines between $100 and $1,000 and could be imprisoned in the county jail for up to six months.
Alabama – Prisons [State Code]
Unlawful to chain together white and black convicts or allow them to sleep together.
Alabama – Railroads [State Code]
Code commanded that separate waiting rooms be provided for blacks and whites as well as equal but separate accommodations on railroad cars. Did not apply to passengers entering Alabama from another state that did not have similar laws.
Alabama – Education [State Code]
County Boards of Education to provide free separate schools for white and colored children.
Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress.
Author Richard Wright publishes Native Son, a chilling novel about youth, poverty, and Jim Crow. It is called the “new American tragedy.”
President Roosevelt appoints William Hastie as his “Aide on Negro Affairs” and Benjamin O. Davis to brigadier general.
1941-1945, Second World War (U.S. involvement)
The United States joins the Allies and wages war against the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy in World War II. Negro activists call for a Double V campaign k, the defeat of enemies abroad and racism in America.
January – The 332nd Fighter Group – Tuskegee Airmen – of the Army Air Corps forms.
June – A. Philip Randolph threatens a March on Washington. President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802 banning racial discrimination in hiring of government of defense industry during World War II.
Florida – Voting rights protected [Statute]
Poll tax repealed.
Mississippi – Voting rights [Constitution]
Instituted poll tax requirement.
Mississippi – Miscegenation [State Code]
Marriage between white and Negro or Asian void. Penalty: $500 and/or up to ten years imprisonment. Anyone advocating intermarriage subject to fine of $500 and/or six months.
Mississippi – Health Care [State Code ]
Segregated facilities at state charity hospital and separate entrances at all state hospitals.
Louisiana – Health Care [Statute]
Separate but equal accommodations for the races to be provided in old age homes.
South Carolina law requires racial segregation in public education.
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 into law, which declared ares of the United States as military areas and allowing military leaders to exclude or remove individuals deemed to be a threat.
Internment of Japanese Americans from West Coast states begins, lasting until 1946.
James Farmer founds the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
Ashley Montagu publishes Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race.
The Marine Corps accepts its first negro recruits.
Popularization of the “Double V” campaign (victory against foreign and domestic racists).
Texas – Public carriers [State Code]
Ordered separate seating on all buses.
The Magnuson Act repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act and permits Chinese nationals in the U.S. to become naturalized citizens.
Beaumont, Texas race riot.
Major race riot in Detroit.
243 instances of racial violence in 47 American cities during 1943.
Zoot Suit race riot in Los Angeles.
An American Dilemma becomes the cornerstone of the later Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
James Farmer of CORE leads the first successful “sit-in” protest in Chicago.
Florida – Miscegenation [Statute]
Illegal for whites and Negroes to live in adultery. Penalty: up to $500, or up to two years imprisonment.
Harry McAlpin becomes the first negro admitted to a White House press conference.
Smith v. Allwright, Supreme Court abolishes the white primary.
1945-1953, Harry Truman Administration
Florida – Antidefamation [Statute]
Unlawful to print, publish, distribute by any means, any publications, handbills, booklets, etc. which tends to expose any individual or any religious group to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or abuse unless the name and address of those doing so is clearly printed on the written material.
Georgia repeals its poll tax.
Nat “King” Cole launches the first negro radio variety show on NBC.
John Johnson founds Ebony magazine.
Georgia – Education [Constitution]
Separate schools to be provided for the white and colored races.
Alabama – Public Carriers [Statute]
Required separate waiting rooms and ticket windows for the white and colored races as well as separate seating on buses. Penalty: Misdemeanor carrying a fine of $500.
Alabama – Voting Rights [Constitution]
Established voting qualifications to included being able to read and write, understand and explain any article of the U.S. Constitution. Elector had to be employed for the greater part of the 12 months preceding registration.
National Football League welcomes its first negro players, integrating professional football.
Secretary of State Dean Acheson issues a study of the damage domestic racism had on American diplomacy.
The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 grants naturalization rights to Indians and Filipinos and reestablishes immigration from India and the Philippines.
Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Supreme Court forbids racial segregation of bus passengers engaged in interstate travel.
December 5 – President Truman issues Executive Order 9808 which establishes the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
Cold War, 1947-1991
President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights issues its 178-page report, “To Secure These Rights.” The report calls for laws requiring states to end discrimination in education, mandating a ban against discrimination in the armed services, laws to guarantee fair employment practices for blacks, federal prohibition of lynching, repeal of poll taxes and other discriminatory voting restrictions, denial of federal grants when discrimination in evidence, an expanded civil rights division at the Justice Department, creation of permanent civil rights commissions at the federal and state levels, specific federal ban on police brutality, and enforcement of a Supreme Court decision against restrictive real estate covenants.
Arkansas – Public Accommodation [Statute]
A series of statutes were passed that made segregation at polling places, on motor carriers and railroad cars and within prisons mandatory.
Arkansas – Public accommodation [Statute]
Required separate washrooms in mines.
Arkansas – Voting rights [Statute]
Required voters to pay poll tax.
Arkansas – Miscegenation [Statute]
Sexual relations and marriage between whites and blacks illegal. Penalty: First conviction $20 to $100, second, $100 minimum and up to 12 months imprisonment, third and subsequent convictions, one to three years imprisonment.
Arkansas – Health Care [Statute]
Separate tuberculosis hospitals to be established for Negroes.
Arkansas – Education [Statute]
Required segregation of races in public schools.
82% of the American people are reportedly opposed to Truman’s civil rights program.
President Truman speaks at the annual meeting of the NAACP, the first chief executive to ever do so.
Jackie Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first negro player in Major League Baseball since 1887, breaking the color line in baseball.
NAACP issues a document entitled An Appeal to the World to the United Nations.
William and Alfred Levitt, both Jews, pioneer the mass production of suburban housing.
Patton v. Mississippi, Supreme Court rules all-white juries unconstitutional.
Trujillo v. Garley, Indians gain the right to vote in New Mexico.
Harrison v. Laveen, Indians gain the right to vote in Arizona.
February 2 – President Truman sends a special message to Congress proposing a ten-point civil rights program, including an antilynching measure, abolition of the poll tax, a permanent fair employment practices committee, a Justice Department civil rights bureau, and the abolition of segregation in interstate commerce.
President Truman introduces civil rights legislation and issues Executive Orders concerning fair treatment in federal employment and desegregation of the military.
President Harry S. Truman orders the desegregation of the U.S. military with Executive Order 9981.
Larry Doby integrates the American League in Major League Baseball, playing for the Cleveland Indians.
U.N. Declaration on Human Rights declares, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all forms.”
Democratic Party splits after the adoption of a strong civil rights plank at its national convention.
A group of Southern Democrats form the States Rights Democratic Party to oppose the reelection of Harry Truman because of his proposed civil rights program.
Perez v. Sharp, California Supreme Court strikes down California’s anti-miscegenation law.
Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, Supreme Court orders OU to provide negro students with the same legal education it provided for white students.
Shelley v. Kraemer, Supreme Court strikes down de jure racial segregation, restricted covenants, in housing.
Georgia – Voting rights [Statute]
Those persons registering to vote were required to correctly answer ten out of thirty questions. Many of the questions were quite difficult.
Texas – Employment [Statute]
Coal mines required to have separate washrooms.
A federal courts orders the University of Kentucky to admit negroes to its engineering, graduate, law, and pharmacy schools.
Essayist James Baldwin critiques Richard Wright’s depiction of negro protest to racism in his short essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel.”
Kansas statute permits racial segregation in education in cities with over 15,000 population.
By 1949, at least 17 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia had enacted laws requiring racial segregation of public school children. Four other states – Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming – provided for a local option in determining whether to segregate public education. Wyoming was the only state that did not exercise this option.
NBA welcomes three negroes players, integration of professional basketball.
The first segment of the Civil Rights Movement is underway by 1954.
Emergence of rock and roll music.
Korean War, 1950-1953
Texas – Public accommodations [Statute]
Separate facilities required for white and black citizens in state parks.
Sweatt v. Painter, Supreme Court rules that when considering segregated graduate education, “intangibles” must be considered part of “substantive equality.”
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, Supreme Court rules that an institution of higher education could not provide different treatment to a student on the basis of race.
Thirty states have anti-miscegenation laws on the books.
Ralph Bunche becomes the first negro to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Integration of the NBA.
Althea Gibson breaks the color line in tennis.
Carr v. Corning, segregated schools legal in Washington, D.C.
Texas – Voting rights [Constitution]
Required electors to pay poll tax.
Texas – Miscegenation [Statute]
Unlawful for person of Caucasian blood to marry person of African blood. Penalty: Two to five years imprisonment.
NBC institutes a code of standards and practices that required that all groups represented on the radio be treated with dignity and respect.
South Carolina repeals its poll tax.
John Johnson founds Jet magazine.
CBS adapts Amos ‘n’ Andy, a popular radio program that promoted racial stereotypes of negroes, into a weekly half-hour television show with an all black cast.
USIA creates a pamphlet for American ambassadors designed to help them depict American race relations in a positive manner, The Negro in American Life.
Brown reaches the Supreme Court.
Louisiana – Adoption [Statute]
Forbid interracial adoptions.
Louisiana – Miscegenation [Statute]
Cohabitation between whites and blacks illegal. Penalty: Up to $1,000, or up to five years imprisonment, or both.
Texas – Health Care [Statute]
Establishment of TB hospitals for blacks.
NBC implemens a policy of “integration without identification, allowing the negro to appear on the radio without explicit reference to race.
The McCarran-Walter Act lifts the ban on Asian immigration established by the Asian Exclusion Act.
Supreme Court hears arguments in the Brown case.
Ralph Ellison publishes Invisible Man, a stinging critique of Jim Crow.
Louisiana – Miscegenation [State Code]
Prohibited marriage between whites and persons of color. Penalty: Up to $1,000 and/or five years imprisonment.
South Carolina – Voting rights protected [State Code]
Repealed poll tax statute.
South Carolina – Employment [State Code]
Unlawful for cotton textile manufacturers to allow different races to work together in same room, use same exits, bathrooms, etc. Penalty $100 and/or imprisonment at hard labor up to 30 days.
South Carolina – Miscegenation [State Code]
Marriage of white with Negro, mulatto, Indian, or mestizo void. Penalty: Not less than $500 and/or not less than 12 months imprisonment.
South Carolina – Adoption [Statute]
Crime to give colored person custody of a white child.
South Carolina – Public carriers [State Code]
Public carriers to be segregated.
1953-1961, Dwight Eisenhower Administration
Texas – Public carriers [Penal Code]
Public carriers to be segregated.
Tennessee repeals its poll tax.
CBS pulls Amos ‘n’ Andy from the air after negro protests.
Earl Warren becomes chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Desegregation of public schools in Washington, D.C.
The Baton Rouge bus boycott is the first of its kind in the American South that attempted to end segregation on city buses.
The Supreme Court decides for the plantiffs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education. The ruling makes illegal segregation and discrimination in the nation’s public schools.
Bolling v. Sharpe, Supreme Court outlaws racial segregation in Washington, D.C. public schools.
Hernandez v. Texas, Supreme Court rules that the Fourteenth Amendment extends beyond whites and negroes and covers individuals of Mexican ancestry.
Founding of the Citizens’ Councils in Mississippi.
Over three million Hispanics deported by the federal government in Operation Wetback.
Louisiana – Education [Statute]
Immediately after the Brown decision, Louisiana amended its Constitution to state that all public and elementary schools would be operated separately for white and black children. Penalty: $500 to $1,000 for not enforcing and imprisonment from three to six months.
Georgia – Voting rights protected [State Code]
Repealed poll tax.
Brown II, Supreme Court renders its decision on the implementation of Brown.
Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black native of Chicago, is kidnapped and murdered while visiting family in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman. Two men are arrested for his murder, but are later acquitted, sparking a national controversy and widespread coverage by the white Northern press.
Massive resistance, a segregationist strategy to reduce integration, is outlined on the editorial pages of the Richmond News Leader on November 21, 1955.
NAACP activist Rosa Park is arrested in Montgomery, AL for violating a city ordinance and Alabama state law by refusing to give up her seat on a municipal bus to a white man. Her decision inspired the later Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days.
Alabama – Public Carrier [Statute]
Called for segregation on public transportation.
South Carolina – Education [State Code]
Regular school attendance statute repealed.
Texas – Public accommodations [Municipal Ordinance]
Abolished previously required segregation in the city of San Antonio’s swimming pools and other recreational facilities.
Gayle v. Browder, Supreme Court outlaws segregation in all public transportation.
Autherine Lucy attempts to integrate the University of Alabama but fails.
Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott begun in 1955 ends after 381 days, drawing national and international attention, and propels Martin Luther King, Jr., to the forefront of the civil rights crusade.
By the end of 1956, eleven southern states had enacted 106 pro-segregation laws.
Alabama legislature rules that the U.S. Supreme Court has no standing to force the desegregation of public schools.
Integration of the University of North Carolina.
NAACP barred from the State of Alabama
November – U.S. Supreme Court rules that the racial segregation of Montgomery buses is unconstitutional.
Billy Holiday, acclaimed jazz singer, publishes her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues.
Alabama – Public accommodation [City Ordinance]
The city of Huntsville, Ala., passed a municipal ordinance that set aside one day a week when Negroes could use the municipal golf course.
Alabama – Recreation [City Council Resolution ]
The Huntsville, Ala., City Council passed a resolution that made it unlawful for white and blacks to play cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, or track together. Also applied to swimming pools and beaches.
Alabama – Public Carriers [City Ordinance]
Birmingham, Ala., acted to “reaffirm, reenact and continue in full force and effect” ordinances which prescribed segregated seating on city buses to prevent “incidents, tensions and disorder.”
Mississippi – Education [State Code & Constitution]
Separate schools to be maintained. All state executive officers required to prevent implementation of school segregation decision by “lawful means.” Governor may close any school if he determines closure to be in best interest of majority of children.
Mississippi – Public carriers [State Code]
Public carriers to be segregated.
Mississippi – Public accommodation [Statute]
Firms and corporations authorized to choose their clientele and the right to refuse service to any person.
Louisiana – Recreation [Statute]
Firms were prohibited from permitting on their premises any dancing, social functions, entertainments, athletic training, games, sports or contests in which the participants are members of the white and Negro races.
Louisiana – Public carriers [Statute]
Revised older laws requiring that common carriers provide separate waiting rooms for white intrastate passengers and for Negro intrastate and interstate passengers.
Louisiana – Employment [Statute]
Provided that all persons, firms or corporations create separate bathroom facilities for members of the white and Negro races employed by them or permitted to come upon their premises. In addition, separate eating places in separate rooms as well as separate eating and drinking utensils were to be provided for members of the white and Negro races. Penalty: Misdemeanor, $100 to $1,000, 60 days to one year imprisonment.
Louisiana – Public accommodations [Statute]
All public parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, etc. would be segregated. This provision was made “for the purpose of protecting the public health, morals and the peace and good order in the state and not because of race.”
South Carolina – Public accommodations [Statute]
State Commission of Forestry given authority to operate and supervise only racially separated parks and to admit to the facilities of the parks only persons who have the express permission of the state.
Georgia – Public accommodations and recreation [State Code]
Political subdivisions may alienate parks, etc.
Georgia – Education [State Code]
No public funds to be allocated to non-segregated schools. Penalty: felony.
South Carolina – Education [State Code]
No appropriations for schools from and to which students transfer because of court order.
Alabama – Education [State Code]
No child compelled to attend schools that are racially mixed.
Alabama – Public accommodations and recreation [State Code]
Political subdivisions may alienate recreational facilities if approved by referendum.
Louisiana – Education [Constitution]
All public schools to be racially segregated.
Louisiana – Education [Statute]
Compulsory attendance suspended in school systems where integration ordered; no state funds to non-segregated schools.
Arkansas – Education [Statute]
No child required to enroll in a racially mixed school.
Arkansas – Public Carrier [Statute]
Required segregation on all public carriers.
Founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Allen v. Merrill, Indians gain the right to vote in Utah.
Clash in Little Rock, Arkansas, over the desegregation of Central High School. President Eisenhower dispatches federal troops to keep order and enforce desegregation.
September 2 – Eisenhower sends in the U.S. Army’s 1,200-man 327th Battle Group of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to take control of Central High School. At the same time, he federally mobilized the entire Arkansas National Guard, about 10,000 Guardsmen, mainly to prevent Governor Faubus from attempting to use the Guard to oppose the federal soldiers. With this overwhelming show of disciplined soldiers, the threat from the mobs abated, although the shouting continued. The Little Rock Nine were able to enter Central High and begin attending classes on September 25.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 pledges the federal government to prosecute abuses of negro civil rights.
With the support of the governor and the state legislature, the school board closed all public high schools in Little Rock after the end of the 1957-1958 year. The schools remain closed for one year.
Arkansas – Education [Statute]
Governor may close schools by election with ballot to read: “For racial integration of all schools within the …school district,” or “Against racial integration of all schools within the school district.”
Georgia – Voting rights [Statute]
This statute made voter registration extremely tedious and difficult. Law was designated as “An act to effect a complete revision of the laws of this state relating to the qualification and registration of voters.” For example, one of the questions asked “Under what constitutional classification do you desire to make application for registration?”
Georgia – Public carriers [State Code]
Segregation on public carriers.
Mississippi – Recreation [Statute]
Authorized governor to close parks to prevent desegregation.
Louisiana – Health Care [Statute]
All human blood to be used in the state of Louisiana for transfusions to be labeled with the word “Caucasian,” “Negroid,” or “Mongoloid” so as to clearly indicate the race of the donor. If the blood was not labeled it was not permitted to be used.
Florida – Education [Statute]
County boards of education may adopt regulation for closing schools during emergencies. Schools to close automatically when federal troops used to prevent violence.
Florida – Public Carrier [Statute]
Races to be segregated on public carriers.
Texas – Education [Statute]
No child compelled to attend schools that are racially mixed. No desegregation unless approved by election. Governor may close schools where troops used on federal authority.
Cooper v. Aaron, Supreme Court rules unanimously for integration to proceed immediately at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and other negro ministers form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Little Rock reopens and integrates its public schools.
Alaska admitted to the Union.
George Lincoln Rockwell founds the American Nazi Party.
Arkansas – Public Carriers [Statute]
Required assignment of passengers to segregated seats on all intrastate buses.
American Racial History Timeline, 1960-2008
Negroes begin to appear on television as professionals and social equals.
Boynton v. Virginia, Supreme Court outlaws segregated facilities in interstate travel.
February 1 – Greensboro Four in North Carolina, students at North Carolina A&T, start the sit-in movement at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s, which quickly spreads all through the South.
February 13 – James Lawson and associates launch a sit-in at downtown Nashville lunch counters.
April 16 – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded in Raleigh, North Carolina and Marion Barry, the future mayor of Washington, D.C., is elected first SNCC national director.
May 6 – President Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960 into law.
May 10 – Limited integration in downtown Nashville stores.
John F. Kennedy is elected president with large support from negro voters.
Louisiana – Voting rights [Statute]
Required that the race of all candidates named on ballots be designated.
1961-1963, John F. Kennedy Administration
January 21 – A negro Air Force veteran, James Meredith, completes his first application for admission to the all-white University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), at Oxford.
March 6 – JFK issues Executive Order 10925, created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and beginning affirmative action. The first Freedom Rides (which last for four weeks) begins in Washington, D.C., sparking violent white resistance in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. President Kennedy sends federal marshals to protect demonstrators .
JFK signs an executive order that curbed discrimination in federally associated housing and loans.
September 30 – Meredith’s admission to Ole Miss causes a riot, in which two people are killed.
November – Attorney General RFK and the Interstate Commerce Commission orders the desegregation of bus terminals.
November 20 – JFK issues Executive Order 11063, beginning federal oversight of racial discrimination in housing.
December – MLK arrives in Albany, GA to lead a local civil rights movement.
1963-1969, Lyndon B. Johnson Administration
Georgia – Public carrier segregation barred [City Ordinance]
The city of Albany, Ga, repealed the ordinances which had required segregation in transportation, ticket sales and restaurants.
Georgia – Public accommodations segregation barred [City Ordinance]
The city of Atlanta passed an ordinance which repealed all city ordinances “which required the separation of persons because of race, color or creed in public transportation, recreation, entertainment and other facilities.
Screen adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Essayist and author James Baldwin publishes The Fire Next Time, a critique of the national resistance to the Civil Rights Movement.
April 3 – Martin Luther King Jr. leads his first march in Birmingham, Alabama.
April 12 – MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is published in the Birmingham News.
April 23 – A Baltimore postal worker, William Moore, is assassinated in Alabama as he makes his solo Chattanooga Freedom March.
May 2 – MLK and Birmingham civil rights leaders being using children in marches.
May 12 – The first serious riots in Birmingham over civil rights marches and Ku Klux Klan bombings.
May 13-18 – Black protests against racial discrimination begin in Cambridge, Maryland.
June 10 – The first Cambridge riot breaks out over civil rights demonstrations.
June 11 – JFK announces his plans to send a major new civil rights bill to Congress
Black students attempt to enroll at the University of Alabama. Governor Wallace engages in symbolic defiance, standing “in the schoolhouse door.”
June 12 – Medgar Evers, field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP, is assassinated at his home, in Jackson.
June 22 – President Kennedy meets with negro leaders in the White House to discuss his civil rights bill and their proposed March on Washington.
Kennedy issues Executive Order 11114, extending affirmative action requirements to federally funded construction projects.
July 2 – MLK and other negro leaders meet in New York City to finalize their plans for a March on Washington.
August 18 – Meredith graduates from Ole Miss.
August 28 – The March on Washington, at which MLK makes his “I Have a Dream” speech, takes place.
September 9 – Birmingham schools begin desegregation.
September 15 – KKK bombs the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four children.
November 22 – JFK is assassinated in Dallas; Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) is sworn in as president.
Maryland passes a law desegregation public accommodations.
Alabama – Public accommodations and recreation [City Ordinance]
Repeated portions of Birmingham’s city code which had prohibited interracial recreation and had required separation of the races in restaurants and places of entertainment, and separate bathrooms for black and white employees.
Supreme Court rules in Griffin v. Prince Edward County that local authorities have to fund public education.
January 8 – LBJ makes his first State of the Union Address, promising to support civil rights reforms.
March 8 – Sioux Indians in San Francisco stage the first occupation of Alcatraz Island.
June 21 – Murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
July 2 – LBJ signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation outlaws segregation in all public transportation, public accomodation, employment, and education. It also prohibited government financial support of any institution or agency practicing Jim Crow.
August 4 – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) begins probing the murders near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
August 20 – LBJ signs the Equal Opportunity Act, creating the Jobs Corps and Vista (Volunteers in Service to America).
August 24-27 – The Democratic National Convention (DNC) is held at Atlantic City, New Jersey; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party stirs controversy there.
November 3 – LBJ is elected president.
Martin Luther King receives Nobel Peace Prize.
Malcolm X makes his pilgrimage to Mecca. Upon his return, he forms the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, Supreme Court upholds the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Twenty Fourth Amendment, which eliminates the use of the poll tax in federal elections, is ratified.
Yuji Ichioka, a historian and Asian American Studies scholar, creates the term “Asian American” to define individuals of Asian descent who possess American citizenship.
Sidney Poitier stars in A Patch of Blue, which deals with interracial romance.
January 18 – MLK begins the Selma campaign in Alabama.
February 18 – The negro civil rights worker Jimmie Lee Jackson is killed during the Selma campaign.
February 21 – The negro Muslim leader Malcolm X is assassinated in New York City by fellow negro Muslims.
March 7 – Hosea Williams leads a failed march from Selma to Montgomery, resulting in the beating of marchers by Alabama authorities at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
March 9 – MLK leads a march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, kneels in prayer, and returns to Selma.
A white northern preacher, James Reeb, is killed during the Selma campaign.
March 13 – LBJ meets with Governor George Wallace of Alabama in the White House and warns him to end the violence against demonstrators.
March 17 – LBJ sends his negro voting rights bill to Congress.
March 21-25 – MLK leads the Selma-to-Montgomery march.
March 25 – Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Detroit, is killed during the Selma campaign.
August 6 – LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act into law, guaranteeing negroes the right to vote by providing strict federal enforcement and harsh penalties for racial discrimination in voting and registering voters.
August 11-17 – The Watts riot in Los Angeles erupts, becoming the most deadly race riot since 1943.
August 20 – The white northern preacher Jonathan Daniel is killed while participating in ongoing Alabama civil rights activity.
September 24 – LBJ issues Executive Order 11246, increasing affirmative action requirements in federally funded construction projects.
October 3 – LBJ signs the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of October 3, 1965 (Immigration Act of 1965) into law. The Act abolishes race, ancestry, and national origins as factors in the selection of immigrants, increases immigration from 155,000 per year to 290,000 per year, and makes family relations the primary factor in the selection of immigrants.
The last legal vestiges of Jim Crow are removed. The Voting Rights Act abolishes all forms of legal disenfranchisement and pledged to prosecute illegal disenfranchisement.
Whites expelled from SNCC.
January 7 – MLK announces his plan for a Northern Freedom Movement.
January 26 – MLK takes up residence in a Chicago slum to kick off his Chicago campaign.
February 23 – MLK leads his first march in Chicago.
June 6 – Meredith is shot in north Mississippi while attempting his solo March against Fear from Memphis to Jackson.
June 17 – Stokely Carmichael, national director of SNCC, begins using the “Black Power” slogan in defiance of MLK’s nonviolent strategy.
July 10 – MLK starts his better housing campaign in Chicago.
July 10-15 – Major rioting erupts in Chicago, but it is not directly related to MLK’s activity.
July 30-31 – More civil rights marches lead to white backlash riot in Chicago.
August 21 – Another march in Chicago leads to a counterdemonstration by the American Nazi Party.
Founding of the Black Panther Party.
Sidney Poitier stars in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
Loving v. Virginia, Supreme Court of the United States strikes down the Virginia Racial Integrity Act and the anti-miscegenation laws of sixteen states.
April 15 – MLK leads and delivers an antiwar speech at Central Park in New York City.
June 13 – LBJ appoints Thurgood Marshall to become the first negro on the U.S. Supreme Court.
July 12-17 – A riot breaks out in Newark, New Jersey, resulting in more than twenty deaths.
July 22-27 – Detroit riots break out, topping the 1965 Watts riot as the most devastating of the 1960’s.
July 23 – A Black Power conference is held in Newark, stoking the fires of black anger already burning in America.
July 24 – H. Rap Brown, national director of SNCC, encourages negroes to burn down the town of Cambridge, Maryland, sparking yet another riot there.
August 25 – George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party is assassinated by a disgruntled Greek member.
August 30 – Thurgood Marshall is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
November 30 – LBJ begins his Model Cities program.
Carl Stokes elected mayor of Cleveland, first black mayor of a major city.
Florida – Public accommodations [City Ordinance]
Sarasota passed a city ordinance stating that “Whenever members of two or more…races shall…be upon any public…bathing beach within the corporate limits of the City of Sarasota, it shall be the duty of the Chief of police or other officer…in charge of the public forces of the City…with the assistance of such police forces, to clear the area involved of all members of all races present.”
Jones v. Mayer, Supreme Court outlaws discrimination in the rental and sale of property.
22 states have “fair housing” laws, none Southern, by 1968.
Green v. New Kent County Board of Education, Supreme Court rules that freedom of choice plans were not adequate to desegregate schools.
February 8 – A massacre at Orangeburg, South Carolina, results in many negro college students being killed or wounded by authorities.
February 15 – Cesar Chavez suffers through his 25-day hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of migrant farm workers in California.
February 29 – The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders issues its “Kerner Report” releases its report on the 1967 riots, identifying deeply embedded “racism” as main cause.
March – Kentucky becomes the first state to enact a statewide anti-housing discrimination law.
March 11 – Chavez ends his hunger strike, meets with Robert F. Kennedy .
March 28 – MLK leads a poor people’s march in Memphis, resulting in rioting by negro youth.
April 3 – MLK delivers his last public address, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at a church in Memphis.
April 4 – Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis.
April 4-8 – MLK’s murder sparks riots throughout the nation, one of the worst being in Washington, D.C.
April 9 – MLK’s funeral in Atlanta becomes the largest ever held for a private American citizen.
April 11 – LBJ signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law, prohibiting discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
April 12 – Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy open Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., as part of MLK’s posthumous Poor People’s Campaign.
June 5 – RFK is assassinated in Los Angeles while campaigning for president.
June 19-20 – King and Abernathy lead Solidarity Day demonstration in Washington to close Resurrection City.
July 23-27 – Rioting erupts in Cleveland.
August 5-8 – The Republican National Convention meets in Miami, resulting in rioting and two deaths.
August 26-30 – The Democratic National Convention meets in Chicago, resulting in rioting and the media-circus trial of the “Chicago Eight” over the next two years.
November 19-20 – Indians in San Francisco begin another occupation of Alcatraz Island, this one to last more than a year and a half.
Poor People’s March on Washington.
Richard Nixon elected president, defeating Hubert Humphrey.
1969-1974, Richard Nixon Administration
March 5 – President Richard M. Nixon creates the Office of Minority Business Enterprise.
April 26 – The National Black Economic Development Conference meets in New York; James Forman formulates the “Black Manifesto” there.
May 4 – Forman disrupts a church service in New York City to present his Black Manifesto demands.
August 8 – Nixon signs Executive Order 11478, extending affirmative action to all federal government agencies and jobs.
August 15-18 – The Woodstock music festival is held in upstate New York.
October 29 – The Black Panther Bobby Seale is first bound and gagged in court in the Chicago Eight trial.
November 5 – Seale’s case is separated from that of the remaining “Chicago Seven.”
Alexander v. Holmes County effectively desegregates the public schools of Mississippi. 1970
February 2 – Sixteen Black Panthers are put on trial in New York City for plotting to bomb public buildings.
March 3 – Whites in Lamar, South Carolina, attack busloads of negro schoolchildren on their way to their newly integrated school.
May 1 – Nearly 1,000 youths at Yale University stage a demonstration in support of Black Panthers on trial in New Haven, Connecticut.
May 15 – Two negro students are killed at Jackson State University, Mississippi, by state troopers.
May 23 – Ralph Abernathy, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, heads a “march against repression” that ends in the state capitol in Atlanta with 10,000 participants.
May 29 – The murder conviction of the Black Panther leader Huey Newton is overturned by an appeals court.
June 19 – Black Panthers, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., announce plans for a “Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention.”
July 8 – President Richard M. Nixon issues a Special Message to Congress on Indian Affairs.
July 10 – The IRS revokes the tax exemptions of all racially segregated private schools in the United States.
August 5 – The Black Panther leader Huey Newton is released from prison, ending the “Free Huey!” campaign successfully.
August 7 – Jonathan Jackson leads a holdup and attempted kidnapping in San Rafael, California, courtroom in order to free a negro defendant; the attempt results in a deadly shootout and the prosecution of the Black Panther activist Angela Davis as an accomplice.
August 31 – Philadelphia police raid Black Panther offices and make highly publicized arrests of members.
September 5-7 – Black Panthers hold constitutional convention in Philadelphia and draft a communist constitution for the United States.
September 17 – The negro entertainer Flip Wilson debuts his Flip Wilson Show on NBC television.
October 13 – Angela Davis is captured by authorities in New York City.
November 27 – Black Panthers scheduled constitutional ratification convention in Washington, D.C., fails to materialize.
December 4 – The Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez is sentenced to jail in California for organizing a lettuce boycott.
Extension of the Voting Rights Act.
January 5 – Angela Davis is arraigned on charges of conspiracy in the Jonathan Jackson case.
January 22 – The 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus from the House of Representatives boycott President Nixon’s State of the Union message.
February 26 – The Black Panther leaders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver disagree in a television debate on the direction of the party, effectively destroying the party.
March 25 – President Nixon meets with the Congressional Black Caucus and listens to their grievances.
June 11 – The last of the Indians on Alcatraz are removed by government officials.
June 28 – The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the conviction of the negro boxer Muhammad Ali for draft evasion in 1967.
August 14 – Taos Pueblo Indians in New Mexico celebrate Congress’s decision to award them the Blue Lake region they had asked for.
August 25 – The Black Panther and Soledad Brother George Jackson kills five people in an attempt to escape from prison before being gunned down himself.
August 30 – Ten school buses are bombed in Pontiac, Michigan, by whites protesting cross-town busing order of federal courts.
October 8 – “Angela Davis Day” is held in New York City as part of the “Free Angela!” campaign.
February 23 – Angela Davis is released on bail.
February 28 – Angela Davis’s trial begins.
March 8 – Congress gives the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the power to force compliance with all civil rights hiring laws.
March 10-12 – The first National Black Political Convention is held in Gary, Indiana, resulting in the creation of the National Black Assembly.
March 16 – President Nixon makes an address calling on federal courts to halt cross-town busing.
April 12 – Benjamin L. Hooks becomes the first negro appointee to the Federal Communications Commission.
May 16 – The NAACP withdraws from the National Black Assembly, citing its separatist agenda.
June 4 – Angela Davis is acquitted by an all-white jury in California.
February 27 – The American Indian Movement (AIM) begins siege of Wounded Knee.
May 8 – AIM ends siege of Wounded Knee.
May 29 – Tom Bradley elected the first negro mayor of Los Angeles.
July 2 – The National Black Network begins operations with 38 radio stations nationwide.
Keyes v. Denver, opens the way for court-ordered busing in the North.
1974-1977, Gerald Ford Administration
Milliken v. Bradley, Supreme Court rules that schools were local for the purpose of Brown, and further decreed that the liberal judicial test of evidence usually granted in cases involving racial discrimination could not be invoked because suburban schools were not involved. The test of evidence, strict scrutiny, required the defendant school district to carry the burden of proof of nonracial discrimination and not the plaintiff.
January 21 – U.S. Supreme Court rules in Lau v. Nichols that school districts must provide bilingual education or provide remedial classes in English where needed.
March 15-17 – The second Black National Political Convention is held, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
April 8 – The negro professional baseball player Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s home-run record, hitting number 715.
June 21 – Federal court orders the city of Boston to begin integrating its public schools.
August 27 – A negro inmate, Joan Little, kills her white jailer in North Carolina and escapes.
September 12 – School starts in Boston, causing a racial uproar as integration begins.
September 19 – Rioting occurs in Boston because of integration problems at Hyde Park High School.
October 7 – Rioting occurs again in Boston over school integration problems.
October 9 – President Gerald R. Ford publicly declaims the federal court rulings requiring cross-town busing.
December 11 – Rioting occurs in Boston yet again over integration problems.
Virginia’s General Assembly repeals the Racial Integrity Act.
May 17 – NAACP marches in Boston in support of cross-town busing to integrate schools.
June 13 – The city of Jackson, Mississippi, opens integrated public swimming pools for the first time.
July 28 – Congress extends the Voting Rights Act for seven years, adding protecting for Spanish-speaking and other non-English-speaking minorities. Joan Little is acquitted of murder in a highly publicized case.
September 6-7 – Riots erupt in Louisville, Kentucky, over forced busing.
October 24 – Racial violence erupts at South Boston High School.
December 9 – A federal court gives federal authorities jurisdiction over Boston public schools.
October 4 – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz resigns under pressure after making “racially insensitive” comments about negroes.
October 25 – A negro activist, the Reverend Clennon King, announces his intention to integrate the Plains Baptist Church, in Georgia, the church attended by the Democratic presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter.
October 31 – The Reverend Clennon King attempts to integrate the Plains Baptist Church but is denied admission.
1977-1981, Jimmy Carter Administration
January 19 – Outgoing President Ford pardons Tokyo Rose for treason during World War II.
January 31 – Federal courts order the merger of the University of Tennessee Nashville with Tennessee State University to achieve integration.
February 22 – U.S. Supreme Court begins deliberations on University of California Regents v. Bakke, a case alleging reverse discrimination (the favoring of minorities over whites) in college admissions.
March 10-11 – Hanafi Muslims in Washington, D.C., take 134 hostages, with one person killed and 19 wounded, before surrendering to police.
June 13 – James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., is captured after a prison escape in Tennessee.
June 27 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules against forced busing in Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman.
August 29 – Negro leaders meet in New York City to discuss ways to deal with negro urban poverty.
February 11 – AIM begins “The Longest March” from Alcatraz to Washington, D.C.
July 17 – AIM ends “The Longest March” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
July 18 – AIM leaders meet with Vice President Walter Mondale and Secretary of the Interior Cecil Adams.
Bakke ruling disallows quotas at U.C. Davis Medical School but affirms potential for preferential treatment.
Virginia’s General Assembly repeals its sterilization law.
Popularization of “African-American” and “People of Color” as racial terminology.
Ronald Reagan elected president.
1981-1989, Ronald Reagan Administration
Twenty-five-year extension of the Voting Rights Act.
Harold Washington elected first black mayor of Chicago.
Rev. Jesse Jackson wages the first major campaign by a black candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Ronald Reagan reelected president in greatest Republican landslide in history.
A negro from Mississippi, Mike Espy, is elected to Congress for the first time since Reconstruction.
First official observation of Martin Luther King Day.
U.S. Congress overrides President Reagan’s veto, joining other nations in economic sanctions against South Africa to end apartheid.
Mississippi Burning depicts the disappearance of three civil rights volunteers participating in the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964.
March 22 – Overriding a veto from President Reagan, Congress passes the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which expands the reach of nondiscrimination laws within private institutions receiving federal funds.
1989-1993, George H.W. Bush Administration
Colin Powell nominated by President Bush as chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Douglas Wilder elected governor of Virginia; David Dinkins elected mayor of New York City.
Ralph David Abernathy publishes his autobiography, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, which reveals embarrassing truths about MLK’s personal life.
President Bush vetoes a civil rights bill that sought to reverse Supreme Court decisions weakening discrimination laws on hiring and promoting.
Thurgood Marshall retires from Supreme Court.
U.S. Senate approves nomination of Clarence Thomas to Supreme Court.
Videotape of beating of Rodney King shown repeatedly on national television.
After two years of debates and vetoes, President Bush reverses himself and signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which strengthens existing civil rights laws and provides for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.
Ayers v. Fordice, Supreme Court rules that Mississippi had not yet fully eradicated Jim Crow from higher education.
All-white jury acquits four policemen on most counts of beating Rodney King, and Los Angeles is swept by rioting and looting, with 52 lives lost.
Bill Clinton elected president.
Carol Moseley Braun first black woman elected to U.S. Senate.
1993-2001, Bill Clinton Administration
Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Toni Morrison.
Supreme Court disallows congressional districts drawn to produce black majorities.
Byron de La Beckwith, a white supremacist, convicted of 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi.
Year-long murder trial of O.J. Simpson ends with acquittal, with widely different reactions from blacks and whites.
Colin Powell shows great strength in polls as a potential presidential candidate.
Million Man March in Washington, led by Louis Farrakhan.
Bill Clinton reelected president.
Taped meeting of Texaco executives planning to impede lawsuit on discrimination; followed by steps by Texaco chairman to show good faith in improving opportunities for minorities.
Several black congressmen from previously black majority districts in South win reelection from new white majority districts.
Referendum to end affirmative action passes in California: 54% to 46%.
Controversy over possible addition of “multiracial” category to Census.
Controversy over role of Ebonics in teaching black children.
Civil trial of O.J. Simpson ends with unanimous verdict that preponderance of evidence shows defendant responsible for deaths of N. Brown and R. Goldman. Racial divide remains after verdict, accentuated by radically different racial composition of the two juries.
July – Under pressure from the NAACP, the Confederate flag is removed from the top of the South Carolina statehouse.
Wichita Massacre, gruesome murder of several whites by Reginald and Jonathan Carr.
2001-2009, George W. Bush administration
“War on Terror,” 2001-
John Allen Muhammad commits a racial serial murder spree in the Washington, D.C. area.
Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, racial chaos ensues.
January 16 – Greenville County, South Carolina becomes the last county in America to adopt the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
The Voting Rights Act is reauthorized by Congress and extended for 25 years.
Barack Hussein Obama elected as the first black president of the United States.
2009-2013, Barack Hussein Obama Administration
Progress: Sonia Sotomayor becomes first Latina Supreme Court justice.
Regress: Harvard professor, renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering—at his own home.
Progress: Federal courts halt enforcement of President Trump’s order effectively banning Muslim immigrants from seven countries.
Regress:Trump signs revised order; stays silent in face of increasing violence against mosques; moves forward on Dakota Access Pipeline, Mexican border wall….
I started this article with a Timeline of Racism from 1900 to the present. Now I will continue on with the discussion on Racism in America. To understand our current racial status I will have to discuss our pre-1900 history briefly. I will only deal with the slave issue briefly in this article, because I have discussed the subject thoroughly in an Article on the history of Slavery. https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/15/slavery-our-place-in-its-history/
I will limit this article to African American Race Relations. I will deal with our history of Native Americans to a future series of articles. This subject certainly deserves a thorough study unto itself. I will also deal with Asian Americans in a separate article.
Racism in the United States traces negative attitudes and views relating to race or ethnicity held by various people and groups in the United States which have been reflected at various times in discriminatory laws, practices and actions (including violence) against racial or ethnic groups. Throughout United States history, white Americans have in general enjoyed legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights which have at various times been denied to members of various ethnic or minority groups. European Americans, particularly affluent white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, are said to have enjoyed advantages in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, bankruptcy, and criminal procedure.
Racism against various ethnic or minority groups has existed in the United States since the colonial era. African Americans in particular have faced restrictions on their political, social, and economic freedoms throughout much of United States history. Native Americans have suffered genocide, forced removals, and massacres, and they continue to face discrimination. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, particularly Jews, Irish people, Poles, and Italians, were often subjected to xenophobic exclusion and other forms of ethnicity-based discrimination. In addition, East, South, and Southeast Asians along with Pacific Islanders have also been discriminated against. Hispanics have continuously experienced racism despite many of them having European ancestry.
Racism has manifested itself in a variety of ways, including genocide, slavery, segregation, Native American reservations, Native American boarding schools, immigration and naturalization laws, and internment camps. Formal racial discrimination was largely banned by the mid-20th century and over time, coming to be perceived as being socially and morally unacceptable. Racial politics remains a major phenomenon, and racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality. In recent years research has uncovered extensive evidence of racial discrimination in various sectors of modern U.S. society, including the criminal justice system, business, the economy, housing, health care, the media, and politics. 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.”
Some Americans saw the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, who served as president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and was the nation’s first black president, as a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era. The election of President Donald Trump in 2016, who was a chief proponent of the racist birther movement in the US (which argued that Obama was not born in the United States) and ran a racially tinged campaign, has been viewed by some commentators as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama. Before and after the election, Trump has had a history of speech and actions that have been widely viewed as racist or racially charged. During the mid-2010s, American society has seen a resurgence of high levels of racism and discrimination. One new phenomenon has been the rise of the “alt-right” movement: a white nationalist coalition which seeks the expulsion of sexual and racial minorities from the United States. Since the mid-2010s, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have identified white supremacist violence as the leading threat of domestic terrorism in the United States.
Racism is a systematized form of oppression which is developed by members of one race in order to persecute members of another race. Prejudicial attitudes existed between races for thousands of years, but systematized racial oppression first arose in the 1600s along with capitalism; the confluence of the two, capitalism and racial oppression, was deemed racial capitalism. Before this period, racism did not exist and in many cultures, slaves were usually taken as a result of military conquest. But when European traders discovered that their superior technology gave them a tremendous advantage in Africa, including their sailing ships and firearms, they began to plunder Africa’s wealth and take slaves. Slavers and slave owners both tried to justify the practice of slavery by convincing themselves that before their African slaves were captured and enslaved, they had no previous culture and lived like savages, a totally false assumption. White European Americans who participated in the slave industry tried to justify their economic exploitation of black people by creating a “scientific” theory of white superiority and black inferiority. One such slave owner was Thomas Jefferson, and it was his call for science to determine the obvious “inferiority” of blacks that is regarded as “an extremely important stage in the evolution of scientific racism.” He concluded that blacks were “inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.”
Anti-miscegenation laws, which forbade marriage and even sex between whites and non-whites (which typically covered blacks but in some cases also Indians and Asians), existed in most of the states well into the 20th century, even after emancipation and even in states that advocated the abolition of slavery. Such anti-miscegenation laws existed in many states until 1967, when the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that such laws were unconstitutional.
Citizenship and voting rights
The Naturalization Act of 1790 set the first uniform rules for the granting of United States citizenship by naturalization, which limited naturalisation to “free white person[s]”, thus excluding from citizenship Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and later Asians. Citizenship and the lack of it had special impact on various legal and political rights, most notably suffrage rights at both the federal and state level, as well as the right to hold certain government offices, jury duty, military service, and many other activities, besides access to government assistance and services. The second Militia Act of 1792 also provided for the conscription of every “free able-bodied white male citizen”. Tennessee’s 1834 Constitution included a provision: “the free white men of this State have a right to Keep and bear arms for their common defense.”
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, made under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, allowed those Choctaw Indians who chose to remain in Mississippi to gain recognition as US citizens, the first major non-European ethnic group to become entitled to US citizenship.
During the American Civil War, as a war necessity, the Militia Act of 1862, for the first time, allowed African-Americans to serve in the Union militias as soldiers and war laborers. By such enrolment, these blacks and their families were freed from slavery, if their owner was a rebel. However, black members were discriminated against in pay, with black members being paid half of white members. Besides discrimination in pay, colored units were often disproportionately assigned laborer work, rather than combat assignments. General Daniel Ullman, commander of the Corps d’Afrique, remarked “I fear that many high officials outside of Washington have no other intention than that these men shall be used as diggers and drudges.” Black members were organised into colored regiments. By the end of that war, in April 1865, there were 175 colored regiments constituting about one-tenth of the Union Army. About 20% of colored soldiers died, about 35% higher than that of white Union troops. The 1862 Militia Act, however, did not open military service to all races, only to black Americans. Non-whites were not permitted to serve in the Confederate army, except sometimes for camp labor.
The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended naturalization to black persons, but not to other non-white persons, but revoked the citizenship of naturalized Chinese Americans. The law relied on coded language to exclude “aliens ineligible for citizenship” which primarily applied to Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
Native Americans were granted citizenship in a piece-meal manner until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which unilaterally bestowed on them blanket citizenship status, whether they belonged to a federally recognized tribe or not, though by that date two-thirds of Native Americans had already become US citizens by various means. The Act was not retroactive, so that citizenship did not extend to Native Americans born before the effective date of the 1924 Act, or outside of the United States as an indigenous person. Even Native Americans who gained citizenship under the 1924 Act were not guaranteed voting rights until 1948. According to a survey by the Department of Interior, seven states still refused to grant Indians voting rights in 1938. Discrepancies between federal and state control provided loopholes in the Act’s enforcement. States justified discrimination based on state statutes and constitutions. Three main arguments for Indian voting exclusion were Indian exemption from real estate taxes, maintenance of tribal affiliation and the notion that Indians were under guardianship, or lived on lands controlled by federal trusteeship. By 1947, all states with large Indian populations, except Arizona and New Mexico, had extended voting rights to Native Americans who qualified under the 1924 Act. Finally, in 1948, a judicial decision forced the remaining states to withdraw their prohibition on Indian voting.
Further changes to racial eligibility for citizenship by naturalization were made after 1940, when eligibility was extended to “descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere,” “Filipino persons or persons of Filipino descent,” “Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent,” and “persons of races indigenous to India.” The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 prohibits racial and gender discrimination in naturalization.
Citizenship, however, did not guarantee any particular rights, such as the right to vote. Black Americans, for example, who gained formal US citizenship by 1870, were soon disenfranchised. For example, after 1890, less than 9,000 of Mississippi’s 147,000 eligible African-American voters were registered to vote, or about 6%. Louisiana went from 130,000 registered African-American voters in 1896 to 1,342 in 1904 (about a 99% decrease). They were also subjected to Black Codes and discriminated against in the Southern states by Jim Crow laws. Voter suppression efforts around the country, though mainly motivated by political considerations, often effectively disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities. In 2016, one in 13 African-Americans of voting age was disenfranchised, more than four times greater than that of non-African-Americans. Over 7.4% of adult African-Americans were disenfranchised compared to 1.8% of non-African-Americans. Felony disenfranchisement in Florida disqualifies over 10% of its citizens for life and over 23% of its African-American citizens.
Slavery, as a form of forced labor, has existed in many cultures, dating back to early human civilizations. Slavery is not inherently racial per se. In the United States, however, slavery became racialized by the time of the American Revolution (1775–1783), when slavery was widely institutionalized as a racial caste system which was based on African ancestry and skin color.
Atlantic slave trade
The Atlantic slave trade prospered, with more than 470,000 slaves having been forcibly transported from Africa between 1626 and 1860 to what is now the United States. Prior to the Civil War, eight serving presidents owned slaves, a practice which was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Providing wealth for the white elite, approximately one in four Southern families 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 of approximately 7 million in the slave states.
Groups of armed white men, who were called slave patrols, were formed to monitor enslaved black people. First established in South Carolina in 1704 and later established in other slave states, their function was to police slaves, especially runaways. Slave owners feared that slaves might organize revolts or rebellions, so state militias were formed in order to provide a military command structure and discipline within the slave patrols so they could be used to detect, encounter, and crush any organized slave meetings which might lead to revolts or rebellions.
Steps toward the abolition of slavery
During the 1820s and 1830s, the solution of the American Colonization Society (ACS) to the presence of free blacks was to persuade them to emigrate to Africa. In 1821, the ACS established the colony of Liberia, and persuaded thousands of former slaves and free black people to move there. Some slaves were manumitted (set free) on condition that they emigrate. The slave states made no secret that they wanted to get rid of free blacks, who they believed threatened their investment, the slaves, encouraging escapes and revolts. The support for the ACS was primarily Southern. The founder of the ACS, Henry Clay of Kentucky, stated that because of “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”. Thousands of black people were resettled in Liberia, where they formed an American English speaking enclave which could not assimilate back into African life and as a result, most of them died of tropical diseases.
Although the “importation” of slaves into the United States was outlawed by federal law from 1808, the domestic trade in slaves continued to be a major economic activity. Maryland and Virginia, for example, would “export” its surplus slaves to the south. Enslaved family members could be split up (ie., sold off) never to see or hear of each other again. Between 1830 and 1840, nearly 250,000 slaves were taken across state lines. In the 1850s, more than 193,000 were transported, and historians estimate nearly one million in total were traded. Slavery itself was abolished in the 1860s.
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”. 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.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which came into effect on January 1, 1863, marked a change in the federal government’s position on slavery. (Up to that time, the federal government had never even taken a limited pro-emancipation stance, and it could only do so in 1862 because of the 1861 departure of almost all of the Southern members of Congress). Though the proclamation was welcomed by abolitionists, its application had limitations. It did not apply, for example, to the nearly 500,000 slaves in the slave-holding border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and the new state of West Virginia, and it also did not apply in those portions of some states which were loyal to the Union, such as Virginia. In those states, slavery remained legal until abolished by state action, or by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865.
Lincoln believed that the federal government did not have the authority to abolish slavery; that would violate states’ rights. But he was also Commander of the Armed Forces. An action against states which were in rebellion, a step towards their defeat, was entirely appropriate. The South interpreted it as a hostile act. This allowed Lincoln to abolish slavery to a limited extent, without igniting resistance from anti-abolitionist forces in the Union. None of the slaves who lived outside the border areas were immediately affected, and it was the invading Northern armies which enforced the prohibition.
While personally opposed to slavery, Lincoln believed that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to end it, stating in his first Inaugural Address that he “had no objection to [this] being made express and irrevocable” via the Corwin Amendment. 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.” The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to areas which were 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.
About four million black slaves were freed in 1865. 95% of blacks lived in the South, comprising one third of its total population, while only 5% of blacks lived in the North, comprising only 1% of its total population. Consequently, fears of eventual emancipation were much greater in the South than in the North. Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of males who were aged 13 to 43 died in the Civil War, including 6% in the North and 18% in the South.
Though the Thirteenth Amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, some black Americans became subjected to revised forms of involuntary labor, particularly in the South, such as Black Codes that restricted African Americans’ freedom, and compelled them to work for low wages. They were also subject to white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes.
Reconstruction Era to World War II
After the Civil War, the 13th amendment which was passed in 1865, formally abolishing slavery, was ratified. Furthermore, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which broadened a range of civil rights and granted them to all persons who were born in the United States. Despite this, the emergence of “Black Codes“, sanctioned acts of subjugation against blacks, continued to bar African-Americans from exercising their due civil rights. The Naturalization Act of 1790 only granted U.S. citizenship to whites, and in 1868 the effort to broaden civil rights was underscored by the passage of the 14th amendment which granted citizenship to blacks. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 followed, which was eliminated in a decision that undermined federal power to thwart private racial discrimination. 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 which deprived African-Americans of voting rights by instituting systemic and discriminatory policies of unequal racial segregation. Segregation, which began with slavery, continued with the passage and enforcement of Jim Crow laws, along with the posting of signs which were used to show blacks where they could legally walk, talk, drink, rest, or eat. For those places that were racially mixed, non-whites had to wait until all white customers were dealt with. Segregated facilities extended from white-only schools to white-only graveyards.
The new century saw a hardening of institutionalized racism and legal discrimination against citizens of African descent in the United States. Throughout the post Civil War period, racial stratification was informally and systemically enforced, in order to solidify the pre-existing social order. Although they were technically able to vote, poll taxes, pervasive acts of terrorism such as lynchings (often perpetrated by hate groups such as the reborn Ku Klux Klan, founded in the Reconstruction South), and discriminatory laws such as grandfather clauses kept black Americans (and many Poor Whites) disenfranchised particularly in the South. Furthermore, the discrimination was extended to state legislation which “allocated vastly unequal financial support” for black and white schools. In addition to this, county officials sometimes redistributed resources which were earmarked for blacks to white schools, further undermining educational opportunities. In response to de jure racism, protest and lobbyist groups emerged, most notably, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909.
This era is sometimes referred to as the nadir of American race relations because racism, segregation, racial discrimination, and expressions of white supremacy all increased. So did anti-black violence, including race riots such as the Atlanta Race riot of 1906 and the Tulsa race riot of 1921. The Atlanta riot was characterized as a “racial massacre of negroes” by the French newspaper Le Petit Journal. The Charleston News and Courier wrote in response to the Atlanta riots: “Separation of the races is the only radical solution of the negro problem in this country. There is nothing new about it. It was the Almighty who established the bounds of the habitation of the races. The negroes were brought here by compulsion; they should be induced to leave here by persuasion.”
The Great Migration
In addition, racism, which had been viewed as a problem which primarily existed in the Southern states, burst onto the nation’s consciousness following the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African Americans from their roots in the rural Southern states to the industrial centers of the North and West between 1910 and 1970, particularly in cities such as Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, New York City (Harlem), Cleveland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver. Within Chicago, for example, between 1910 and 1970, the percentage of African-Americans leapt from 2.0 percent to 32.7 percent. The demographic patterns of black migrants and external economic conditions are largely studied stimulants regarding the Great Migration. For example, migrating blacks (between 1910 and 1920) were more likely to be literate than blacks who remained in the South. Known economic push factors played a role in migration, such as the emergence of a split labor market and agricultural distress which resulted from the boll weevil destruction of the cotton economy.
Southern migrants were often treated in accordance with pre-existing racial stratification. The rapid influx of blacks into the North and West disturbed the racial balance within cities, exacerbating hostility between both black and white residents in the two regions. Stereotypic schemas of Southern blacks were used to attribute issues in urban areas, such as crime and disease, to the presence of African-Americans. Overall, African-Americans in most Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life. Within employment, economic opportunities for blacks were routed to the lowest-status and restrictive in potential mobility. In 1900 Reverend Matthew Anderson, speaking at the annual Hampton Negro Conference in Virginia, said that “…the lines along most of the avenues of wage earning are more rigidly drawn in the North than in the South. There seems to be an apparent effort throughout the North, especially in the cities to debar the colored worker from all the avenues of higher remunerative labor, which makes it more difficult to improve his economic condition even than in the South.” Within the housing market, stronger discriminatory measures were used in correlation to the influx, resulting in a mix of “targeted violence, restrictive covenants, redlining and racial steering”. A club central to the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, was a whites-only establishment, with black acts allowed to perform, but to a white audience.
Throughout this period, racial tensions exploded, most violently in Chicago, and lynchings—mob-directed hangings, usually racially motivated—increased dramatically in the 1920s. Urban riots—whites attacking blacks—became a northern and western problem. Many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, while many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight. Racially restrictive housing covenants were ruled unenforceable under the Fourteenth Amendment in the 1948 landmark Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer.
Elected in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the practice of racial segregation throughout the federal government’s bureaucracy. In World War I, blacks who served in the United States Armed Forces served in segregated units. Black soldiers were often poorly trained and equipped, and they were often put on the frontlines and forced to go on suicide missions. The U.S. military was still heavily segregated during World War II. In addition, no African-American was awarded the Medal of Honor during the war, and sometimes, black soldiers who traveled on trains had to give their seats up to Nazi prisoners of war.
World War II to the Civil Rights Movement
The Jim Crow Laws were state and local laws which were enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated “separate but equal” status for blacks. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those which were provided to whites. The most important laws required that public schools, public places and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. State-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. One of the first federal court cases which challenged segregation in schools was Mendez v. Westminster in 1946.
By the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Membership in the NAACP increased in states across the U.S. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago. Spending the summer with his relatives in Money, Mississippi, Till was killed for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman. Till had been badly beaten, one of his eyes was gouged out, and he was shot in the head before being thrown into the Tallahatchie River, his body weighed down with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. David Jackson writes that Mamie Till, Emmett’s Mother, “brought him home to Chicago and insisted on an open casket. Tens of thousands filed past Till’s remains, but it was the publication of the searing funeral image in Jet, with a stoic Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s ravaged body, that forced the world to reckon with the brutality of American racism.” News photographs were circulated around the country, and they drew an intense public reaction. The visceral response to his mother’s decision to have an open-casket funeral mobilized the black community throughout the U.S. Vann R. Newkirk wrote “the trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of white supremacy“. The state of Mississippi tried two defendants, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, but they were speedily acquitted by an all-white jury.
In response to heightening discrimination and violence, non-violent acts of protest began to occur. For example, in February 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina, four young African-American college students entered a Woolworth store and sat down at the counter but were refused service. The men had learned about non-violent protest in college, and continued to sit peacefully as whites tormented them at the counter, pouring ketchup on their heads and burning them with cigarettes. After this, many sit-ins took place in order to non-violently protest against racism and inequality. Sit-ins continued throughout the South and spread to other areas. Eventually, after many sit-ins and other non-violent protests, including marches and boycotts, places began to agree to desegregate.
In June 1963, civil rights activist and NAACP member Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council. In his trials for murder De La Beckwith evaded conviction via all-white juries (both trials ended with hung juries).
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights Era. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 with a stack of dynamite hidden on an outside staircase, Ku Klux Klansmen destroyed one side of the Birmingham church. The bomb exploded in proximity to twenty-six children who were preparing for choir practice in the basement assembly room. The explosion killed four black girls, Carole Robertson (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Denise McNair (11) and Addie Mae Collins (14).
With the bombing occurring only a couple of weeks after Martin Luther King Jr.‘s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it became an integral aspect of transformed perceptions of conditions for blacks in America. It influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions) and Voting Rights Act of 1965 which overruled remaining Jim Crow laws. Nonetheless, neither had been implemented by the end of the 1960s as civil rights leaders continued to strive for political and social freedom.
The first anti-miscegenation law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1691, criminalizing interracial marriage. By the late 1800s, 38 US states had anti-miscegenation statutes, and by 1924 it was still in force in 29 states. In 1958, officers in Virginia entered the home of Richard and Mildred Loving and dragged them out of bed for living together as an interracial couple, on the basis that “any white person intermarry with a colored person”— or vice versa—each party “shall be guilty of a felony” and face prison terms of five years. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.
Segregation continued even after the demise of the Jim Crow laws. Data on house prices and attitudes towards integration suggest that in the mid-20th century, segregation was a product of collective actions taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods. Segregation also took the form of redlining, the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. Although in the U.S. informal discrimination and segregation have always existed, redlining began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The practice was fought first through passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (which prevents redlining when the criteria for redlining are based on race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, or ethnic origin), and later through the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which requires banks to apply the same lending criteria in all communities. Although redlining is illegal some argue that it continues to exist in other forms.
Up until the 1940s, the full revenue potential of what was called “the Negro market” was largely ignored by white-owned manufacturers in the U.S. with advertising focused on whites. Blacks were also denied commercial deals. On his decision to take part in exhibition races against racehorses in order to earn money, Olympic champion Jesse Owens stated, “People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.” On the lack of opportunities, Owens added, “There was no television, no big advertising, no endorsements then. Not for a black man, anyway.” In the reception to honor his Olympic success Owens was not permitted to enter through the main doors of the Waldorf Astoria New York and instead forced to travel up to the event in a freight elevator. The first black Academy Award recipient Hattie McDaniel was not permitted to attend the premiere of Gone with the Wind with Georgia being racially segregated, and at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles she was required to sit at a segregated table at the far wall of the room; the hotel had a strict no-blacks policy, but allowed McDaniel in as a favor. Her final wish to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery was denied because the graveyard was restricted to whites only.
As the civil rights movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern U.S, a Republican Party electoral strategy – the Southern strategy – was enacted in order to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans. Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. In 1971, angered by African delegates at the UN siding against the U.S. in a vote to admit China and expel Taiwan, then Governor of California Ronald Reagan stated in a phone call to president Nixon, “To see those… those monkeys from those African countries – damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” The perception that the Republican Party had served as the “vehicle of white supremacy in the South”, particularly post 1964, made it difficult for the Party to win back the support of black voters in the South in later years. In 1973, African-American baseball legend Hank Aaron received hundreds of thousands of hate mail letters from fans, angry at him for trying to break the all-time homerun record at the time set by Babe Ruth. Aaron would eventually break Ruth’s homerun record by hitting his 715th homerun on April 8th, 1974. That same year, the U.S. Postal Service confirmed that Hank Aaron set the Guinness World Record for most mail received by any private citizen in one year, receiving over 900,000 letters with a third of them being letters of hate.
1980s to the present
While substantial gains were made in the succeeding decades through middle class advancement and public employment, black poverty and lack of education continued in the context of de-industrialization. Despite gains made after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, some violence against black churches has also continued – 145 fires were set to churches around the South in the 1990s, and a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina was committed in 2015 at the historic Mother Emanuel Church.
From 1981 to 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against tens of thousands of black American farmers, denying loans that were provided to white farmers in similar circumstances. The discrimination was the subject of the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit brought by members of the National Black Farmers Association, which resulted in two settlement agreements of $1.06 billion in 1999 and of $1.25 billion in 2009.
Numerous authors, academics, and historians have asserted that the War on Drugs has been racially and politically motivated. As the crack epidemic spread across the country in the mid 1980s, Congress would pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Under these sentencing guidelines, five grams of crack cocaine, often sold by and to African-Americans, carried a mandatory five-year prison sentence. However, for powder cocaine, often sold by and to white Americans, it would take one hundred times that amount, or 500 grams, for the same sentence, leading many to criticize the law as discriminatory. The 100:1 sentencing disparity was reduced to 18:1 in 2010 by the Fair Sentencing Act. This was compounded by the fact that during the same time the law was passed, the right-wing Nicaraguan Contra rebels, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, were smuggling thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States, cocaine that was making its way into American inner cities as crack. While the Reagan administration drastically escalated the War on Drugs, officials in the Reagan administration, including Oliver North, knew about and encouraged using drug money to fund the Contras. In 1989, the Kerry Committee report concluded the Contra drug links included… “Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies”. Despite these findings, it wasn’t until 1996 where a reporter named Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News picked up on the story, linking the CIA-backed Contras to the crack epidemic. The outrage in the African-American community was enormous, particularly in South Central Los Angeles, where Congresswoman Maxine Waters served, and subsequently praised Webb’s Dark Alliance series.
During the 1980s and ’90s, a number of riots occurred that were related to longstanding racial tensions between police and minority communities. The 1980 Miami riots were catalyzed by the killing of an African-American motorist by four white Miami-Dade Police officers. They were subsequently acquitted on charges of manslaughter and evidence tampering. Similarly, the six-day 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who had been filmed beating Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Harlem-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has identified more than 100 instances of mass racial violence in the United States since 1935 and has noted that almost every instance was precipitated by a police incident.
Politically, the “winner-take-all” structure that applies to 48 out of 50 states in the electoral college benefits white representation, as no state has voters of color as the majority of the electorate. This has been described as structural bias and often leads voters of color to feel politically alienated, and therefore not to vote. The lack of representation in Congress has also led to lower voter turnout. As of 2016, African Americans only made up 8.7% of Congress, and Latinos 7%.
Many cite the 2008 United States presidential election as a step forward in race relations: white Americans played a role in electing Barack Obama, the country’s first black president. In fact, Obama received a greater percentage of the white vote (43%), than did the previous Democratic candidate, John Kerry (41%). Racial divisions persisted throughout the election; wide margins of Black voters gave Obama an edge during the presidential primary, where 8 out of 10 African-Americans voted for him in the primaries, and an MSNBC poll found that race was a key factor in whether a candidate was perceived as being ready for office. In South Carolina, for instance, “Whites were far likelier to name Clinton than Obama as being most qualified to be commander in chief, likeliest to unite the country and most apt to capture the White House in November. Blacks named Obama over Clinton by even stronger margins—two- and three-to one—in all three areas.”
Sociologist Russ Long stated in 2013 that there is now a more subtle racism that associates a specific race with a specific characteristic. In a 1993 study conducted by Katz and Braly, it was presented that “blacks and whites hold a variety of stereotypes towards each other, often negative”. The Katz and Braley study also found that African-Americans and whites view the traits that they identify each other with as threatening, interracial communication between the two is likely to be “hesitant, reserved, and concealing”. Interracial communication is guided by stereotypes; stereotypes are transferred into personality and character traits which then have an effect on communication. Multiple factors go into how stereotypes are established, such as age and the setting in which they are being applied. For example, in a study done by the Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media in 2014, 89% of black women in movies are shown swearing and exhibiting offensive behavior while only 17% of white women are portrayed in this manner.
In 2012, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old teenager, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch volunteer, claimed that Martin was being suspicious and called the Sanford police to report him. While on the call to police, Zimmerman began following Martin. Between ending his call with police and their arrival, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin outside of the townhouse he was staying at following an altercation. Zimmerman was injured in the altercation and claimed self-defense. The incident caused national outrage after Zimmerman was not charged over the shooting. The national coverage of the incident lead Sandford police to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with second-degree murder, but he was found not guilty at trial. Public outcry followed the acquittal and created an abundance of mistrust between minorities and the Sanford police.
In 2014, the police shooting of Michael Brown, an African American, in Ferguson, Missouri led to widespread unrest in the town. In the years following, mass media has followed other high profile police shootings of African-Americans, often with video evidence from police body-worn cameras. Amongst 15 high-profile police shooting deaths of African-Americans, only one officer faced prison time. High-profile shooting deaths of African-Americans led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. The U.S. Justice department launched the National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice in 2014. This program collects data concerning racial profiling to create change in the criminal justice system concerning implicit and explicit racial bias towards African-Americans as well as other minorities.
In August 2017, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a rare warning to the US and its leadership to “unequivocally and unconditionally” condemn racist speech and crime, following violence in Charlottesville during a rally organized by white nationalists, white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis and various right-wing militias in August.
White women calling the police on blacks has become more publicized in recent years. In a 2020 article in The New York Times titled How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror, black columnist Charles M. Blow wrote, “historically, white women have used the violence of white men and the institutions these men control as their own muscle. Untold numbers of lynchings were executed because white women had claimed that a black man raped, assaulted, talked to or glanced at them. This exercise in racial extremism has been dragged into the modern era through the weaponizing of 9-1-1, often by white women, to invoke the power and force of the police who they are fully aware are hostile to black men“. White women in the U.S. who used their white privilege as a weapon have been given a different name over the centuries by black people, with Karen a contemporary name. In May 2020, a white woman calling the police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park, New York received wide publicity after it was caught on film. After he had asked her to put her dog on a leash (as per the rules in an area of the park to protect other wildlife), she approached him, to which he responded “Please don’t come close to me”, before she yelled, “I’m taking a picture and calling the cops. I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” During her phone call, with the man standing a distance away from her and recording her, she spoke in an audibly distraught voice, “There’s a man, African American, he is.. threatening me and my dog. Please send the cops immediately!”. Other examples of white women calling the police on blacks include reporting an eight-year-old girl for selling bottles of water without a permit in San Francisco, reporting a black family barbecuing in a park in Oakland, California, blocking a black man from entering an apartment building in St. Louis, Missouri where he is a resident before calling the police, and a woman accusing a boy of groping her in a store in Brooklyn, New York, which was disproven by surveillance.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis Police Department officer, Derek Chauvin, who forced his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. All four police officers present were fired the next day, and later arrested. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, and the other three officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the US, beginning in Minneapolis. The official postmortem report on June 1, 2020, confirmed that the death was a homicide.
Historian Matthew White estimates that 3.3 million more non-white people died from 1900 up to the 1960s than they would have if they had died at the same rate as white people.
Using The Schedule of Racist Events (SRE), an 18-item self-report inventory which assesses the frequency of racist discrimination, Hope Landrine and Elizabeth A. Klonoff found that racist discrimination is rampant in the lives of African Americans and as a result, it is strongly related to psychiatric symptoms. A study on racist events in the lives of African American women found that lifetime experiences of racism were positively related to lifetime histories of both physical disease and the frequency of recent common colds. These relationships were largely unaccounted for by other variables. Demographic variables such as income and educational inequality were not related to experiences of racism. The results suggest that racism can be detrimental to African Americans’ well-being. The physiological stress caused by racism has been documented in studies by Claude Steele, Joshua Aronson, and Steven Spencer on what they term “stereotype threat.” Quite similarly, another example of the psychosocial consequences of discrimination have been observed in a study sampling Mexican-origin participants in Fresno, California. It was found that perceived discrimination is correlated with depressive symptoms, especially for those less acculturated in the United States, like Mexican immigrants and migrants.
Along the vein of somatic responses to discrimination, Kennedy et al. found that both measures of collective disrespect were strongly correlated to black mortality (r = 0.53 to 0.56), as well as white mortality (r = 0.48 to 0.54). This data suggests that racism, measured as an ecological characteristic, is associated with a higher mortality rate among both blacks and whites. Some researchers also suggest that racial segregation may lead to disparities in health and mortality. Thomas LaVeist tested the hypothesis that segregation would aid in explaining race differences in infant mortality rates across cities. Analyzing 176 large and midsized cities, LaVeist found support for the hypothesis. Since LaVeist’s studies, segregation has received increased attention as a determinant of racial disparities in mortality. Studies have shown that mortality rates for male and female African Americans are lower in areas with lower levels of residential segregation. Mortality for male and female whites was not associated in either direction with residential segregation.
Researchers Sharon A. Jackson, Roger T. Anderson, Norman J. Johnson and Paul D. Sorlie found that, after adjustment for family income, mortality risk increased with increasing minority residential segregation among Blacks aged 25 to 44 years and non-Blacks aged 45 to 64 years. In most age/race/gender groups, the highest and lowest mortality risks occurred in the highest and lowest categories of residential segregation, respectively. These results suggest that minority residential segregation may influence mortality risk and underscore the traditional emphasis on the social underpinnings of disease and death. Rates of heart disease among African Americans are associated with the segregation patterns in the neighborhoods where they live (Fang et al. 1998). Stephanie A. Bond Huie writes that neighborhoods affect health and mortality outcomes primarily in an indirect fashion through environmental factors such as smoking, diet, exercise, stress, and access to health insurance and medical providers. Moreover, segregation strongly influences premature mortality in the US.
Much research has been done on the effects of racism on adults, but racism and discrimination also affects children and teens. From infancy to adolescence, studies document a children’s growth in understanding of race from being aware of race to later understanding how race and prejudice affects their life, the lives of others’, and society as a whole. The comprehensive literature review of 214 published articles with key words related to the topic, such as discrimination, racism, and prejudice for adolescents aged 10–20 years highlighted a link between teens’ experiences of racial and ethnic discrimination and “their socioemotional distress, academic success, and risky health behaviors”. This study chose larger sample sized and peer reviewed studies, over smaller sampled and non-peer reviewed studies.
In this review, researchers showed links between racial discrimination and lower socioemotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes. The socioemotional variable included depression, internalized symptoms, self-esteem, and positive well-being; academics included achievement, engagement, and motivation; and behavioral outcomes included externalized behaviors, substance abuse, deviant peer associations, and risky sexual behaviors. Researchers examined the links between discrimination and other demographic variables such as race, age, and country of residence. When looking at the impact of race/ethnicity, results show that Asian and Latino youth show greater socioemotional distress and Latino youth show lower academic outcomes. Younger teens (10 to 13 years) experience more socioemotional distress than those in middle or late teens. Furthermore, when looking at county of residence, teens in the United States have a much stronger link to socioemotional distress than other countries included in the review.
As early as 1866, the Civil Rights Act provided a remedy for intentional race discrimination in employment by private employers and state and local public employers. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 applies to public employment or employment involving state action prohibiting deprivation of rights secured by the federal constitution or federal laws through action under color of law. Title VII is the principal federal statute with regard to employment discrimination prohibiting unlawful employment discrimination by public and private employers, labor organizations, training programs and employment agencies based on race or color, religion, gender, and national origin. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against any person for opposing any practice forbidden by statute, or for making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in a proceeding under the statute. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded the damages available in Title VII cases and granted Title VII plaintiffs the right to a jury trial. Title VII also provides that race and color discrimination against every race and color is prohibited.
Schemas and stereotypes
Popular culture (songs, theater) for European American audiences in the 19th century created and perpetuated negative stereotypes of African Americans. One key symbol of racism against African Americans was the use of blackface. Directly related to this was the institution of minstrelsy. Other stereotypes of African Americans included the fat, dark-skinned “mammy” and the irrational, hypersexual male “buck”.
In recent years increasing numbers of African-American activists have asserted that rap music videos commonly utilize scantily clothed African-American performers posing as thugs or pimps. The NAACP and the National Congress of Black Women also have called for the reform of images on videos and on television. Julian Bond said that in a segregated society, people get their impressions of other groups from what they see in videos and what they hear in music.
In a similar vein, activists protested against the BET show, Hot Ghetto Mess, which satirizes the culture of working-class African-Americans. The protests resulted in the change of the television show name to We Got to Do Better.
It is understood that representations of minorities in the media have the ability to reinforce or change stereotypes. For example, in one study, a collection of white subjects were primed by a comedy skit either showing a stereotypical or neutral portrayal of African-American characters. Participants were then required to read a vignette describing an incident of sexual violence, with the alleged offender either white or black, and assign a rating for perceived guilt. For those shown the stereotypical African-American character, there was a significantly higher guilt rating for black alleged offender in the subsequent vignette, in comparison to the other conditions.
While schemas have an overt societal consequence, the strong development of them have lasting effect on recipients. Overall, it is found that strong in-group attitudes are correlated with academic and economic success. In a study analyzing the interaction of assimilation and racial-ethnic schemas for Hispanic youth found that strong schematic identities for Hispanic youth undermined academic achievement.
Additional stereotypes attributed to minorities continue to influence societal interactions. For example, a 1993 Harvard Law Review article states that Asian-Americans are commonly viewed as submissive, as a combination of relative physical stature and Western comparisons of cultural attitudes. Furthermore, Asian-Americans are depicted as the model minority, unfair competitors, foreigners, and indistinguishable. These stereotypes can serve to dehumanize Asian-Americans and catalyze hostility and violence.
Formal discrimination against minorities has been present throughout American history. Leland T. Saito, Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, writes, “Political rights have been circumscribed by race, class and gender since the founding of the United States, when the right to vote was restricted to white men of property. Throughout the history of the United States race has been used by whites – a category that has also shifted through time – for legitimizing and creating difference and social, economic and political exclusion.”
Within education, a survey of black students in sixteen majority white universities found that four of five African-Americans reported some form of racial discrimination. For example, in February 1988, the University of Michigan enforced a new anti discrimination code following the distribution of fliers saying blacks “don’t belong in classrooms, they belong hanging from trees”. Other forms of reported discrimination were refusal to sit next to black in lecture, ignored input in class settings, and informal segregation. While the penalties are imposed, the psychological consequences of formal discrimination can still manifest. Black students, for example, reported feelings of heightened isolation and suspicion. Furthermore, studies have shown that academic performance is stunted for black students with these feelings as a result of their campus race interactions.
Minority racism is sometimes considered controversial because of theories of power in society. Some theories of racism insist that racism can only exist in the context of social power so it can be imposed upon others. Yet discrimination and racism has also been noted between racially marginalized groups. For example, there has been ongoing violence between African American and Mexican American gangs, particularly in Southern California. There have been reports of racially motivated attacks against Mexican Americans who have moved into neighborhoods occupied mostly by African Americans, and vice versa. According to gang experts and law enforcement agents, a longstanding race war between the Mexican Mafia and the Black Guerilla Family, a rival African American prison gang, has generated such intense racial hatred among Mexican Mafia leaders, or shot callers, that they have issued a “green light” on all blacks. This amounts to a standing authorization for Latino gang members to prove their mettle by terrorizing or even murdering any blacks sighted in a neighborhood claimed by a gang loyal to the Mexican Mafia. There have been several significant riots in California prisons where Mexican American inmates and African Americans have targeted each other particularly, based on racial reasons.
Conflict has also been noted between recent immigrant groups and their established ethnic counterparts within the United States. Rapidly-growing communities of African and Caribbean immigrants have come into conflict with American blacks. The amount of interaction and cooperation between black immigrants and American blacks is, ironically, debatable. One can argue that racial discrimination and cooperation are not ordinarily based on skin color, but are instead based on shared or common, cultural experiences and beliefs.
In a manner that defines interpersonal discrimination in the United States, Darryl Brown of the Virginia Law Review states that while “our society has established a consensus against blatant, intentional racism in the decades since Brown v Board of Education and it has also developed a sizeable set of legal remedies to address it”, our legal system “ignores the possibility that ‘race’ is structural or interstitial, that it can be the root of injury even when it is not traceable to a specific intention or action.”
Unlike formal discrimination, interpersonal discrimination is often not an overt or deliberate act of racism. For example, in an incident regarding a racial remark which was made by a professor at Virginia Law, a rift was created by conflicting definitions of racism. For the students who defended the professor’s innocence, “racism was defined as an act of intentional maliciousness”. Yet for African Americans, racism was broadened to a detrimental influence on “the substantive dynamics of the classroom”. As an effect, it is argued that the “daily repetition of subtle racism and subordination in the classroom can ultimately be, for African Americans, even more reductive of stress, anxiety and alienation than blatant racist acts can be.” Moreover, the attention which is given to these acts of discrimination diverts energy from academics, becoming a distraction that white students do not generally face.
Ethnic-racial socialization refers to the transfer of knowledge about various aspects of race and/ or ethnicity through generations. Parents of color use ethnic-racial socialization to transfer cultural knowledge to their children in order to protect them from potential biases which they may face as a result of their ethnicity and/or race. However, how parents choose to socialize their children regarding issues of ethnicity and race may affect children differently. For example, when parent’s socialization efforts focus on positive aspects of their race/ethnicity, children of color tend to report higher self-esteem. On the other hand, if the focus of socialization mainly revolves around mistrust about interracial or inter-ethnic relations, children’s self-concept, or how children view themselves might suffer. Promotion of socialization that centers on mistrust is especially harmful when parents present it without also teaching positive coping skills.
Wang et al. (2020) conducted a meta-analytic review of 334 articles examining the effects of ethnic-racial socialization on children of color’s psychosocial adjustment. Researchers evaluated the stage of children’s development in which the effects of ethnic-racial socialization would be most prominent. Their findings using their systematic review process showed a positive relationship between parental ethnic-racial socialization and psychosocial well-being measures, including self-perception, confidence, and interpersonal relationships.
The effects of age varied based on the psychosocial well-being measure a study used. Results showed that the link between positive self-perception and ethnic-racial socialization was most effective when it occurred in childhood and early adolescence. On the other hand, children who reported positive relationships between their interpersonal relationships and ethnic-racial socialization showed this paper in middle to late adolescence. The effects of ethnic-racial socialization also varied based on children’s race/ethnicity. Self-perception and ethnic-racial socialization are related more positively among African Americans, suggesting that parents used ethnic-racial socialization to buffer against the deep-rooted stigma and biases African Americans face in the United States. Contrary to the experiences of African Americans, ethnic-racial socialization was related to low self-perception among Asian Americans. Extensive research is required to better understand the connection of ethnic-racial socialization for Asian American children’s psychosocial well-being.
In order to better understand the effects of ethnic-racial socialization and psychological development, research should take into account known moderating factors similar to stereotype threat. It is important to note that the research findings were correlational and as such does not imply causality.
Institutional racism is the theory that aspects of the structure, pervasive attitudes, and the established institutions in society disadvantage some racial groups, although not with an overtly discriminatory mechanism. There are several factors that play into institutional racism, including but not limited to: accumulated wealth/benefits from racial groups that have benefited from past discrimination, educational and occupational disadvantages faced by non-native English speakers in the United States, ingrained stereotypical images that still remain in the society (e.g. black men are likely to be criminals). Institutional racism impacts the lives of racial groups negatively as although legislations where passed in the mid 20th century to abolish any sort of segregation and discrimination it still does not change the fact that institutional racism is still able to occur to anyone. Peter Kaufman, a former sociology professor at the State University of New York published an article in which Kaufman describes three instances in which institutional racism has contributed to current views of race. These are:
- The mis- and Missing Education of Race, in which he describes problems the educational system has in discussing “slavery, race, racism, and topics such as white privilege”. He goes on to say that schools are still segregated based on class and race, which also contributes to race relations
- Residential Racial Segregation. According to Kaufman, the reason that schools are still segregated is due to towns and cities being largely segregated still.
- Media Monsters. This describes the role in which the media has in the portrayal of race. Mass media tends to play on “depictions of racialized stereotypes in the mass media [which are] ubiquitous, and such caricaturized images shape our perceptions of various racial groups”. An example of this is the stereotyping of Blacks as criminals.
Access to United States citizenship was restricted by race, beginning with the Naturalization Act of 1790 which excluded “non-whites” from citizenship. Institutionalized prejudice existed against white practitioners of Roman Catholicism who immigrated from countries such as Ireland, Germany, Italy and France. Other efforts included the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1924 National Origins Act. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. By limiting the immigration of non-Northern Europeans, according to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, the purpose of the 1924 act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity”.
Following the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the racist preference for white immigrants which dated back to the 18th century was ended, and in response to this change, white nationalism grew in the United States as the conservative movement developed in mainstream society. Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argues that it developed in reaction to the perceived decline in the essence of America’s identity, an identity which was believed to be European, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and English-speaking.
In conjunction with immigration reform in the late 1980s (the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), IRCA-related instances of discriminatory behavior towards Hispanics with regard to employment have been documented within the United States. Because the measure made it unlawful to hire immigrants to work in the United States without authorization, avoidant treatment of “foreign-appearing workers” increased when employers avoided the risk of sanctions by bypassing the required record-keeping process.
Nazi Germany’s use of the American racist model
The U.S. was the global leader in codified racism, and its race laws fascinated the Germans. The National Socialist Handbook for Law and Legislation of 1934–35, edited by the lawyer Hans Frank, contains a pivotal essay by Herbert Kier on the recommendations for race legislation which devoted a quarter of its pages to U.S. legislation—from segregation, race based citizenship, immigration regulations, and anti-miscegenation. Hitler and other Nazis praised America’s system of institutional racism and believed that it was the model which should be followed in their Reich. In particular, they believed that it was the model for the expansion of German territory into the territories of other nations and the elimination of their indigenous inhabitants, as well as the model for the implementation of racist immigration laws which banned some races, and laws which denied full citizenship to blacks, which they also wanted to implement against Jews. Hitler’s book Mein Kampf extolled America as the only contemporary example of a country with racist (“völkisch”) citizenship statutes in the 1920s, and Nazi lawyers made use of American models when they crafted their own laws in Nazi Germany. U.S. citizenship laws and anti-miscegenation laws directly inspired the two principal Nuremberg Laws—the Citizenship Law and the Blood Law. Establishing a restrictive entry system for Germany, Hitler admiringly wrote: “The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.”
Sectors of American society
A 2014 meta-analysis of racial discrimination in product markets found extensive evidence of minority applicants being quoted higher prices for products. A 1995 study found that car dealers “quoted significantly lower prices to white males than to black or female test buyers using identical, scripted bargaining strategies.” A 2013 study found that eBay sellers of iPods received 21 percent more offers if a white hand held the iPod in the photo than a black hand.
Historically, African-Americans have faced discrimination in terms of getting access to credit.
Criminal justice system
Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas which are populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in a disproportionately high number of crime suspects who are members of racial minority groups. Research also suggests that discrimination is practiced by the judicial system, which contributes to the fact that a high number of convictions and unfavorable sentences are imposed on members of racial minority groups. A 2012 study found that “juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member.” Research has found evidence of in-group bias, where “black (white) juveniles who are randomly assigned to black (white) judges are more likely to get incarcerated (as opposed to being placed on probation), and they receive longer sentences.” In-group bias has also been observed when it comes to traffic citations, because black and white cops are more likely to cite out-groups.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Political Economy found that 9% of the black-white gap in sentencing could not be accounted for. The elimination of unexplained sentencing disparities would reduce “the level of black men who are in federal prisons by 8,000–11,000 men [out of a black male prison population of 95,000] and save $230–$320 million in direct costs per year.” The majority of the unexplained sentencing disparity appears to occur at the point when prosecutors decide to bring charges which carry “mandatory minimum” sentences. A 2018 paper by Alma Cohen and Crystal Yang of Harvard Law School found “that Republican-appointed judges give substantially longer prison sentences to black offenders versus observably similar non-black offenders compared to Democratic-appointed judges who serve within the same district court.” A 2018 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that bail judges in Miami and Philadelphia were racially biased against black defendants, because white defendants had higher rates of pretrial misconduct than black defendants did.
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that black and Hispanic men were far more likely to be killed by police than white men were.
A 2016 study by economist Roland G. Fryer, Jr. of the National Bureau of Economic Research, updated in 2018, found that while overall “blacks are 21 percent more likely than whites to be involved in an interaction with police in which at least a weapon is drawn” and that in the raw data from New York City’s Stop and Frisk program “blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to have an interaction with police which involves any use of force” after “[p]artitioning the data in myriad ways, we find no evidence of racial discrimination in officer-involved shootings.” The study did find bias against blacks and Hispanics in non-lethal and less-extreme lethal violence, stating that “as the intensity of force increases (e.g. handcuffing civilians without arrest, drawing or pointing a weapon, or using pepper spray or a baton), the probability that any civilian is subjected to such treatment is small, but the racial difference remains surprisingly constant”, and noted that “until recently, data on officer-involved shootings were extremely rare and contained little information on the details surrounding an incident”.
After the NBER study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Political Economy, a 2019 paper by Princeton University political scientists disputed the findings by Fryer, saying that if police had a higher threshold for stopping whites, this might mean that the whites, Hispanics and blacks who were included in Fryer’s data are not similar. A further October 2020 comment on the NBER paper by Steven Durlauf and (Nobel Prize in Economics recipient) James Heckman of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago stated, “in our judgment, this paper does not establish credible evidence on the presence or absence of discrimination against African Americans in police shootings.” Fryer responded by saying Durlauf and Heckman erroneously claim that his sample is “based on stops”. Further, he states that the “vast majority of the data…is gleaned from 911 calls for service in which a civilian requests police presence.”
Reports by the Department of Justice have also found that police officers in Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, systemically stop, search (in some cases strip-search) and harass black residents. A January 2017 report by the DOJ also found that the Chicago Police Department had “unconstitutionally engaged in a pattern of excessive and deadly force” and the report also found that the police “have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” A 2018 study found that police officers more likely to use lethal force on blacks. A 2019 study in the Journal of Politics found that police officers were more likely to use lethal force on blacks, but that this “most likely driven by higher rates of police contact among African Americans rather than racial differences in the circumstances of the interaction and officer bias in the application of lethal force.” A 2019 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that blacks and American Indian/Alaska Natives are more likely to be killed by police than whites, and that Latino men are more likely to be killed than white men. According to the study, “for young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death.” A separate Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study found that there were no racial disparities in police shootings by white police; the findings of the study were disputed by Princeton University scholars who argued that the study’s method and dataset made it impossible for the authors to reach that conclusion. The authors of the original PNAS study corrected their article following the criticism by the Princeton scholars. A study by Texas A&M University economists, which rectified some problems of selection bias identified in the literature above, found that white police officers were more likely to use force and guns than black police, and that white officers were five times as likely to use gun force in predominantly black neighborhoods. A 2020 American Political Science Review study estimated that 39% of uses of force by police against blacks and Hispanics in New York City was racially discriminatory. A 2020 study in the journal Nature found that black drivers were stopped more often than white drivers, and that the threshold by which police decided to search black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for whites (judging by the rate at which contraband was found in searches).
In criminal sentencing, medium to dark-skinned African Americans are likely to receive sentences 2.6 years longer than those of whites or light-skinned African Americans. When a white victim is involved, those with more “black” features are likely to receive a much more severe punishment. A 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research experiment found that law students, economics students and practicing lawyers who watched 3D Virtual Reality videos of court trials (where the researchers altered the race of the defendants) showed a racial bias against minorities.
According to a 2011 ProPublica analysis, “whites are nearly four times as likely as minorities to win a pardon, even when the type of crime and severity of sentence are taken into account.”
A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks were “3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession,” even though “blacks and whites use drugs, including marijuana, at similar rates.”
A 2014 study on the application of the death penalty in Connecticut over the period 1973–2007 found “that minority defendants who kill white victims are capitally charged at substantially higher rates than minority defendants who kill minorities… There is also strong and statistically significant evidence that minority defendants who kill whites are more likely to end up with capital sentences than comparable cases with white defendants.”
A 2016 analysis by the New York Times “of tens of thousands of disciplinary cases against inmates in 2015, hundreds of pages of internal reports and three years of parole decisions found that racial disparities were embedded in the prison experience in New York.” Blacks and Latinos were sent more frequently to solitary and held there for longer durations than whites. The New York Times analysis found that the disparities were the greatest for violations where the prison guards had much discretion, such as disobeying orders, but smaller for violations that required physical evidence, such as possessing contraband.
A 2016 report by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune found that Florida judges sentence black defendants to far longer prison sentences than whites with the same background. For the same drug possession crimes, blacks were sentenced to double the time of whites. Blacks were given longer sentences in 60 percent of felony cases, 68 percent of the most serious first-degree crimes, 45 percent of burglary cases and 30 percent of battery cases. For third-degree felonies (the least serious types of felonies in Florida), white judges sentenced blacks to twenty percent more time than whites, whereas black judges gave more balanced sentences.
A 2017 report by the Marshall Project found that killings of black men by whites were far more likely to be deemed “justifiable” than killings by any other combination of races.
A 2017 report by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) found, “after controlling for a wide variety of sentencing factors” (such as age, education, citizenship, weapon possession and prior criminal history), that “black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders.”
A 2018 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that tall young black men are especially likely to receive unjustified attention by law enforcement. The authors furthermore found a “causal link between perceptions of height and perceptions of threat for Black men, particularly for perceivers who endorse stereotypes that Black people are more threatening than White people.”
A 2018 study in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found that judges gave longer sentences, in particular to black defendants, after their favorite team lost a home game.
Analysis of more than 20 million traffic stops in North Carolina showed that blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be pulled over by police for traffic stops, and that blacks were more likely to be searched following the stop. There were no significant difference in the likelihood that Hispanics would be pulled over, but Hispanics were much more likely to be searched following a traffic stop than whites. When the study controlled for searches in high-crime areas, it still found that police disproportionately targeted black individuals. These racial disparities were particularly pronounced for young men. The study found that whites who were searched were more likely to carry contraband than blacks and Hispanics.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies found that law enforcement officers in Texas who could charge shoplifters with two types of crimes (one more serious, one less so) due to a vaguely worded statute were more likely to charge blacks and Hispanics with the more serious crime.
A 2019 study, which made use of a dataset of the racial makeup of every U.S. sheriff over a 25-year period, found that “ratio of Black‐to‐White arrests is significantly higher under White sheriffs” and that the effects appear to be “driven by arrests for less‐serious offenses and by targeting Black crime types.”
A 2019 audit study found that lawyers are less likely to take on clients with black-sounding names than white-sounding names.
A 2019 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that facial-recognition systems were substantially more likely to misidentify the faces of racial minorities. Some ethnic groups, such as Asian-Americans and African-American, were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men.
In 1954, Brown vs. the Board of Education ruled that integrated, equal schools be accessible to all children unbiased to skin color. Currently in the United States, not all state funded schools are equally funded. Schools are funded by the “federal, state, and local governments” while “states play a large and increasing role in education funding.” “Property taxes support most of the funding that local government provides for education.” Schools located in lower income areas receive a lower level of funding and schools located in higher income areas receiving greater funding for education all based on property taxes. The U.S. Department of Education reports that “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” The U.S. Department of Education also reports this fact affects “more than 40% of low-income schools.” Children of color are much more likely to suffer from poverty than white children.
A 2015 study using correspondence tests “found that when considering requests from prospective students seeking mentoring in the future, faculty were significantly more responsive to White males than to all other categories of students, collectively, particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions.” Through affirmative action, elite colleges consider a broader range of experiences for minority applicants.
A 2016 study in the journal PNAS found that blacks and Hispanics were systemically underrepresented in education-programs for gifted children where teachers and parents referred students to those programs; when a universal screening program based on IQ was used to refer students, the disparity was reduced significantly.
The phrase “brown paper bag test,” also known as a paper bag party, along with the “ruler test” refers to a ritual once practiced by certain African-American sororities and fraternities who would not let anyone into the group whose skin tone was darker than a paper bag. Spike Lee‘s film School Daze satirized this practice at historically black colleges and universities. Along with the “paper bag test,” guidelines for acceptance among the lighter ranks included the “comb test” and “pencil test,” which tested the coarseness of one’s hair, and the “flashlight test,” which tested a person’s profile to make sure their features measured up or were close enough to those of the Caucasian race.
A 2013 study used spectrophotometer readings to quantify skin color of respondents. White women experience discrimination in education, with those having darker skin graduating from college at lower rates than those with lighter skin. This precise and repeatable test of skin color revealed that white women experience skin color discrimination in education at levels consistent with African-Americans. White men are not affected in this way.
The curriculum in U.S. schools has also contained racism against non-white Americans, including Native Americans, black Americans, Mexican Americans, and Asian Americans. Particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries, school textbooks and other teaching materials emphasized the biological and social inferiority of black Americans, consistently portraying black people as simple, irresponsible, and oftentimes, in situations of suffering that were implied to be their fault (and not the effects of slavery and other oppression). Black Americans were also depicted as expendable and their suffering as commonplace, as evidenced by a poem about “Ten Little Nigger Boys” dying off one by one that was circulated as a children’s counting exercise from 1875 to the mid-1900s. Historian Carter G. Woodson analyzed American curriculum as completely lacking any mention of black Americans’ merits in the early 20th century. Based on his observations of the time, he wrote that American students, including black students, who went through U.S. schooling would come out believing that black people had no significant history and had contributed nothing to human civilization, which is not true.
Another major example of racism in education is the targeted schooling of Native Americans in American Indian Boarding Schools, in which the curriculum was designed to commit cultural genocide against Native peoples. In these schools, Native children were prohibited from participating in any of their cultures’ traditions, including speaking their own languages. Instead, they were required to speak English at all times and learn geography, science, and history (among other disciplines) as white Americans saw fit. This meant learning a version of history that upheld whites’ superiority and rightful “inheritance” of the lands of the United States, while Natives were relegated to a position of having to assimilate to white culture without ever truly being considered equals.
School curriculum often implicitly and explicitly upheld white people as the superior race marginalized the contributions and perspectives of non-white peoples as if they were (or are) not as important. In the 19th century, a significant number of students were taught that Adam and Eve were white, and the other races evolved from their various descendants, growing further and further away from the original white standard. In addition, whites were also fashioned as the capable caretakers of other races, namely black and Native people, who could not take care of themselves. This concept was at odds with the violence white Americans had committed against indigenous and black peoples, but it was coupled with soft language that, for example, defended these acts. Mills (1994) cites the narrative about Europeans’ “discovery” of a “New World,” despite the people who already inhabited it, and its subsequent “colonization” instead of conquest, as examples. He maintains that these word choices constitute a cooptation of history by white people, who have used it to their advantage.
A 2019 review of the literature in the Annual Review of Public Health found that structural racism, cultural racism, and individual-level discrimination are “a fundamental cause of adverse health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities and racial/ethnic inequities in health.”
A 1999 study found that doctors treat black and white patients differently, even when their medical files are statistically identical. When they were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, the doctors were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients. A 2015 study found that pediatricians were more likely to undertreat appendicitis pain in black children than white children. A 2017 study found that medical staff which was treating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries perceived black collegiate athletes as having higher pain tolerance than white athletes. A study by University of Toronto and Ohio State University economists found substantial evidence of racial discrimination against black veterans in terms of medical treatment and awarding of disability pensions in the late 19th and early 20th century; the discrimination was substantial enough to account for nearly the entire black-white mortality gap in the period. A 2019 study in Science found that one widely used algorithm to assess health risks falsely concluded that “Black patients are healthier than equally sick White patients”, thus leading health care providers to provide lower levels of care for black patients.
A 2018 ProPublica analysis found that African Americans and Native Americans were underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs. Fewer than 5% of patients were African-American, even though they make up 13.4% of the total US population. African-Americans were even underrepresented in trials which involved drugs which were intended to treat diseases which disproportionately affect African-Americans. As a result, African-Americans who had exhausted all other available treatment options have less access to experimental treatment options.
Studies have argued that there are racial disparities in how the media and politicians act when they are faced with cases of drug addiction in which the victims are primarily black rather than white, citing the examples of how society responded differently to the crack epidemic than the opioid epidemic.
There are major racial differences in access to health care as well as major racial differences in the quality of the health care which is provided to people. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that: “over 886,000 deaths could have been prevented from 1991 to 2000 if African Americans had received the same quality of care as whites”. The key differences which they cited were lack of insurance, inadequate insurance, poor service, and reluctance to seek care. A history of government-sponsored experimentation, such as the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study has left a legacy of African American distrust of the medical system.
Inequalities in health care may also reflect a systemic bias in the way in which medical procedures and treatments are prescribed to members of different ethnic groups. A University of Edinburgh Professor of Public Health, Raj Bhopal, writes that the history of racism in science and medicine shows that people and institutions behave according to the ethos of their times and he also warns of dangers that need to be avoided in the future. A Harvard Professor of Social Epidemiology contended that much modern research supported the assumptions which were needed to justify racism. She writes that racism underlies unexplained inequities in health care, including treatments for heart disease, renal failure, bladder cancer, and pneumonia. Bhopal writes that these inequalities have been documented in various studies and there are consistent findings that black Americans receive less health care than white Americans—particularly where this involves expensive new technology. The University of Michigan Health study found in 2010 that black patients in pain clinics received 50% of the amount of drugs that other patients who were white received. Black pain in medicine links to the racial disparities between pain management and racial bias on behalf of the health professional. In 2011, Vermont organizers took a proactive stand against racism in their communities to defeat the biopolitical struggles faced on a daily basis. The first and only universal health care law was passed in the state.
Two local governments in the US have issued declarations stating that racism constitutes a public health emergency: the Milwaukee County, Wisconsin executive in May 2019, and the Cleveland City Council, in June 2020.
Housing and land
A 2014 meta-analysis found extensive evidence of racial discrimination in the American housing market. Minority applicants for housing needed to make many more enquiries to view properties. Geographical steering of African-Americans in US housing remains significant. A 2003 study found “evidence that agents interpret an initial housing request as an indication of a customer’s preferences, but also are more likely to withhold a house from all customers when it is in an integrated suburban neighborhood (redlining). Moreover, agents’ marketing efforts increase with asking price for white, but not for black, customers; blacks are more likely than whites to see houses in suburban, integrated areas (steering); and the houses agents show are more likely to deviate from the initial request when the customer is black than when the customer is white. These three findings are consistent with the possibility that agents act upon the belief that some types of transactions are relatively unlikely for black customers (statistical discrimination).” Historically, there was extensive and long-lasting racial discrimination against African-Americans in the housing and mortgage markets in the United States, as well as discrimination against black farmers whose numbers massively declined in post-WWII America due to anti-black local and federal policies. According to a 2019 analysis by University of Pittsburgh economists, blacks faced a two-fold penalty due to the racially segregated housing market: rental prices increased in blocks when they underwent racial transition whereas home values declined in neighborhoods that blacks moved into.
A report by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development where the department sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale. A 2017 study found that “that applications [for Airbnb housing] from guests with distinctively African American names are 16 percent less likely to be accepted relative to identical guests with distinctively white names.”
A 2017 paper by Troesken and Walsh found that pre-20th century cities “created and sustained residential segregation through private norms and vigilante activity.” However, “when these private arrangements began to break down during the early 1900s” whites started “lobbying municipal governments for segregation ordinances.” As a result, cities passed ordinances which “prohibited members of the majority racial group on a given city block from selling or renting property to members of another racial group” between 1909 and 1917.
A 2017 study by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago economists found that the practice of redlining—the practice whereby banks discriminated against the inhabitants of certain neighborhoods—had a persistent adverse impact on the neighborhoods, with redlining affecting homeownership rates, home values and credit scores in 2010. Since many African-Americans could not access conventional home loans, they had to turn to predatory lenders (who charged high interest rates). Due to lower home ownership rates, slumlords were able to rent out apartments that would otherwise be owned. A 2019 analysis estimated that predatory housing contracts targeting African-Americans in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s cost black families between $3 billion and $4 billion in wealth.
A 2017 study in Research & Politics found that white supporters of Donald Trump became less likely to approve of federal housing assistance when they were shown an image of a black man.
A 2018 study in the American Sociological Review found that housing market professionals (real estate agents, housing developers, mortgage appraisers and home value appraisers) held derogatory racial views about black and Latino individuals and neighborhoods whereas white individuals and neighborhoods were beneficiaries of widely shared, positive racial beliefs.
A 2018 experimental study by University of Illinois and Duke University economists found that real estate agents and housing providers systematically recommended homes in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates, greater pollution, higher crime rates, fewer college educated families, and fewer skilled workers to minority individuals who had all the same characteristics as white individuals except ethnic differences.
A 2018 study in the American Political Science Review found that white voters in areas which experienced massive African-American population growth between 1940 and 1960 were more likely to vote for California Proposition 14 (1964) which sought to enshrine legal protections for landlords and property owners who discriminated against “colored” buyers and renters.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Politics found extensive evidence of discrimination against blacks and Hispanics in the New York City rental market. A 2018 study in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics found that there was discrimination against blacks and Arab males in the U.S. rental market. A 2018 study in the Journal of Regional Science found that “black households pay more for identical housing in identical neighborhoods than their white counterparts… In neighborhoods with the smallest fraction white, the premium is about 0.6%. In neighborhoods with the largest fraction white, it is about 2.4%.”
Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the American labor market. A 2017 meta-analysis found “no change in the levels of discrimination against African Americans since 1989, although we do find some indication of declining discrimination against Latinos.” A 2016 meta-analysis of 738 correspondence tests – tests where identical CVs for stereotypically black and white names were sent to employers – in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015 finds that there is extensive racial discrimination in hiring decisions in Europe and North America. These correspondence tests showed that equivalent minority candidates need to send around 50% more applications to be invited for an interview than majority candidates. A study which examined the job applications of actual people who were provided with identical résumés and similar interview training showed that African-American applicants with no criminal record were offered jobs at a rate as low as white applicants who had criminal records. A 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research paper found evidence of racial bias in how CVs were evaluated. A 2020 study revealed that discrimination not only exists against minorities in callback rates in audit studies, it also increases in severity after the callbacks in terms of job offers.
Research suggests that light-skinned African American women have higher salaries and greater job satisfaction than dark-skinned women. Being “too black” has recently been acknowledged by the U.S. Federal courts in an employment discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Etienne v. Spanish Lake Truck & Casino Plaza, LLC the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, determined that an employee who was told on several occasions that her manager thought she was “too black” to do various tasks, found that the issue of the employee’s skin color rather than race itself, played a key role in an employer’s decision to keep the employee from advancing. A 2018 study uncovered evidence which suggests that immigrants with darker skin colors are discriminated against.
A 2019 experimental study found that there was a bias against blacks, Latinos and women in the hiring of postdocs in the fields of biology and physics.
A 2008 study found that black service providers receive lower tips than white service providers. Research shows that “ban the box” (the removal of the check box which asks job applicants if they have criminal records) leads employers to discriminate against young, black low-skilled applicants, possibly because employers simply assume that these applicants have checkered pasts when they are unable to prove that they do not.
A 2017 report by Travis L. Dixon (of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) found that major media outlets tended to portray black families as dysfunctional and dependent while white families were portrayed as stable. These portrayals may give the impression that poverty and welfare are primarily black issues. According to Dixon, this can reduce public support for social safety programs and lead to stricter welfare requirements. A 2018 study found that media portrayals of Muslims were substantially more negative than for other religious groups (even when controlling for relevant factors). A 2019 study described media portrayals of minority women in crime news stories as based on “outdated and harmful stereotypes.”
African Americans who possess a lighter skin complexion and “European features,” such as lighter eyes, and smaller noses and lips have more opportunities in the media industry. For example, film producers hire lighter-skinned African Americans more often, television producers choose lighter-skinned cast members, and magazine editors choose African American models that resemble European features. A content analysis conducted by Scott and Neptune (1997) shows that less than one percent of advertisements in major magazines featured African American models. When African Americans did appear in advertisements they were mainly portrayed as athletes, entertainers or unskilled laborers. In addition, seventy percent of the advertisements that features animal print included African American women. Animal print reinforces the stereotypes that African Americans are animalistic in nature, sexually active, less educated, have lower income, and extremely concerned with personal appearances. Concerning African American males in the media, darker-skinned men are more likely to be portrayed as violent or more threatening, influencing the public perception of African American men. Since dark-skinned males are more likely to be linked to crime and misconduct, many people develop preconceived notions about the characteristics of black men.
Colorism was and still is very much evident in the media. An example of this is shown in the minstrel shows that were popular during and after slavery. Minstrel shows were a very popular form of theater that involved white and black people in black face portraying black people while doing demeaning things. The actors painted their faces with black paint to and over lined their lips with bright red lipstick to exaggerate and make fun of black people. When minstrel shows died out and television became popular, black actors were rarely hired and when they were, they had very specific roles. These roles included being servants, slaves, idiots, and criminals. White people wanted to keep this narrative going that black people were forever in debt to them because they essentially rescued blacks from themselves and made them humans instead of savages. This is seen in the “mammy” role that black women often played. The highlights of this role included black women being the loyal servant to the master and taking care of and loving his kids more than her own. Even though black people were allowed to be on TV, they still couldn’t be too black. They had to pass the color tests and if they were dark, they were usually playing a humiliating role. That trend is something that follows into present day especially for women. There is a huge absence of dark black women in the media and when they are shown, they are typically portraying the angry black woman stereotype but have a light-skinned character to balance them out. Darker women are rarely the protagonist that isn’t troubled by drugs, or caught up in the legal system.
A 2011 study found that white state legislators of both political parties were less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. A 2013 study found that in response to e-mail correspondence from a putatively black alias, “nonblack legislators were markedly less likely to respond when their political incentives to do so were diminished, black legislators typically continued to respond even when doing so promised little political reward. Black legislators thus appear substantially more intrinsically motivated to advance blacks’ interests.”
Some research suggests that white voters’ voting behavior is motivated by racial threat. A 2016 study, for instance, found that white Chicago voters’ turnout decreased when public housing was reconstructed and 25,000 African Americans displaced. This suggest that white voters’ turnout decreased due to not living in proximity to African-Americans.
Voter ID laws have brought on accusations of racial discrimination. In a 2014 review by the Government Accountability Office of the academic literature, three studies out of five found that voter ID laws reduced minority turnout whereas two studies found no significant impact. Disparate impact may also be reflected in access to information about voter ID laws. A 2015 experimental study found that election officials queried about voter ID laws are more likely to respond to emails from a non-Latino white name (70.5% response rate) than a Latino name (64.8% response rate), though response accuracy was similar across groups. Studies have also analyzed racial differences in ID requests rates. A 2012 study in the city of Boston found that black and Hispanic voters were more likely to be asked for ID during the 2008 election. According to exit polls, 23% of whites, 33% of blacks, and 38% of Hispanics were asked for ID, though this effect is partially attributed to black and Hispanics preferring non-peak voting hours when election officials inspected a greater portion of IDs. Precinct differences also confound the data as black and Hispanic voters tended to vote at black and Hispanic-majority precincts. A 2010 study of the 2006 midterm election in New Mexico found that Hispanics were more likely to incur ID requests while early voters, women, and non-Hispanics were less likely to incur requests. A 2009 study of the 2006 midterm election nationwide found that 47% of white voters reported being asked to show photo identification at the polls, compared with 54% of Hispanics and 55% of African Americans.” Very few were however denied the vote as a result of voter identification requests. A 2015 study found that turnout among blacks in Georgia was generally higher since the state began enforcing its strict voter ID law. A 2016 study by University of California, San Diego researchers found that voter ID laws “have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections.”
Research by University of Oxford economist Evan Soltas and Stanford political scientist David Broockman suggests that voters act upon racially discriminatory tastes. A 2018 study in Public Opinion Quarterly found that whites, in particular those who had racial resentment, largely attributed Obama’s success among African-Americans to his race, and not his characteristics as a candidate and the political preferences of African-Americans. A 2018 study in the journal American Politics Research found that white voters tended to misperceive political candidates from racial minorities as being more ideologically extreme than objective indicators would suggest; this adversely affected the electoral chances for those candidates. A 2018 study in the Journal of Politics found that “when a white candidate makes vague statements, many [nonblack] voters project their own policy positions onto the candidate, increasing support for the candidate. But they are less likely to extend black candidates the same courtesy… In fact, black male candidates who make ambiguous statements are actually punished for doing so by racially prejudiced voters.”
A 2018 study found evidence of racial-motivated reasoning as voters assessed President Barack Obama‘s economic performance. The study found that “Whites attributed more responsibility to Obama under negative economic conditions (i.e., blame) than positive economic conditions (i.e., credit)… Whites attributed equal responsibility to the President and governors for negative economic conditions, but gave more responsibility to governors than Obama for positive conditions. Whites also gave governors more responsibility for state improvements than they gave Obama for national ones.”
A 2018 study examining “all 24 African American challengers (non-incumbents) from 2000 to 2014 to white challengers from the same party running in the same state for the same office around the same time” found “that white challengers are about three times more likely to win and receive about 13 percentage points more support among white voters. These estimates hold when controlling for a number of potential confounding factors and when employing several statistical matching estimators.”
A 2019 study found that whites are less supportive of welfare when they are told that blacks are the majority of recipients (as opposed to whites). However, when informed that most welfare recipients eventually gain jobs and leave the welfare program, this racial bias disappears.
An analysis by MIT political scientist Regina Bateson found that Americans engage in strategic discrimination against racial minority candidates out of a belief that they are less electable than white male candidates: “In the abstract, Americans consider white men more “electable” than equally qualified black and female candidates. Additionally, concerns about winning the votes of white men can cause voters to rate black and female Democratic candidates as less capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020.”
A 2019 paper found, using smartphone data, that voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited far longer at polling places than voters in white neighborhoods.
It is argued that the racial coding of concepts like crime and welfare has been used to strategically influence public political views. Racial coding is implicit; it incorporates racially primed language or imagery in order to allude to racial attitudes and thinking. For example, in the context of domestic policy, it is argued that Ronald Reagan implied that linkages existed between concepts like “special interests” and “big government” and ill-perceived minority groups in the 1980s, using the conditioned negativity which existed toward the minority groups in order to discredit certain policies and programs during campaigns. In a study which analyzes how political ads prime attitudes, Valentino compares the voting responses of participants after they are exposed to the narration of a George W. Bush advertisement which is paired with three different types of visuals which contain different embedded racial cues in order to create three conditions: neutral, race comparison, and undeserving blacks. For example, as the narrator states “Democrats want to spend your tax dollars on wasteful government programs”, the video shows an image of a black woman and her child in an office setting. Valentino found that the undeserving blacks condition produced the largest primed effect in racialized policies, like opposition to affirmative action and welfare spending.
Ian Haney López, Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, refers to this phenomenon as dog-whistle politics, which, he argues, has pushed middle class white Americans to vote against their economic self-interest in order to punish “undeserving minorities” which, they believe, are receiving too much public assistance at their expense. According to López, conservative middle-class whites, convinced that minorities are the enemy by powerful economic interests, supported politicians who promised to curb illegal immigration and crack down on crime, but inadvertently they also voted for policies that favor the extremely rich, such as slashing taxes for top income brackets, giving corporations more regulatory control over industry and financial markets, busting unions, cutting pensions for future public employees, reducing funding for public schools, and retrenching the social welfare state. He argues that these same voters cannot link rising inequality which has impacted their lives to the policy agendas which they support, which resulted in a massive transfer of wealth to the top 1% of the population since the 1980s.
A book released by the former attorney of Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, in September 2020, Disloyal: A Memoir described Trump of routinely referring to Black leaders of foreign nations with racial insults, and that he was consumed with hatred for Barack Obama. Cohen in the book explained that “as a rule, Trump expressed low opinions of all Black folks, from music to culture and politics”. Besides, he also called Nelson Mandela “no leader”.
Hate crimes and terrorism
In the United States, most crimes in which victims are targeted on the basis of their race or ethnicity are considered hate crimes. (For federal law purposes, crimes in which Hispanic people are targeted because of their identity are considered hate crimes based on ethnicity.) Leading forms of bias which are cited in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, based on law enforcement agency filings include: anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-homosexual, and anti-Hispanic bias in that order in both 2004 and 2005. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, whites, black people, and Hispanic people had similar rates of violent hate crime victimization between 2007 and 2011. However, from 2011 to 2012, violent hate crimes against Hispanic people increased by 300%. When considering all hate crimes, not just violent ones, African Americans are far more likely to be victims than other racial groups.
The New Century Foundation, a white nationalist organization which was founded by Jared Taylor, argues that black people are more likely to commit hate crimes than whites, and it also argues that FBI figures inflate the number of hate crimes committed by whites by counting Hispanic people as “whites”. Other analysts are sharply critical of the NCF’s findings, referring to the mainstream criminological view that “Racial and ethnic data must be treated with caution. Existing research on crime has generally shown that racial or ethnic identity is not predictive of criminal behavior with data which has been controlled for social and economic factors.” NCF’s methodology and statistics are further sharply criticized as flawed and deceptive by anti-racist activists Tim Wise and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The first post-Jim Crow era hate crime to make sensational media attention was the murder of Vincent Chin, an Asian American of Chinese descent in 1982. He was attacked by two white assailants who were recently laid off from a Detroit area auto factory job and blamed Japanese people for their individual unemployment. Chin was not of Japanese descent, but the assailants testified in the criminal court case that he “looked like a Jap“, an ethnic slur that is used to describe Japanese and other Asian people, and they were angry enough to beat him to death.
Continuing antisemitism has remained an issue in the United States and the 2011 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews in America, which was released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), has found that the recent world economic recession increased the expression of some antisemitic viewpoints among Americans. Most of the people who were surveyed expressed pro-Jewish sentiments, with 64% of them agreeing that Jewish people have contributed much to U.S. social culture. Yet the polling also found that 19% of Americans answered “probably true” to the antisemitic canard that “Jews have too much control/influence on Wall Street” while 15% of Americans concurred with the related statement that Jews seem “more willing to use shady practices” in business than other people do. Reflecting on the lingering antisemitism of about one in five Americans, Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, has argued, “It is disturbing that with all of the strides we have made in becoming a more tolerant society, anti-Semitic beliefs continue to hold a vice-grip on a small but not insubstantial segment of the American public.”
An ABC News report which was released in 2007 recounted that past ABC polls which were conducted over a period of several years have tended to find that “six percent have self-reported harboring prejudice against Jews, 27 percent have self-reported harboring prejudice against Muslims, 25 percent have self-reported harboring prejudice against Arabs,” and “one in 10 have conceded harboring at least a little bit of prejudice ” against Hispanic Americans. The report also stated that a full 34% of Americans reported harboring “some racist feelings” in general as a self-description. An Associated Press and Yahoo News survey of 2,227 adult Americans in 2008 found that 10% of white respondents stated that “a lot” of discrimination still exists against African-Americans while 45% of white respondents stated that only “some” discrimination still exists against African Americans compared to 57% of black respondents who stated that “a lot” of discrimination still exists against African Americans. In the same poll, more whites applied positive attributes to black Americans than negative ones, with black people describing whites even more highly, but a significant minority of whites still called African Americans “irresponsible”, “lazy”, or other such things.
In 2008, Stanford University political scientist Paul Sniderman remarked that, in the modern U.S., racism and prejudices are “a deep challenge, and it’s one that Americans in general, and for that matter, political scientists, just haven’t been ready to acknowledge fully.”
In 2017, citizens gathered in the college community of Charlottesville, Virginia to attend the Unite the Right rally. One woman was killed and dozens of other people were injured when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. Vice President Mike Pence condemned the violence by stating, “We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
In contemporary times, many racist views have found a means of expression through social media.
Among the popular social networks, in particular, the American platform Reddit has been defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the most prominent institutions which is dedicated to the tracing and contrasting of racism, as the “home of the most violently racist internet content.”
The SPLC pointed at how racist views had gained more and more traction on Reddit, which was even replacing traditionally far-right websites such as Stormfront (website) in both the quantity and frequency of its racist content.
Several prominent intellectuals and publications have agreed with this view, considering Reddit a platform which is filled with hateful, racist and harassing content. So far, however, little or nothing has been done in order to address this problem.
Reddit’s leadership, its owners and its administrators, have all been constantly accused of condoning racism on the platform, not taking enough action in order to moderate, sanction or remove hateful content. The actions which have been undertaken by the admins have been considered insufficient, tardy or hypocritical.
Reddit’s former CEO, Ellen K. Pao, came out in June, 2020, speaking against Reddit’s current leadership, accusing the platform’s administrators and its current CEO Steve Huffman of condoning racism on the platform, even “monetizing from white supremacy.”
Pao herself had previously resigned from her post as Reddit’s CEO, citing an abundance of racist attacks which a great number of Reddit’s users subjected her to as one of the reasons for her resignation.
This has led to protests against Huffman from several popular subreddits which are dedicated to contrasting racism.
There is a wide plethora of societal and political suggestions to alleviate the effects of continued discrimination in the United States. For example, within universities, it has been suggested that a type of committee could respond to non-sanctionable behavior.
It is also argued that there is a need for “white students and faculty to reformulate white-awareness toward a more secure identity that is not threatened by black cultural institutions and can recognize the racial non-neutrality of the institutions which whites dominate”. Paired with this effort, Brown encourages the increase in minority faculty members, so the embedded white normative experience begins to fragment.
Within the media, it is found that racial cues prime racial stereotypic thought. Thus, it is argued that “stereotype inconsistent cues might lead to more intentioned thought, thereby suppressing racial priming effects.” Social psychologists, such as Jennifer Eberhardt, have done work that indicates such priming effects subconsciously help determine attitudes and behavior toward individuals regardless of intentions. These results have been incorporated into training, for example, in some police departments.
It has also been argued that more evidence-based guidance from psychologists and sociologists is needed in order for people to learn what is effective in alleviating racism. Such evidence-based approaches can reveal, for example, the many psychological biases to which humans are subject, such as ingroup bias and the fundamental attribution error, which can underlie racist attitudes.
Psychologist Stuart Vyse has argued that argument, ideas, and facts will not mend divisions but there is evidence, such as that which is provided by the Robbers Cave Experiment, that seeking shared goals can help alleviate racism.
Black Progress: How far we’ve come, and how far we have to go
Progress is the largely suppressed story of race and race relations over the past half-century. And thus it’s news that more than 40 percent of African Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. Forty-two percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples. Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white. Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia.
Because these are facts the media seldom report, the black underclass continues to define black America in the view of much of the public. Many assume blacks live in ghettos, often in high-rise public housing projects. Crime and the welfare check are seen as their main source of income. The stereotype crosses racial lines. Blacks are even more prone than whites to exaggerate the extent to which African Americans are trapped in inner-city poverty. In a 1991 Gallup poll, about one-fifth of all whites, but almost half of black respondents, said that at least three out of four African Americans were impoverished urban residents. And yet, in reality, blacks who consider themselves to be middle class outnumber those with incomes below the poverty line by a wide margin.
A Fifty-Year March out of Poverty
Fifty years ago most blacks were indeed trapped in poverty, although they did not reside in inner cities. When Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma in 1944, most blacks lived in the South and on the land as laborers and sharecroppers. (Only one in eight owned the land on which he worked.) A trivial 5 percent of black men nationally were engaged in nonmanual, white-collar work of any kind; the vast majority held ill-paid, insecure, manual jobs—jobs that few whites would take. As already noted, six out of ten African-American women were household servants who, driven by economic desperation, often worked 12-hour days for pathetically low wages. Segregation in the South and discrimination in the North did create a sheltered market for some black businesses (funeral homes, beauty parlors, and the like) that served a black community barred from patronizing “white” establishments. But the number was minuscule.
Beginning in the 1940s, however, deep demographic and economic change, accompanied by a marked shift in white racial attitudes, started blacks down the road to much greater equality. New Deal legislation, which set minimum wages and hours and eliminated the incentive of southern employers to hire low-wage black workers, put a damper on further industrial development in the region. In addition, the trend toward mechanized agriculture and a diminished demand for American cotton in the face of international competition combined to displace blacks from the land.
As a consequence, with the shortage of workers in northern manufacturing plants following the outbreak of World War II, southern blacks in search of jobs boarded trains and buses in a Great Migration that lasted through the mid-1960s. They found what they were looking for: wages so strikingly high that in 1953 the average income for a black family in the North was almost twice that of those who remained in the South. And through much of the 1950s wages rose steadily and unemployment was low.
Thus by 1960 only one out of seven black men still labored on the land, and almost a quarter were in white-collar or skilled manual occupations. Another 24 percent had semiskilled factory jobs that meant membership in the stable working class, while the proportion of black women working as servants had been cut in half. Even those who did not move up into higher-ranking jobs were doing much better.
A decade later, the gains were even more striking. From 1940 to 1970, black men cut the income gap by about a third, and by 1970 they were earning (on average) roughly 60 percent of what white men took in. The advancement of black women was even more impressive. Black life expectancy went up dramatically, as did black homeownership rates. Black college enrollment also rose—by 1970 to about 10 percent of the total, three times the prewar figure.
In subsequent years these trends continued, although at a more leisurely pace. For instance, today more than 30 percent of black men and nearly 60 percent of black women hold white-collar jobs. Whereas in 1970 only 2.2 percent of American physicians were black, the figure is now 4.5 percent. But while the fraction of black families with middle-class incomes rose almost 40 percentage points between 1940 and 1970, it has inched up only another 10 points since then.
Affirmative Action Doesn’t Work
Rapid change in the status of blacks for several decades followed by a definite slowdown that begins just when affirmative action policies get their start: that story certainly seems to suggest that racial preferences have enjoyed an inflated reputation. “There’s one simple reason to support affirmative action,” an op-ed writer in the New York Times argued in 1995. “It works.” That is the voice of conventional wisdom.
In fact, not only did significant advances pre-date the affirmative action era, but the benefits of race-conscious politics are not clear. Important differences (a slower overall rate of economic growth, most notably) separate the pre-1970 and post-1970 periods, making comparison difficult.
We know only this: some gains are probably attributable to race-conscious educational and employment policies. The number of black college and university professors more than doubled between 1970 and 1990; the number of physicians tripled; the number of engineers almost quadrupled; and the number of attorneys increased more than sixfold. Those numbers undoubtedly do reflect the fact that the nation’s professional schools changed their admissions criteria for black applicants, accepting and often providing financial aid to African-American students whose academic records were much weaker than those of many white and Asian-American applicants whom these schools were turning down. Preferences “worked” for these beneficiaries, in that they were given seats in the classroom that they would not have won in the absence of racial double standards.
On the other hand, these professionals make up a small fraction of the total black middle class. And their numbers would have grown without preferences, the historical record strongly suggests. In addition, the greatest economic gains for African Americans since the early 1960s were in the years 1965 to 1975 and occurred mainly in the South, as economists John J. Donahue III and James Heckman have found. In fact, Donahue and Heckman discovered “virtually no improvement” in the wages of black men relative to those of white men outside of the South over the entire period from 1963 to 1987, and southern gains, they concluded, were mainly due to the powerful antidiscrimination provisions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
With respect to federal, state, and municipal set-asides, as well, the jury is still out. In 1994 the state of Maryland decided that at least 10 percent of the contracts it awarded would go to minority- and female-owned firms. It more than met its goal. The program therefore “worked” if the goal was merely the narrow one of dispensing cash to a particular, designated group. But how well do these sheltered businesses survive long-term without extraordinary protection from free-market competition? And with almost 30 percent of black families still living in poverty, what is their trickle-down effect? On neither score is the picture reassuring. Programs are often fraudulent, with white contractors offering minority firms 15 percent of the profit with no obligation to do any of the work. Alternatively, set-asides enrich those with the right connections. In Richmond, Virginia, for instance, the main effect of the ordinance was a marriage of political convenience—a working alliance between the economically privileged of both races. The white business elite signed on to a piece-of-the-pie for blacks in order to polish its image as socially conscious and secure support for the downtown revitalization it wanted. Black politicians used the bargain to suggest their own importance to low-income constituents for whom the set-asides actually did little. Neither cared whether the policy in fact provided real economic benefits—which it didn’t.
Why Has the Engine of Progress Stalled?
In the decades since affirmative action policies were first instituted, the poverty rate has remained basically unchanged. Despite black gains by numerous other measures, close to 30 percent of black families still live below the poverty line. “There are those who say, my fellow Americans, that even good affirmative action programs are no longer needed,” President Clinton said in July 1995. But “let us consider,” he went on, that “the unemployment rate for African Americans remains about twice that of whites.” Racial preferences are the president’s answer to persistent inequality, although a quarter-century of affirmative action has done nothing whatever to close the unemployment gap.
Persistent inequality is obviously serious, and if discrimination were the primary problem, then race-conscious remedies might be appropriate. But while white racism was central to the story in 1964, today the picture is much more complicated. Thus while blacks and whites now graduate at the same rate from high school today and are almost equally likely to attend college, on average they are not equally educated. That is, looking at years of schooling in assessing the racial gap in family income tells us little about the cognitive skills whites and blacks bring to the job market. And cognitive skills obviously affect earnings.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation’s report card on what American students attending elementary and secondary schools know. Those tests show that African-American students, on average, are alarmingly far behind whites in math, science, reading, and writing. For instance, black students at the end of their high school career are almost four years behind white students in reading; the gap is comparable in other subjects. A study of 26- to 33-year-old men who held full-time jobs in 1991 thus found that when education was measured by years of school completed, blacks earned 19 percent less than comparably educated whites. But when word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetical reasoning, and mathematical knowledge became the yardstick, the results were reversed. Black men earned 9 percent more than white men with the same education—that is, the same performance on basic tests.
Other research suggests much the same point. For instance, the work of economists Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy has demonstrated the increasing importance of cognitive skills in our changing economy. Employers in firms like Honda now require employees who can read and do math problems at the ninth-grade level at a minimum. And yet the 1992 NAEP math tests, for example, revealed that only 22 percent of African-American high school seniors but 58 percent of their white classmates were numerate enough for such firms to consider hiring them. And in reading, 47 percent of whites in 1992 but just 18 percent of African Americans could handle the printed word well enough to be employable in a modern automobile plant. Murnane and Levy found a clear impact on income. Not years spent in school but strong skills made for high long-term earnings.
The Widening Skills Gap
Why is there such a glaring racial gap in levels of educational attainment? It is not easy to say. The gap, in itself, is very bad news, but even more alarming is the fact that it has been widening in recent years. In 1971, the average African-American 17-year-old could read no better than the typical white child who was six years younger. The racial gap in math in 1973 was 4.3 years; in science it was 4.7 years in 1970. By the late 1980s, however, the picture was notably brighter. Black students in their final year of high school were only 2.5 years behind whites in both reading and math and 2.1 years behind on tests of writing skills.
Had the trends of those years continued, by today black pupils would be performing about as well as their white classmates. Instead, black progress came to a halt, and serious backsliding began. Between 1988 and 1994, the racial gap in reading grew from 2.5 to 3.9 years; between 1990 and 1994, the racial gap in math increased from 2.5 to 3.4 years. In both science and writing, the racial gap has widened by a full year.
There is no obvious explanation for this alarming turnaround. The early gains doubtless had much to do with the growth of the black middle class, but the black middle class did not suddenly begin to shrink in the late 1980s. The poverty rate was not dropping significantly when educational progress was occurring, nor was it on the increase when the racial gap began once again to widen. The huge rise in out-of-wedlock births and the steep and steady decline in the proportion of black children growing up with two parents do not explain the fluctuating educational performance of African-American children. It is well established that children raised in single-parent families do less well in school than others, even when all other variables, including income, are controlled. But the disintegration of the black nuclear family—presciently noted by Daniel Patrick Moynihan as early as 1965—was occurring rapidly in the period in which black scores were rising, so it cannot be invoked as the main explanation as to why scores began to fall many years later.
Some would argue that the initial educational gains were the result of increased racial integration and the growth of such federal compensatory education programs as Head Start. But neither desegregation nor compensatory education seems to have increased the cognitive skills of the black children exposed to them. In any case, the racial mix in the typical school has not changed in recent years, and the number of students in compensatory programs and the dollars spent on them have kept going up.
What about changes in the curriculum and patterns of course selection by students? The educational reform movement that began in the late 1970s did succeed in pushing students into a “New Basics” core curriculum that included more English, science, math, and social studies courses. And there is good reason to believe that taking tougher courses contributed to the temporary rise in black test scores. But this explanation, too, nicely fits the facts for the period before the late 1980s but not the very different picture thereafter. The number of black students going through “New Basics” courses did not decline after 1988, pulling down their NAEP scores.
We are left with three tentative suggestions. First, the increased violence and disorder of inner-city lives that came with the introduction of crack cocaine and the drug-related gang wars in the mid-1980s most likely had something to do with the reversal of black educational progress. Chaos in the streets and within schools affects learning inside and outside the classroom.
In addition, an educational culture that has increasingly turned teachers into guides who help children explore whatever interests them may have affected black academic performance as well. As educational critic E. D. Hirsch, Jr., has pointed out, the “deep aversion to and contempt for factual knowledge that pervade the thinking of American educators” means that students fail to build the “intellectual capital” that is the foundation of all further learning. That will be particularly true of those students who come to school most academically disadvantaged—those whose homes are not, in effect, an additional school. The deficiencies of American education hit hardest those most in need of education.
And yet in the name of racial sensitivity, advocates for minority students too often dismiss both common academic standards and standardized tests as culturally biased and judgmental. Such advocates have plenty of company. Christopher Edley, Jr., professor of law at Harvard and President Clinton’s point man on affirmative action, for instance, has allied himself with testing critics, labeling preferences the tool colleges are forced to use “to correct the problems we”ve inflicted on ourselves with our testing standards.” Such tests can be abolished—or standards lowered—but once the disparity in cognitive skills becomes less evident, it is harder to correct.
Closing that skills gap is obviously the first task if black advancement is to continue at its once-fast pace. On the map of racial progress, education is the name of almost every road. Raise the level of black educational performance, and the gap in college graduation rates, in attendance at selective professional schools, and in earnings is likely to close as well. Moreover, with educational parity, the whole issue of racial preferences disappears.
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How Reconstruction Still Shapes American Racism
Reconstruction, the period in American history that followed the Civil War, was an era filled with great hope and expectations, but it proved far too short to ensure a successful transition from bondage to free labor for the almost 4 million black human beings who’d been born into slavery in the U.S. During Reconstruction, the U.S. government maintained an active presence in the former Confederate states to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves and to help them, however incompletely, on the path to becoming full citizens. A little more than a decade later, the era came to an end when the contested presidential election of 1876 was resolved by trading the electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida for the removal of federal troops from the last Southern statehouses.
Today, many of us know precious little about what happened during those years. But, regardless of its brevity, Reconstruction remains one of the most pivotal eras in the history of race relations in American history — and probably the most misunderstood.
Reconstruction was fundamentally about who got to be an American citizen. It was in that period that the Constitution was amended to establish birthright citizenship through the 14th Amendment, which also guaranteed equality before the law regardless of race. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, barred racial discrimination in voting, thus securing the ballot for black men nationwide. As Eric Foner, the leading historian of the era, puts it, “The issues central to Reconstruction — citizenship, voting rights, terrorist violence, the relationship between economic and political democracy — continue to roil our society and politics today, making an understanding of Reconstruction even more vital.” A key lesson of Reconstruction, and of its violent, racist rollback, is, Foner continues, “that achievements thought permanent can be overturned and rights can never be taken for granted.”
Another lesson this era of our history teaches us is that, even when stripped of their rights by courts, legislatures and revised state constitutions, African Americans never surrendered to white supremacy. Resistance, too, is their legacy.
By 1877, in a climate of economic crisis, the “cost” of protecting the freedoms of African Americans became a price the American government was no longer willing to pay. The long rollback began in earnest: the period of retrenchment, voter suppression, Jim Crow segregation and quasi re-enslavement that was called by white Southerners, ironically, “Redemption.” As a worried Frederick Douglass, sensing the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, put it in a speech at the Republican National Convention on June 14, 1876: “You say you have emancipated us. You have; and I thank you for it. You say you have enfranchised us; and I thank you for it. But what is your emancipation? — What is your enfranchisement? What does it all amount to if the black man, after having been made free by the letter of your law, is unable to exercise that freedom, and, after having been freed from the slaveholder’s lash, he is to be subject to the slaveholder’s shotgun?”
What confounds the writer is how much longer the rollback of Reconstruction was than Reconstruction itself, how dogged was the determination of the “Redeemed South” to obliterate any trace of the gains made by freed people. In South Carolina, for example, the state university that had been integrated during Reconstruction (indeed, Harvard’s first black college graduate, Richard T. Greener, was a professor there) was swiftly shut down and reopened three years later for whites only. That color line remained in place there until 1963.
In addition to their moves to strip African Americans of their voting rights, “Redeemer” governments across the South slashed government investments in infrastructure and social programs across the board, including those for the region’s first state-funded public-school systems, a product of Reconstruction. In doing so, they re-empowered a private sphere dominated by the white planter class. A new wave of state constitutional conventions followed, starting with Mississippi in 1890. These effectively undermined the Reconstruction Amendments, especially the right of black men to vote, in each of the former Confederate states by 1908. To take just one example: whereas in Louisiana, 130,000 black men were registered to vote before the state instituted its new constitution in 1898, by 1904 that number had been reduced to 1,342.
And at what the historian Rayford W. Logan dubbed the “nadir” of American race relations—the time of political, economic, social and legal hardening around segregation — widespread violence, disenfranchisement and lynching coincided with a hardening of racist concepts of “race.”
This painfully long period following Reconstruction saw the explosion of white-supremacist ideology across an array of media and through an extraordinary variety of forms, all designed to warp the mind toward white-supremacist beliefs. Minstrelsy and racist visual imagery were weapons in the battle over the status of African Americans in postslavery America, and some continue to be manufactured to this day.
The process of dehumanization triggered a resistance movement. Among a rising generation of the black elite, this resistance was represented after 1895 through the concept of “The New Negro,” a counter to the avalanche of racist images of black people that proliferated throughout Gilded Age American society in advertisements, posters and postcards, helped along by technological innovations that enabled the cheap mass production of multicolored prints. Not surprisingly, racist images of black people — characterized by exaggerated physical features, the blackest of skin tones, the whitest of eyes and the reddest of lips — were a favorite subject of these multicolored prints during the rollback of Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow segregation in the 1890s.
We can think of the New Negro as Black America’s first superhero, locked in combat against the white-supremacist fiction of African Americans as “Sambos,” by nature lazy, mentally inferior, licentious and, beneath the surface, lurking sexual predators. The New Negro would undergo several transformations within the race between the mid-1890s and the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, but, in its essence, it was a trope — summarized by one writer in 1928 as a continuously evolving “mythological figure” — that would be drawn upon and revised over three decades by black leaders in the country’s first social-media war: the New Negro vs. Sambo.
The concept would prove to be quite volatile. Supposedly New Negroes could be supplanted by even “newer” Negroes. For example, Booker T. Washington, the conservative, accommodationist educator, would be hailed as the first New Negro in 1895, only to be dethroned exactly a decade later on the cover of the Voice of the Negro magazine by his nemesis, W.E.B. Du Bois, the Harvard-trained historian. Du Bois had globalized his version of the New Negro in a landmark photography exhibition at the 1900 Paris Exposition and then, three years later, in his monumental work, The Souls of Black Folk, mounted a devastating attack on Washington’s philosophy of race relations as dangerously complicitous with Jim Crow segregation and, especially, black male disenfranchisement. Du Bois, a founder of the militant Niagara Movement in 1905, would co-found the NAACP in 1909. And while Douglass had already seen the potential of photography to present an authentic face of black America, and thus to counteract the onslaught of negative stereotypes pervading American society, the children of Reconstruction were the ones who picked up the torch after his death in 1895.
This new generation experimented with a range of artistic mediums to carve out a space for a New Negro who would lead the race — and the country — into the rising century, one whose racial attitudes would be more modern and cosmopolitan than those of the previous century, marred by slavery and Civil War. When D.W. Griffith released his racist Lost Cause fantasy film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, New Negro activists responded not only with protest but also with support for African American artists like the pioneering independent producer and director Oscar Micheaux, whose reels of silent films exposed the horrors of white supremacy while advancing a fuller, more humanistic take on black life.
Their pushback against Redemption took many forms. Denied the ballot box, African American women and men organized political associations, churches, schools and social clubs, both to nurture their own culture and to speak out as forcefully as they could against the suffocating oppression unfolding around them. Though brutalized by the shockingly extensive practices of lynching and rape, reinforced by terrorism and vigilante violence, they exposed the crimes and hypocrisy of white supremacy in their own newspapers and magazines, and in marches and political rallies. But no weapon was drawn upon more frequently than images of the New Negro and what the historian Evelyn Higginbotham calls “the politics of respectability.”
Assaulted by the degrading, mass-produced imagery of the Lost Cause, its romanticization of the Old South and stereotypes of “Sambo” and the “Old Negro,” they avidly counterpunched with their own images of modern women and men, which they widely disseminated in journalism, photography, literature and the arts. Drawing on the tradition of agitation epitomized by the black Reconstruction Congressmen, such as John Mercer Langston, and former abolitionists, such as the inimitable Douglass, the children of Reconstruction would lay the foundation for the civil rights revolution to come in the 20th century.
But what also seems clear to me today is that it was in that period that white-supremacist ideology, especially as it was transmuted into powerful new forms of media, poisoned the American imagination in ways that have long outlasted its origin. You might say that anti-black racism once helped fuel an economic system, and that black crude was pumped and freighted around the world. Now, more than a century and a half since the end of slavery in the U.S., it drifts like a toxic oil slick as the supertanker lists into the sea.
When Dylann Roof murdered the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the eight other innocents in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, he didn’t need to have read any of this history; it had, unfortunately, long become part of our country’s cultural DNA and, it seems, imprinted on his own. It is important that we both celebrate the triumphs of African Americans following the Civil War and explain how the forces of white supremacy did their best to undermine those triumphs—then and in all the years since, through to the present.
Racial segregation, the practice of restricting people to certain circumscribed areas of residence or to separate institutions (e.g., schools, churches) and facilities (parks, playgrounds, restaurants, restrooms) on the basis of race or alleged race. Racial segregation provides a means of maintaining the economic advantages and superior social status of the politically dominant group, and in recent times it has been employed primarily by white populations to maintain their ascendancy over other groups by means of legal and social colour bars. Historically, however, various conquerors—among them Asian Mongols, African Bantus, and American Aztecs—practiced discrimination involving the segregation of subject races.
Racial segregation has appeared in all parts of the world where there are multiracial communities, except where racial amalgamation occurred on a large scale as in Hawaii and Brazil. In such countries there has been occasional social discrimination but not legal segregation. In the Southern states of the United States, on the other hand, legal segregation in public facilities was current from the late 19th century into the 1950s. (See Jim Crow law.) The civil rights movement was initiated by Southern blacks in the 1950s and ’60s to break the prevailing pattern of racial segregation. This movement spurred passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which contained strong provisions against discrimination and segregation in voting, education, and use of public facilities.
Trends in Racial Attitudes
How do people feel about race?
For those who believe we live in a post-racial society, this question may seem simple. Although survey data collected since the 1940s do show that racial attitudes held by whites and African Americans have changed, that change is much more complicated than generally assumed. As state and federal policies have been adopted to battle racial inequality—from the desegregation of schools to preventing housing discrimination to affirmative action—there have been changes in some aspects of the nation’s racial climate. But has there been universal change in the hearts and minds of Americans? The answer to this question in complex.
This website compiles the results of several national surveys that have been tracking Americans’ racial attitudes from as early as the 1940s up until today. The focus is on data that can shed light on trends. The researchers include questions that have been repeated at least three times, spanning at least 10 years. The surveys measure white and African American attitudes on racial equality, government efforts to ensure equal treatment, affirmative action, preferred social contact with racial groups, and other topics for which trend data are available. Unfortunately, questions of and about Latinos have not been asked regularly in the national surveys that are available. Therefore, our portrait is limited to African American and white respondents.
Looking at the historical data, one conclusion is consistent and strong: racial attitudes are complex. Take a closer look at the patterns and trends for more detailed topics and survey questions by browsing the menu to the left.
PRINCIPLES OF EQUALITY
One of the most substantial changes in white racial attitudes has been the movement from very substantial opposition to the principle of racial equality to one of almost universal support. For example, in 1942, just 32 percent of whites agreed that whites and blacks should attend the same schools; in 1995, when the question was last asked, 96 percent of whites agreed. In 1944, only 45 percent of whites agreed that blacks should have “as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job,” but by 1972 almost all whites agreed with this statement on equal opportunity (97 percent). Finally, in a question that taps whites’ feelings about a black person holding the highest office in the U.S., Gallup found that in 1958, only 37 percent of whites said they would vote for a black candidate for president; by 1997 that figure was up to 95 percent.
What is revealing is that many of the survey questions that tap attitudes toward the principle of equality are no longer included on major national surveys; they have become essentially universally accepted by whites and therefore not deemed as worth asking on surveys. The only “principle” question that continues to be asked is whether there should be laws against interracial marriage: by the mid-1990s, 87 percent of whites opposed such laws, and opposition inched up to 90 percent by 2002. These levels reflect considerable long-term change: in 1963, only 38 percent of whites opposed laws against interracial marriage (which means, of course, that 62 percent supported such laws). A similar question from Gallup about general approval of interracial marriage also shows a large increase in approval: from 51 percent in 1991 to 86 percent in 2011 (see Figure 1 (W) above).
If these were the only available data on racial attitudes, we would conclude that whites are almost universal in their racial liberalism. But racial attitudes are a multi-dimensional concept, and this pattern of improvement does not hold across all kinds of questions. For example, one of the central conclusions from the survey record on white racial attitudes is that in contemporary American society, whites are more likely to support the principle of racial equality than they are to support either the implementation of equality or policies that would take more affirmative steps to redress past or persistent discrimination.
African Americans have consistently shown almost universal support for the principles of racial equality, including integrated schools and housing rights. And since the first time the question was asked of African Americans in a survey, there has been universal support for a black candidate for president. The few questions on principles of racial equality that are still included in surveys show little change simply because they had already reached their maximum; the only one with any change is a question on interracial marriage (see Figure 1 (B) above). As has been the case since 1982, over 90 percent of African Americans oppose laws against interracial marriage. Whites, as noted earlier, are closing this gap – as of 2002, 90 percent of whites also oppose such laws. African Americans report high levels of general approval of interracial marriage, with 97 percent approval in 2011, compared with 86 percent of whites. However, this question shows an increase in approval over the past couple of decades – from 77 percent approval to 97 percent in 2011. The difference in support for legal rights to intermarriage versus general support of interracial marriage during the 1980s and 1990s might reflect the distinction between equal rights and integration. While African Americans consistently report very strong support for equal rights and access, this is not necessarily connected to a desire for greater integration in social settings, although the two might often be related. However, at this point, the two different questions on interracial marriage—one in terms of support and the other in terms of the legality of it—both show nearly universal support.
IMPLEMENTATION OF EQUAL TREATMENT
The clear trend toward more liberal racial attitudes in terms of the principles of racial equality (See Principles of Equality section) is not matched when the question becomes one of support for the implementation of the principle of equality. Whites are less willing to endorse action—at the local or federal level—to ensure the principle of equality than they are to support the abstract principle. The survey record has questions about implementation in a variety of settings: schools, jobs, housing, and accommodations such as restaurants and hotels.
Whites have been asked about their support for the federal government’s role in ensuring that black and white children go to the same schools and that blacks are treated fairly in jobs and have the right to “go to any hotel or restaurant they can afford.” In the case of all three of these questions, the highest level of support for federal government intervention was in the late 1960s and early 1970s (See Figure 2 (W) above). Only the question of government intervention in ensuring equal accommodations enjoyed a clear increase in support, from 44 percent in 1964 to its peak of 65 percent in 1974. Although this dipped to 56 percent in 1995, the last year it was asked, a majority of whites still supported it.
Enjoying lower levels of support and more erratic trends are questions about intervention in schools and jobs: between 1964 and 1970, about 40 percent of whites thought the federal government should intervene in the workplace. But starting in the mid-1970s, outright support for federal involvement in this area declined. Declines also occurred in the area of schools, particularly between 1970 and 1976. While 42 percent of whites supported federal intervention in schools in 1964, and almost half of whites expressed support in 1968, by 1976, only 21 percent of whites supported government intervention in schools. Whites become somewhat more favorable to government “seeing to it” during the 1990s, but at the last time point in 2000, it was a minority (31 percent) who supported federal government intervention in ensuring that blacks and whites go to the same schools. This trend is probably due in part to the fact that in the early 1970s, court-ordered busing was introduced to reduce the de facto segregation of schools. During this time, it is likely that this generic question about school intervention was equated in many people’s minds with the more specific practice of busing—a policy that was overwhelmingly opposed by whites. For example, in 1972, when a question about busing was first asked by NORC, only 13 percent of whites supported the practice. This increased to 33 percent by 1996, but this increase in support (and trends in the general school implementation question) are likely due to the decreased salience of the topic and the disappearance of many busing policies.
One of the most interesting trends in the implementation questions is the increase in the “no interest” response (see Figure 3 (W) above). As support declined for federal intervention during the 1980s and 1990s, only about one out of three whites thought the government should “see to it” that blacks and whites are treated equally in schools and jobs. Whites reported their lowest levels of support for federal intervention in jobs in 2008 (23 percent). However, this does not reflect an increase in those saying the government should “stay out.” Rather, whites increasingly decline to state a position—instead indicating that they “have not been concerned or interested enough about it to favor one side over the other” (see Figure 2 (W) above). The trend for this question may reflect a pattern of increasing “racial apathy,” which is an indifference to racial inequality (Forman, 2004). Alternatively, whites may increasingly use the “no interest” response as a way to avoid stating a clear position on the issue: social desirability pressures may lead white respondents to decline to answer, rather than give an answer that may be interpreted as racially conservative (Berinsky, 1999).
An implementation question about housing, however, shows a different trend—perhaps in part because there is not an explicit ‘no interest’ response. There is a continuing trend toward increasing support for laws that say a homeowner cannot refuse to sell to someone because of their race or color (see Figure 2 (W) above). In 1972, just one out of three whites supported this law; by the early 1990s, this had grown to about two out of three and has since increased to 71 percent in 2014. It is noteworthy that this question, unlike the others in this section, focuses on a community-wide vote, rather than federal intervention.
How can we make sense of these different trends? There is no clear answer, but a few things are worth considering. First, the decline in support for federal intervention in jobs and education may reflect changes in attitudes about the role of government among whites. Whites expressed the highest level of support for government intervention in these areas during the same period that survey data reported higher levels of negative racial stereotypes and segregation in private and public spaces. Therefore, it is possible that a decrease in support for intervention reflects changes in whether whites identify inequality as a problem, or whether they identify government involvement as a viable solution. By contrast, the increase in support for an open housing law poses another set of questions. Does the higher level of support for this item reflect a preference for local governance? Or does the narrow focus of the question avoid raising concerns about what types of policies or funding would be needed for the proposed government action? The open housing law question is clearly more circumscribed in its purpose, as opposed to questions about the government’s obligation to ensure fair and equal treatment in schools and jobs. As Krysan (1999) notes, the “fair treatment” in jobs is vague enough to be interpreted in any number of ways.
In general, though, apart from these nuanced differences across types of implementation, this set of questions makes it clear that whites are more willing to support the principles of equality than commit resources to its implementation.
The gap between support for principles and for their implementation has always been narrower for African Americans than for whites—though it is worth noting that the gap nevertheless exists. In addition, whites and African Americans show a similar trend in terms of a decline in the attitude that the government should “see to it” that racial equality comes about, and a concomitant increase in saying that they have “no interest” in the question. To be sure, African Americans have higher levels of support than whites for the government’s role in ensuring, for example, that black and white children go to the same schools. But that support has declined in recent years (see Figure 2 (B) above). In 2000, support had dropped to just 50 percent—compared to a high of 90 percent in 1968. Again, it is not that African Americans now feel that it is “not the government’s business;” rather, there is a growth in those indicating they “do not have enough concern or interest” to favor one side over the other (see Figure 3 (B) above).
Interestingly, when the question is about ensuring fair treatment in jobs, there is stronger support—though, again, with some evidence of a decline in support for government involvement and an increase in the “no interest” response (see Figure 2 (B) and Figure 3(B) above). In 1964, 92 percent of African Americans supported federal government intervention in jobs, which fell to 59 percent support in 2008. As noted in the summary on whites’ attitudes, there has been a decline in support for federal job intervention and increasing disinterest. But although the trend over time is similar, African Americans started with and continue to report much greater support than whites: whites’ support peaked in 1972 at 40 percent and has since dropped to 23 percent in 2008. Although African Americans continue to show greater support, the drop from near universal to majority support is a significant change, which raises questions about what the increasing response of “no interest” means for both African Americans and whites. Does this decline for both groups reflect changes in attitudes towards the role of government? Is it possible that the white backlash against government efforts to reduce inequality, as seen in the reactionary politics of the Reagan era, has contributed to a mistrust of government among both whites and blacks for resolving these issues?
Despite the decline in support for federal government intervention in these two areas of life, a community-wide vote on equal access to housing continues to show strong and steady support: in 2014, as has been true since the mid-1970s, over three-quarters of African Americans supported a law that says homeowners cannot discriminate on the basis of race when selling their homes (see Figure 2 (B) above). Although whites also show high levels of support for this law in recent years, African Americans still have more than a 10 percent lead on whites in 2014 (83 percent and 71 percent, respectively). The gap in levels of support between federal and local measures is also much larger for whites than for blacks. Whereas whites never showed overwhelming support for federal intervention in jobs and schools, African Americans reported higher levels of support for federal intervention in the 1960s than they showed for the local housing measure when it was first asked in the 1970s. Therefore, attitudes towards federal and local government interventions seem to follow different patterns for whites and blacks during the last half of the twentieth century, although both groups show a decline in support for federal intervention since the 1970s.
While support for the implementation of the principle of equality (See the Implementation of Equality section) is clearly lower than that for the principles themselves (See the Principles of Equality section), the gap between principles and policies is even greater when looking at more affirmative policies. There are two categories of questions in this section—one about the level of government expenditures on problems faced by African Americans and the other about preferential treatment for blacks in hiring and promotion. Levels of support for these two broad categories of government action are generally lower than support for either the principles or the implementation questions reviewed in the other sections (see Figure 4 (W) above). As the tables suggest, and the figures reinforce (see Figure 5 (W) below), most of the questions on affirmative action measures show no clear trends since the 1970s, although recently there is a slight decrease in support for the government’s role in improving the social and economic conditions of blacks. This is in line with the trends in the implementation questions (see the Implementation of Equal Treatment section).
Regarding government expenditures, white respondents show general support for the “status quo,” and there has been no major change over the past 40 or so years. For example, since 2000, over half of whites believed the current level of spending to “improve the conditions of blacks” is about right. In nearly every survey year from 1973 to 2014, less than one third of whites responded that the government spent “too little” on improving the conditions of blacks. A related question from ISR shows a similar pattern, although “increasing spending” became less popular in the early 2000s, when this question was last asked.
Two questions ask whether the government has a special obligation to generally improve the social and economic conditions of blacks, without explicitly mentioning funding (see Figure 5 (W) above). One asks whether the government should help blacks or if instead there should be no “special treatment” (NORC). Less than one quarter of whites agreed that the government had an obligation to improve the lives of blacks across the entire time period of both items, with the earliest item asked in 1975. There has been a slight and slow decline in whites reporting that the government should help (2012: ISR item – 12 percent support; 2014: NORC item – 10 percent support).
Whites express the lowest level of support for policies that involve preferential treatment of blacks. The majority of whites opposed policies giving blacks preference in admission to colleges through the early 1990s when this question was last asked. This type of policy came under serious legal attack starting with the California referendum against affirmative action in 1996. Since the questions were first asked in the mid-1980s, whites have also expressed low levels of support for preferences in hiring and promotion for blacks. Whites express the lowest support in response to questions that mention the counter-arguments that preferential treatment would be given to blacks who “haven’t earned” the job rewards or that it would lead to discrimination against whites (see Figure 5 (W) above).
One last insight into white attitudes toward affirmative action comes from a question that only recently became available as a time series. The data already reported show that affirmative action in general, and preferences in hiring and promotion in particular, are unpopular policies among whites. However, in addition to asking about support for the policy, from 1990 to 2012, respondents were asked about the extent to which they believed that a white person was likely to be denied a job when an equally or less qualified black person got it instead. In 1990, 29 percent of whites believed this was “very likely” to happen, while another 42 percent thought it was somewhat likely. The trend suggests the perception of the existence of reverse discrimination has generally declined: in 2014, just 16 percent said it was very likely to happen while 48 percent said it was “somewhat likely.”
What we know about white attitudes toward affirmative action is severely limited because there is little variety in the survey questions that have been asked over time. The specificity of the program, the type of policy (preferences versus quotas versus economic aid versus job training and educational assistance), and the target (women or blacks or minorities) can all impact the level of support. For example, on the one hand, Steeh and Krysan (1996) report, when the wording of the question starkly contrasts abilities with preferential treatment based on race, fewer than 10 percent of whites favored a race-based policy (in the late 1970s and early 1990s). On the other hand, for questions that specifically clarify that the program would not include rigid quotas, support is much higher. In 1988, for example, fully 73 percent of whites favored affirmative action when the question mentioned explicitly that the proposed program did not involve quotas. These contrasting figures give a hint of the complexity of attitudes toward affirmative action; a complexity not obvious because the survey questions ask only about a few specific kinds of policies or about very general issues of “government spending.”
Turning to questions that ask about more affirmative steps toward addressing racial inequality, focusing first on government expenditures, there has been no significant change in African American attitudes, although there has been a very slight decline in support since the 1980s. As with whites, there is a gap between support for principles of equality and policies for addressing inequality. However, the gap is much smaller for African Americans, since the majority of African Americans express support for government intervention to ensure equal access (see the Implementation of Equality section). Also, unlike whites, African Americans show much stronger support for policies requiring greater government expenditure and affirmative action to address racial inequalities (see Figure 4 (B) above).
For questions regarding affirmative policies, the modal response of African Americans has always been that the government is not doing enough. In 2014, 75 percent of African Americans indicated that the government was spending “too little” to improve the conditions of blacks. But two questions that ask if the government should help blacks do show a slight decline in support over time (see Figure 5 (B) below). For example, just over one third of African Americans in 2012 thought the government should help blacks (as opposed to blacks helping themselves). This is substantially higher than the levels for white respondents (12 percent in 2012)—and shows little change since it was first asked in 1986. However, if we compare the results to a similar, earlier one that asked about “aid to minorities” instead of “aid to blacks,” we see a decline in African Americans’ support for government involvement in the past 40 years, since in 1970, while 78 percent of African Americans supported government aid to minorities, this declined until the question was scrapped in favor of the question on aid to blacks. Additionally, a NORC question that places government assistance in the context of overcoming the effects of discrimination also reveals a trend toward less government involvement. From 1975 to 2014, the percentage who indicated that the government should help blacks dropped from 67 percent to 43 percent.
One of the most substantial racial differences in race-related attitudes in the contemporary era is the question of attitudes toward preferential treatment based on race. For the most part, such policies receive very little support from whites, which has not changed substantially over time. Although support among African Americans for preferences in hiring and promotion is by no means universal, African Americans consistently report very high levels of support, and much higher than whites. There has been some decline in this support since the 1980s (Figure 4 (B), above): an ISR question on hiring and promotion showed that 67 percent of African Americans favor preferential treatment (“strongly and “not strongly”) in 1986, whereas 53 percent favor it in 2012. A similar question from NORC showed declines in support from 55 percent in 1994 to 38 percent in 2014. This pattern reflects the broader trend of a decline in African Americans’ support for government intervention to address racial inequalities, although it is still much greater than whites’ support across all of these items.
EXPLAINING RACIAL INEQUALITY
In the past few decades, there has been increasing interest in understanding how people explain current racial inequality because often it is a key indicator of whether someone will support race-targeted policies like those discussed in the Affirmative Action section (e.g., Bobo and Kluegel 1993). Specifically, whites who explain inequality in structural terms—focusing on the existence of discrimination, for example—are more likely to support race-based policies.
A second reason explanations for inequality is an important dimension of racial attitudes has to do with the shift in racial prejudice away from the biological foundations and strict segregation of the Jim Crow era, toward the more contemporary era, characterized by a denial of the existence of race-based discrimination, persistent negative stereotypes focused on the idea that blacks violate cherished American values, and a belief in cultural—rather than biological—differences between racial groups. This constellation of beliefs, including but not limited to explanations for racial inequality, is the cornerstone of a new contemporary racial ideology, which has been variously labeled “colorblind racism,” “symbolic racism,” “modern racism,” “racial resentment,” and “laissez faire racism” (Bobo, Kluegel and Smith 1997; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Henry and Sears 2002; McConahay 1986; Bonilla-Silva and Forman 2000).
Beginning in the mid-1970s, survey researchers began to ask questions that tap into some of the key dimensions of this new ideology. In 1977, NORC started to ask respondents whether they thought each of four different reasons could explain why “blacks, on average, have worse jobs, income, and housing than whites”: discrimination, inborn ability to learn, education, and motivation (see Figure 6 (W) above). As Figure 6 shows, through the 1990s, fewer whites agreed with each of the four explanations. In addition, agreement with each reason has remained at a relatively constant level since the mid-2000s.
This overall decreased endorsement of all four explanations reflects a waning belief among whites in both biological (inborn ability to learn) and structural (education and discrimination) explanations of racial inequality. The most popular explanation refers to a cultural consideration: that blacks lack the necessary motivation and willpower to succeed. Although it continues to be the modal explanation given by whites, as with other explanations, there has been a decline in its popularity. In 2014, 43 percent of whites agreed that inequality was due to lack of motivation and willpower, which was only 2 percentage points more than the percentage of whites who agreed that inequality was due to unequal access to education (41 percent).
Results for two ISR questions on the effects of discrimination and the role of motivation in explaining inequality show a similar trend (see Figure 7 (W) above). In 1972, 72 percent of whites agreed that “generations of slavery and discrimination” make it difficult for blacks to move up the economic ladder, and 69 percent agreed that blacks should “try harder” in order to be “as well off as whites.” Fewer whites agreed with these statements over the next four decades, although the decline was greater for the discrimination argument. In 2012, only 46 percent of whites agreed with the discrimination explanation, while 65 percent agreed with the motivation explanation. (Note: Due to changes in the wording of these questions, trend comparisons are based on the assumption that respondents would be proportionally distributed if the middle answer option of “neither agree nor disagree” was not offered in any year.)
The declining popularity of structural and biological explanations of inequality is consistent with the transition from Jim Crow to more contemporary racial ideologies. However, the declining endorsement of the cultural explanation is unexplained by these theories. One possibility is that an altogether different explanation has become salient in the contemporary racial climate—one that we have yet to include in survey questions. Another possibility is that social desirability pressures—which are always of concern on questions that are sensitive—are at work. It may be that this explanation is viewed as increasingly inappropriate to admit to a survey interviewer in a contemporary climate of “colorblind” ideology (Forman, 2004). This trend may also show whites’ decreasing attention to race in American society—that is, the rise of “racial apathy” (Forman, 2004).
Whites’ attitudes have stagnated on a variety of racial issues over the past couple of decades, including their explanations of inequality, endorsement of racial stereotypes, and perceptions of discrimination in different social venues (see Perceptions of Discrimination and Stereotypes section). Whites are also less interested in responding to questions about how the government could help reduce persistent racial inequalities. This combination of disinterest and stagnation in whites’ racial attitudes raises questions about how these attitudes are formed and what it means for the future of addressing racial inequality in American society.
From 1985 to 1994, around 80 percent of African Americans agreed that discrimination was a cause of racial inequality (range: 75 to 83 percent). Although there have been some fluctuations, endorsement of this reason declined starting in 1996, and has hovered ever since between a small majority and two thirds of African Americans. Nevertheless, despite this downturn, discrimination remains African Americans’ most frequently endorsed explanation for racial inequality in 2014 (60 percent) (see Figure 6 (B) above).
Similarly, there have been declines in the percentage of African Americans who explain inequality in terms of a lack of access to education, the other structurally based cause of racial inequality included in the survey: from a high of 75 percent in 1985, to just under 50 percent by 2014. Finally, there has been little change in the attribution of inequality to less in-born ability or a lack of motivation, with the former exceedingly unpopular, and the latter endorsed by about four out of 10 African Americans in recent years. Whites also showed a decline in endorsement of structural explanations of inequality (as well as the biological and cultural explanations), although lack of motivation and lack of access to education are the two most popular responses for whites.
Interestingly, although the NORC question that seems to imply current discrimination as a cause of persistent inequality has enjoyed less support in recent years, in a related question—where the emphasis is on the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination—the percentage recognizing discrimination’s effects remains high (see Figure 7 (B) above). The most recent data—2012—reveal that nearly three out of four African Americans agree that “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” African Americans’ support for this explanation has remained fairly consistent since the mid-1980s. However, over time, more African Americans agree with statements that put responsibility on African Americans to fix the problem. Close to 40 percent of African Americans agreed (“strongly” or “somewhat”) with the statement that blacks should try harder when the question was first asked in the mid-1980s, and that increased to a slight majority by 2012. During the same time period, more African Americans agreed with the statement that blacks should receive “no special favors.” (Note: Due to changes in the wording of the ISR questions on the effects of slavery and whether blacks should “try harder”, trend comparisons are based on the assumption that respondents would be proportionally distributed if the middle answer option of “neither agree nor disagree” was not offered in any year.)
PERCEPTIONS OF DISCRIMINATION AND STEREOTYPING
The slow but steady decline among whites for the discrimination explanation of inequality (see Explanations for Inequality section) is of significance, given its central role in shaping public opinion about racial policies. If whites do not perceive blacks as facing discrimination, then racial policies that are predicated on the notion that blacks continue to experience discrimination will likely fail in the court of public opinion. In a series of Gallup questions, respondents were asked whether blacks had “as good a chance” as whites to access jobs, housing and education. In the early 1960s, when the questions on education and jobs were first asked, whites were much more likely to report equal chances in education (94 percent in 1962) than in jobs (51 percent in 1963). Whites’ assessment of equal opportunities in jobs increased through the late 1990s until leveling off at just over three quarters in 2008. Over three quarters of whites responded they believe blacks have equal opportunity in housing and education from the late 1980s through the 2000s (housing range: 76 to 90 percent; education range: 80 to 90 percent). Whites have shown little change in their attitudes about the existence of equal opportunity in these important areas of social life for over two decades.
A series of questions provided by the Gallup Poll tap white perceptions of discrimination in general (as opposed to its role in explaining racial inequality) beginning in the 1990s. Results from 1997 to 2007 show both little change over time, and relatively low levels of recognition that blacks are “treated less fairly” than whites in places like on the job, in neighborhood shops, downtown, in restaurants and by the police (see Figure 8 (W) above). In 2007, the percentage of whites who acknowledge discrimination against African Americans in public settings and employment generally ranges from 11 percent (in shops) to 15 percent (downtown and on the job). The only venue where a much higher percentage of whites perceive unfair treatment is by the police. In 2007, just over one in three whites reported they thought blacks were treated less fairly by the police. Between 1997 and 2007, there was a slight decline in recognition of unfair treatment across all of the venues included in the Gallup surveys except for the police, where the figures stayed relatively constant.
One of the key lessons from a series of Gallup questions about discrimination is the striking racial differences in the belief that African Americans face discrimination. For example, in 2008, a clear majority of African Americans believed that blacks did not have “as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job for which they are qualified.” Though declining slightly, this has been the modal response since the question was first asked in 1963. Whites, by contrast, are unlikely to acknowledge that blacks are treated unfairly: just over 20 percent in 2008 agreed with this statement. African Americans have consistently shown universal support for the principle of equal access in education, housing and jobs (see the Principles of Equality section), but since the 1960s and continuing until today, a majority or near-majority of African Americans have reported that blacks do not have the same chances as whites in these areas. Whites, on the other hand, reached near universal support for the principle of equal access over the last half of the twentieth century, but much lower levels of whites recognize persistent unequal treatment.
Another set of questions asking whether blacks are treated unfairly in a range of settings (on the job, in neighborhood shops, downtown, in restaurants, and by the police) also show fairly widespread recognition among African Americans that whites and blacks are not treated equally. This ranges from a high of 76 percent who reported that blacks are treated less fairly by the police, to over one-half who said it was the case on the job, and between 33 percent and 53 percent who said blacks were treated less fairly in a variety of other public places. African Americans reported fairly consistent responses for each of these items over the course of the ten years the question was asked (1997 to 2007). Whites are much less likely to report discrimination against blacks in each of these venues. They are most likely to report racial discrimination in police interactions, which reflects the same pattern seen in African Americans’ responses. However, in 2007, only 36 percent of whites report that blacks are discriminated against by the police, while fully 76 percent of African Americans report that there is police-related discrimination against blacks. The same disparities exist for perceptions of discrimination in other areas of life (see Figure 8 (B) above).
ENDORSEMENT OF RACIAL STEREOTYPES
Underlying the questions discussed in the Explanations of Inequality section (whether inequality is due to lack of motivation, less in-born ability, etc.) are the beliefs that people hold about the characteristics of racial groups—what are commonly referred to as racial stereotypes. Since 1990, national surveys have regularly included measures of this important dimension of racial attitudes; stereotype questions were included in much earlier time periods, but they generally disappeared from national surveys, likely due to increasing social pressures against reporting negative racial stereotypes and the reluctance to include them in surveys. But survey researchers responded by creating subtler measures including those reported here. Survey respondents are presented with a seven-point scale anchored on one end by a low status/negative trait (poor, lazy, and unintelligent) and the other by a high status/positive trait (rich, hardworking, and intelligent). They are first asked to rate whites as a group, and then in a separate question asked to rate blacks as a group. A difference score can then be calculated—a simple subtraction of the score they gave to whites and the score they gave to blacks. In the tables, we report the percentage of respondents who rate whites more positively, who rate no difference between whites and blacks, and who rate blacks more positively on each of these dimensions.
The overall patterns for stereotypes show that between 1990 and 2004, there was a striking decline in the percentage of whites who report negative stereotypes of blacks. But after that point, the levels have remained constant (see Figure 9 (W) above). For example, in 1990, two out of three whites rated whites as harder-working than blacks; a percentage that declined steadily until 2004, when the figure was just about half that level (37 percent). From 2004 to 2014, though, the percentage of whites endorsing the stereotype ranged from a high of 42 percent in 2006 to a low of 34 percent in 2014. The belief that blacks are less intelligent than whites similarly declined from 57 percent in 1990 to just over one in four in 2004 and since then endorsement has stabilized at 23 to 27 percent. A note on the rich/poor dimension is called for. Given objective racial inequalities in income, the trait rating on rich/poor is not interpreted as a stereotype, but is included as a measure of the extent to which whites perceive racial inequality. In 2014 almost 70 percent of whites correctly perceive that whites, as a group, are richer than blacks.
On the one hand, these results about the declining use of stereotypes may provide some reason for optimism. Whites are less willing (in a survey interview) to draw sharp distinctions between racial groups on the traits of intelligence and laziness. However, caution is advised against making too much of these findings. First, social desirability pressures may be particularly at work on these kinds of items. It has become increasingly socially unacceptable to admit to believing in racial differences of this type, and thus surveys may under-estimate levels of stereotype endorsement. Indeed, evidence from laboratory studies of “unconscious” stereotyping suggest that stereotypes continue to shape how whites think about race and racial groups (Fazio et al., 1995; McConnell and Leibold, 2001). Second, qualitative studies on racial attitudes suggest that the traits being measured by NORC may not be tapping those most prevalent in the contemporary racial climate (e.g., Waters, 1999; Lamont, 2000). In other words, the intelligence question—though still revealing that one in four whites agrees that blacks as a group are less intelligent than whites—may tap a sentiment that is particularly prone to social desirability pressures because of the changing racial ideology away from an endorsement of “innate differences” such as intelligence and towards cultural deficiencies.
Showing almost as much change over time as principles of racial equality (see the Principles of Equality section) are questions about the degree to which whites are willing to accept blacks into a range of social spheres. One of the most dramatic changes in the past twenty years has been in attitudes towards interracial marriage; although openness to interracial marriage has not reached levels of universal support, there have been striking changes (see Figure 10 (W) above). Several of the questions about social distance that were included in the early years of survey research on racial attitudes are no longer asked, mainly because few whites in the contemporary era will report that they object to minimal levels of integration (which were the focus of earlier questions). For example, by the mid-1990s whites were almost universally accepting of small numbers of black neighbors or classmates (see Figure 11 (W) above). Whites also showed slightly increasing acceptance of blacks comprising “half” or a “majority” of their children’s classmates.
However, the patterns are different when the questions are about more than token integration. For example, beginning in 1990, NORC began asking whites how they would feel living in a neighborhood where “half of the neighbors” were black. Between 1990 and 2014 the percentage of whites who “opposed” or “strongly opposed” living in such a neighborhood dropped from 48 percent to 19 percent, with a plateau starting in the mid-2000s (see Figure 12 (W) above). To be sure, attitudes (as is typically the case) over-state actual behaviors; patterns of residential segregation demonstrate that few whites actually live in such neighborhoods and studies of whites’ housing choices reveal that whites are very likely to avoid just such diverse neighborhoods (Massey and Denton 1993). But these attitudinal data reveal that the trend is in the same direction as the patterns of actual residential segregation.
The same general conclusion about the similarity in trends in attitudes and behaviors is evident in the intimate sphere of marriage. On the one hand, opposition to inter-racial marriage dramatically declined from 67 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2014, according to a NORC question about approval of interracial marriage among family members. A similar question from Gallup about interracial marriage in general also shows a large decline in opposition: from 49 percent in 1991 to 14 percent in 2011. At the same time, although quite small, the percentages of actual interracial marriages in the U.S. have also increased over time; thus, the trends are similar between this attitudinal report and a behavioral manifestation. However, the levels of approval are far greater than the actual levels of interracial marriage.
In a general question about social distance, whites were asked how close they feel to whites and then how close they feel to blacks. We calculate a difference score to identify the degree to which whites feel closer to other whites than they feel to blacks. Using this abstract question about closeness—related to, but not completely the same as, willingness to share social space—we see that there has also been some change over time: the percentage of whites who reported feeling closer to whites than they do to blacks dropped from 54 percent in 1996 to 42 percent in 2014 (see Figure 13 (W) above). This seems to match other trends that show a decrease in whites’ opposition to integration in various social settings, including intimate ones, like family.
On the issue of preferred social distance from whites, there has always been almost universal acceptance of integration in the settings that have been asked about in surveys. Many of the questions on social distance, such as school racial composition and white dinner guests have not been replicated in recent years, likely due to the lack of variation. For instance, since they were first asked in the 1970s, African Americans have reported nearly universal support for sending their children to schools where a “few” to “half” of their classmates are white (see Figure 10 (B) above). However, two questions—one on housing and one on interracial marriage—have been asked in recent years and are most useful as counterpoints to the results reported for whites’ preferred social distance. Just as African Americans have opposed laws against interracial marriage, they also report quite low levels of opposition to interracial marriage (see Figure 9 (B) above). In 2014, just 6 percent were “opposed” to a close relative or family member marrying a white person. The Gallup version of this question shows a decline from about one in four blacks objecting in 1972, to only 3 percent in 2014 (see also the Principles of Equality section).
A question in which blacks were asked if they would oppose living in a neighborhood that was half white shows very little opposition to such a neighborhood—just 10 percent either somewhat or strongly opposed this in 2014. It is worth noting that the comparison figure for whites—those who would be opposed to living in a half-black neighborhood, for example, was 19 percent—or about twice as many (see Figure 11 (B) above).
One additional social distance question asks blacks how close they feel to whites and how close they feel to blacks. In the table, we report the differences that blacks report in their levels of closeness to whites and blacks. To be sure, a higher percentage of blacks report being closer to blacks than whites; interestingly, there has been a decline in this sentiment—and a corresponding increase in the percentage of African Americans who report feeling no difference in their closeness to whites and blacks (see Figure 12 (B) above). In 2014, half of blacks said they feel closer to blacks than whites; this is down from the high of 62 percent in 1996. Whites reported a similar decrease in closeness to whites in favor of reporting “no difference” in closeness. In 2014, 46 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of whites report “no difference.”
There are a small group of miscellaneous questions that are all of interest, but not easy to fit into the other categories of questions we have presented. Some of them are also challenging to interpret, due to the ambiguity of the wording and the changing historical context.
Related to the question of closeness (see the Social Distance section), there is a longer time series in which whites are asked to evaluate their feelings toward whites and blacks on what is called a “feeling thermometer”—where zero is “cold” and 100 is “warm.” Whites, on average, report consistently cooler feelings toward blacks than toward whites. Though the means have fluctuated over time, the difference in ratings has decreased over time, as whites have reported cooler feelings towards other whites. When the question was first asked in 1964, whites’ feelings were 25 degrees cooler towards African Americans than whites, while in 2008 whites’ feelings were about 7 degrees cooler toward African Americans.
Similarly, whites have increasingly rejected the idea that “blacks shouldn’t push themselves where they’re not wanted.” In 1963, only 22 percent of whites disagreed (“strongly and slightly”) with this statement, and in 2002, this figure was up to 62 percent, almost three times as many respondents (see Figure 14 (W) above). This also supports the trends we discussed in the section on social distance, which seem to show a decrease in whites’ opposition to integration in their social lives. That having been said, there is a ‘resentfulness’ that is implied by this question (see Wilson 2011) and thus it is noteworthy that nearly 40 percent of whites continued to agree with this statement when the question was last asked in 2002.
There are a small group of miscellaneous questions that are all of interest, but not easy to fit into the other categories of questions we have presented. Some of them are also challenging to interpret, due to the ambiguity of the wording and the changing historical context.
Related to the question of closeness (see the Social Distance section), there is a longer time series in which African Americans are asked to evaluate their feelings toward whites and blacks on what is called a “feeling thermometer”—where 0 is “cold” and 100 is “warm.” African Americans, on average, report consistently cooler feelings toward whites than blacks. As was the case with whites, there has not been significant change in the thermometer ratings that African Americans give to blacks and whites; in 2008, the means were 86 and 77, respectively. This is fairly consistent throughout the time series, although there does seem to be a slight increase in African Americans’ ratings of warmth towards whites. The gap between the two average ratings is therefore decreasing; in 1964 there was a 24 degree difference, and in 2008 it was a 9 degree difference. The convergence of these thermometer ratings is similar to whites (25 degree difference in 1964 and 7 degree difference in 2008).
Finally, a majority of African Americans have consistently rejected the idea that “blacks shouldn’t push themselves where they are not wanted.” In 1980, 54 percent of African Americans disagreed (“strongly and slightly”) with this statement, and in 2002, this figure was up to 74 percent (See Figure 13 (B) above). In contrast, fewer whites initially expressed disagreement (1963 – 22 percent; 1980 – 32 percent), but by 2002, 62 percent of whites rejected the idea that “blacks shouldn’t push themselves where they are not wanted.”
Timeline: Key Moments in Black History
advertisement from the 1780s
The first African slaves arrive in Virginia.
|1746||Lucy Terry, an enslaved person in 1746, becomes the earliest known black American poet when she writes about the last American Indian attack on her village of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Her poem, Bar’s Fight, is not published until 1855.|
from her book
Phillis Wheatley’s book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is published, making her the first African American to do so.
|1787||Slavery is made illegal in the Northwest Territory. The U.S Constitution states that Congress may not ban the slave trade until 1808.|
|1793||Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin greatly increases the demand for slave labor.|
for runaway slaves from 1860
A federal fugitive slave law is enacted, providing for the return slaves who had escaped and crossed state lines.Top
|1800||Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African-American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia’s slave laws are consequently tightened.|
|1808||Congress bans the importation of slaves from Africa.|
|1820||The Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.|
|1822||Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African-American carpenter who had purchased his freedom, plans a slave revolt with the intent to lay siege on Charleston, South Carolina. The plot is discovered, and Vesey and 34 coconspirators are hanged.The American Colonization Society, founded by Presbyterian minister Robert Finley, establishes the colony of Monrovia (which would eventually become the country of Liberia) in western Africa. The society contends that the immigration of blacks to Africa is an answer to the problem of slavery as well as to what it feels is the incompatibility of the races. Over the course of the next forty years, about 12,000 slaves are voluntarily relocated.|
|1831||Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American preacher, leads the most significant slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers launch a short, bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia quells the rebellion, and Turner is eventually hanged. As a consequence, Virginia institutes much stricter slave laws.William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocates the complete abolition of slavery. He becomes one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.Top|
|1839||On July 2, 1839, 53 African slaves on board the slave ship the Amistad revolted against their captors, killing all but the ship’s navigator, who sailed them to Long Island, N.Y., instead of their intended destination, Africa. Joseph Cinqu was the group’s leader. The slaves aboard the ship became unwitting symbols for the antislavery movement in pre-Civil War United States. After several trials in which local and federal courts argued that the slaves were taken as kidnap victims rather than merchandise, the slaves were acquitted. The former slaves aboard the Spanish vessel Amistad secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842.|
The Wilmot Proviso, introduced by Democratic representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, attempts to ban slavery in territory gained in the Mexican War. The proviso is blocked by Southerners, but continues to enflame the debate over slavery.Frederick Douglass launches his abolitionist newspaper.
Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes one of the most effective and celebrated leaders of the Underground Railroad.
|1850||The continuing debate whether territory gained in the Mexican War should be open to slavery is decided in the Compromise of 1850: California is admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories are left to be decided by popular sovereignty, and the slave trade in Washington, DC, is prohibited. It also establishes a much stricter fugitive slave law than the original, passed in 1793.Top|
|1854||Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The legislation repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and renews tensions between anti- and proslavery factions.|
|1859||John Brown and 21 followers capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W. Va.), in an attempt to launch a slave revolt.|
|1861||The Confederacy is founded when the deep South secedes, and the Civil War begins.|
|1865||Congress establishes the Freedmen’s Bureau to protect the rights of newly emancipated blacks (March).The Civil War ends (April 9).Lincoln is assassinated (April 14).The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee by ex-Confederates (May).Slavery in the United States is effectively ended when 250,000 slaves in Texas finally receive the news that the Civil War had ended two months earlier (June 19).Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, prohibiting slavery (Dec. 6).Top|
|1865-1866||Black codes are passed by Southern states, drastically restricting the rights of newly freed slaves.|
|1867||A series of Reconstruction acts are passed, carving the former Confederacy into five military districts and guaranteeing the civil rights of freed slaves.|
|1868||Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, defining citizenship. Individuals born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens, including those born as slaves. This nullifies the Dred Scott Case (1857), which had ruled that blacks were not citizens.|
|1869||Howard University’s law school becomes the country’s first black law school.|
Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote.Hiram Revels of Mississippi is elected the country’s first African-American senator. During Reconstruction, sixteen blacks served in Congress and about 600 served in states legislatures.
|1877||Reconstruction ends in the South. Federal attempts to provide some basic civil rights for African Americans quickly erode.|
|1879||The Black Exodus takes place, in which tens of thousands of African Americans migrated from southern states to Kansas.|
|1881||Spelman College, the first college for black women in the U.S., is founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.Booker T. Washington founds the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school becomes one of the leading schools of higher learning for African Americans, and stresses the practical application of knowledge. In 1896, George Washington Carver begins teaching there as director of the department of agricultural research, gaining an international reputation for his agricultural advances.|
|1896||Plessy v. Ferguson: This landmark Supreme Court decision holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South.|
See beginning of article for the rest of the Time line.
10 STEPS TOWARD BRIDGING OUR PAINFUL RACIAL DIVIDE
Here are 10 steps we can each take to step out of the shadows of silence:
- Learn about other people and their culture but go beyond foods and festivals.
- Explore the unfamiliar. Put yourself in situations where you are in the visible minority.
- Be a proactive parent. Talk to your children candidly about race.
- Don’t tell or laugh at stereotypical jokes.
- Think before you speak. Words can hurt whether you mean them to or not.
- Be a role model and help educate others regarding your own experiences.
- Don’t make assumptions because they are usually wrong and stereotypes are destructive.
- Consider how race and racism impact your life and those around you.
- Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
- Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.
Hate attacks civility, community and escalates into the disease of racism — racism hurts everyone.
Approaching Mental Health in Black America on American Wellness
4.8 million Black and African Americans in the United States are struggling with their mental health. Traumatized by a history of racism and demonization, as well as a present environment of police brutality and racial inequality, the pain seems endless and relentless. Unfortunately, within this vulnerable community, seeking mental health assistance is often stigmatized.
Professor and researcher, Dr. Olusola Ajilore explains why Black and African American populations are often reluctant to seek help from medical professionals, how Police Brutality is causing PTSD in those involved and who are only witnessing the violence, as well as how the answer to normalizing mental health aid in the community might be the diversification of the mental health industry itself.
— About American Wellness —
Produced by WeXL Org, American Wellness dives headfirst into the uncomfortable conversations surrounding mental illness and why Americans feel the way they do. We examine our past, present, and future to find the solutions that could unite and heal us. Together we heal.
Mental Health Stats
- Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with any mental illness (46.6 million in 2017 aged 18 or older. 18.9% of all U.S. adults.
- The prevalence of any mental illness was higher among women (22.3%) than men (15.1%).
- The prevalence of any mental illness was highest among adults reporting two or more races (28.6%), followed by White adults (20.4%). The prevalence of any mental illness was lowest among Asian adults (14.5%).
- Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of AMI (25.8%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (22.2%) and aged 50 and older (13.8%).
THE IMPACT OF RACISM ON U.S. IMMIGRATION PAST AND PRESENT
The history of migration and immigration in the United States is one of the dominant forces shaping our experience of race today. While immigration for “white” Europeans has, for the most part, led to a smooth welcome into dominant society, immigrants who are people of color face a more difficult path to acceptance, much less belonging, in our nation. It is common to refer to the United States as a nation of immigrants, but the reality is that immigrants in our nation have been scapegoated, exploited for cheap labor, and treated as second-class citizens for hundreds of years.
The inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric embraced by President Trump’s campaign was in many ways an echo of campaigns against various immigrant groups throughout history. In this chapter, you will learn about the numerous times our nation chose fear and hatred of immigrants over welcome and acceptance. Unfortunately, this has been a cycle that repeats itself time and time again.
Studying the history of immigration in the United States, as well as the laws and customs that changed over decades, illustrates how the concept of “whiteness” has been manipulated to serve those in power. Moreover, a survey of history demonstrates how “white” is less a racial identity, and instead more a privileged legal and economic status that needed to be protected and restricted to the few.
The History of U.S. Immigration in the 1800s
Our nation’s very first immigration law passed in 1790, creating a process to grant naturalized citizenship to immigrants who had lived in the United States for at least two years. The more restrictive requirement, however, was only “free white persons” qualified (*for all intents and purposes, person meant “man”). This also excluded Native Americans, indentured servants, and both enslaved and free Black people from access to citizenship. In 1795, Congress amended the law to increase the minimum residency requirement to five years, which remains today.  From then on, the nation continued to grow and receive immigrants looking to start their lives in the United States.
Throughout the 19th century, immigrants arrived in the United States from all over the world, particularly Northern and Western Europe and East Asia. Millions of individuals and families from Ireland and Germany arrived on the East Coast and settled in the East and Midwest. On the West Coast, Chinese immigrants arrived to work “first to work in the gold mines, but also to take agricultural jobs, and factory work” in the mid-1800s. 
Meanwhile, much of the land that currently makes up the southwestern U.S. still belonged to Mexico, making the residents there Mexican citizens or residents. In the 1840s and 1850s, due to President James Polk and the federal government’s actions, wars and treaties moved the border south. As a result, these families never “crossed the border,” the border crossed them. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (following the U.S.-Mexico war) won much of the Southwest for the United States, including California, Texas, parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. Six years later, in 1854, the Gadsden Purchase brought what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico into the United States. 
The provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo included safety and protection of: land ownership, language, and culture for Mexicans living in that territory, as well as access to U.S. citizenship. After the treaty was signed, however, many of those promises were broken, and it was difficult for U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry to access their right to citizenship and retain their land. During this time, many Mexican and U.S. citizens freely traveled between the two countries for work and had friends and family on both sides of the border.
Near the end of the 1800s, the welcoming of Chinese immigrants to California abruptly stopped as fear grew that Chinese immigrants were taking over jobs and posed “a threat to society.” Congress passed several laws to exclude Chinese immigrants from the country and society. In 1882, Congress passed the first of three Chinese Exclusion Acts, banning additional Chinese immigration. It was not until 1943 when China and the United States became allies during World War II that the exclusion laws were finally repealed. 
Anti-Immigrant Policies in the Early 1900s
Immigration to the U.S. from all over the world continued into the 1900s, but two factors led to the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the country. First, European immigration shifted away from Protestant, Western European countries and increasingly came from Russia, Austria, and Italy, bringing a significant portion of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. Second, the Great Depression caused terrible damage to the economy and wages in the United States.
In response to the first development, Congress passed the National Origins Act in 1924 establishing a quota system to limit the number of immigrants entering the United States. In order to reduce the number of these “less-desirable” Italian, Eastern European, or Jewish immigrants, the law deliberately based the new quotas on census data from 1890, more than 20 years earlier when the majority of immigrants in the U.S. were white Protestants from Northern and Western Europe. .
A few years later, during the Great Depression, those in power turned against Mexican immigrants, blaming them for the nation’s economic troubles. President Herbert Hoover led a wide-ranging campaign with the slogan “American Jobs for Real Americans.” White people across the country supported this campaign, as there was near-universal consensus among white people that the category “real Americans” excluded Mexican immigrants. State and local governments not only in the Southwest, but all across the country, conducted the “Mexican Repatriation” efforts of the 1930s with support and funding from the federal government. The various agencies involved did not keep consistent records, but historians estimate that around 1 million, if not more, people of Mexican descent were forcibly deported.
The various deportation efforts failed to limit the euphemistically named “repatriation” to Mexican immigrants, and included many U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. Some research says that as many as 60% of those sent “home” to Mexico in the 1930s were U.S. citizens: U.S.-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border.  Thousands of people of Mexican descent were deported from Los Angeles, where local agencies conducted raids on the Mexican community and other parts of the Southwest. In the Midwest also, Mexican immigrants were removed from jobs and deported, all to make the factory jobs they held “available for white people.” Major companies, including Ford, U.S. Steel, and the Southern Pacific Railroad, colluded with the government by laying off thousands of Mexican workers. 
In 1935 a similar repatriation effort was instituted for Filipino immigrants after the Tydings-McDuffie Act set a plan for the Philippines to become an independent country. The Act also instituted a new immigration quota of only 50 Filipino immigrants per year. (Previously, when the Philippines was a United States colony, the U.S. government classified Filipino immigrants as “nationals” and immigration to the U.S. was unrestricted.) Facing much less coercion than the Mexican repatriation efforts, only about 2,000 immigrants voluntarily chose to return to the Philippines. 
Other policies, outside of immigration policy negatively affected the lives of immigrants and people of color. The Wagner Act of 1935, previously mentioned as a contributor to the racial wealth and income gap, excluded farm workers and domestic workers, many of whom were Latinx or Asian immigrants, as well as Black workers. This policy harmed Black workers and immigrant workers by prohibiting them from receiving the benefits of organizing and creating unions. Additionally, other policies that contributed to the racial wealth gap also disproportionately affected immigrant communities and the descendants of immigrants, including the National Housing Act, the Federal-Highway Act, subprime loans, and the war on drugs.
The hypocrisy of using the term “real Americans” to deport people of Mexican descent:
A Nation that Welcomes Immigrant Labor, But Not Immigrants
A noticeable pattern emerges throughout our nation’s history of immigration: when the economy needs immigrant labor, restrictions decline and immigrants are welcomed into the country. However, if circumstances change and immigrant labor is no longer needed, the U.S. position on immigration shifts to restriction, deportations, and xenophobic rhetoric.
Immigration to the East and West coasts was welcomed throughout the first century of the United States’ existence as it provided laborers and settlers to populate the vast states and territories contained in our new nation. During World War II, there was once again a labor shortage and immigrants were needed to fill the gap. In 1942, the “Bracero” program was created. Temporary workers were welcomed in, mainly from Mexico but also Barbados, the Bahamas, Canada, and Jamaica, to work in agriculture. Workers through this program were not eligible for permanent residency in the United States, and working conditions were awful for immigrants. These temporary workers were paid very little and their children were not allowed to attend public schools. Farmers used the program long after the war ended because farmworkers were not allowed to form unions or organize, allowing employers to pay their workers as little as they wanted. Congress ended the program in 1964, though other forms of temporary worker visas continue to this day. 
Finally, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Congress passed immigration legislation ending the old quota system in 1965. The Immigration and Naturalization Act replaced the previous quota system with “a preference system based on immigrants’ family relationships with U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and, to a lesser degree, their skills.”  The framework of an immigration system laid out in this law is still the basis of our immigration system today. This 1965 immigration law did much to remedy the shortcomings of the racist quota system and usher in immigration based on family unification. However, our laws are still woefully outdated.A broken immigration system means broken families and broken lives.Jose Antonio Vargas
Challenges Facing Immigrants Today
Just by glancing at the front page of nearly any newspaper, it is clear that our current system fails to meet today’s immigration reality. Despite the fact that the majority of visas are granted to family members of citizens and legal permanent residents, even those with family connections experience unreasonable wait times to immigrate to the United States. Immigrants from the four countries with the longest wait times (Mexico, India, China and the Philippines) can face wait times of more than 20 years depending on family relation- ships, employment status and other factors.
The issue of wait times is separate from the current crisis of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Violence and instability in Central American countries, including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, cause many to leave their homes without the time or resources to immigrate through family or employment-based immigration channels. Instead, they are making the difficult journey to the U.S.-Mexico border and presenting themselves to border officials as asylum-seekers. It is legal under U.S. and international law for families and individuals seeking asylum to come into the United States for a determination of eligibility. The Trump administration’s recent policies to indiscriminately close the border or require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico contradicts our laws and puts people into very dangerous situations, which have led to deaths of migrants at the border.
While the majority of immigrants have legal residency in the United States or have become naturalized citizens, immigrants who are undocumented in the United States experience significant challenges to provide for themselves and their families. Undocumented individuals face uncertainty in every aspect of their lives and endure barriers to employment, healthcare, and other necessities. While the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) programs proposed by the Obama administration raised hope of security for some undocumented individuals, those hopes were never fully realized. The Supreme Court declared that DAPA was unconstitutional and it never went into effect, while DACA has faced legal challenges and attacks from the Trump administration over the past few years.
Meanwhile, immigration enforcement in the United States has been responsible for cruelly separating immigrant families through detention and deportation. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, also known as “ICE” was created in 2003, as part of the national response to the September 11 attacks. Throughout President Obama’s two terms, ICE conducted more than 2 million immigrant removals, more than any other president until that time. Now, President Trump’s administration has implemented changes to ICE tactics, upping the number of raids and deportations and made them crueler. Under the Obama Administration, undocumented immigrants in “high-priority categories,” including gang members, people with felony convictions, and those who posed security threats were prioritized for deportation while law-abiding undocumented immigrants, especially long-time residents and relatives of U.S.-citizens were mostly exempt from deportation. It is now common for people who have lived in the U.S. for decades and parents of U.S.-citizen children to be separated from their families and deported.
The origin of this cruel immigration enforcement system was the 2003 decision to create ICE and move immigration under the purview of the new Department of Homeland Security. This shift was one of the factors that shaped a more critical view of immigrants and immigration and criminalized undocumented immigrants for the first time. This was a marked difference than in the past when immigration had been overseen by the Department of Labor and immigrants were seen as positive contributors to our nation and economy.
Since the beginning of the Trump administration, verbal attacks against immigrants from other countries have frequently been broadcast from President Trump and other members of his administration. Whether disparaging the countries many immigrants come from, or arguing in favor of the Muslim ban, messages degrading immigrants who are people of color are coming from our nation’s highest office. Overall, the majority of people in the United States disagree and believe that immigration is a good thing, and less than a quarter, only 24%, of people supported cutting immigration. A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that “since 2001, the share of Americans who favor increased legal immigration into the U.S. has risen 22 percentage points (from 10% to 32%), while the share who support a decrease has declined 29 points (from 53% to 24%).” 
For more than a decade, Congress has talked about passing comprehensive immigration reform with no legislative success. It is past time for our immigration system to reflect and respond to the current realities of immigration in our world.
A Personal Encounter with Racism Against Immigrants
At NETWORK, we are proud to have immigrants and the descendants of immigrants in our Spirit-filled network of activists. We advocate for policies that welcome immigrants and fulfil our faith teaching to “love our neighbor” and support for family unity, as well as understanding and appreciation of immigrant communities.
Because there have not been any reasonable updates to our immigration system over the past decades, today, our system is broken. Millions of individuals face the struggle of being undocumented in the United States. Many undocumented people have lived in the United States for years, and have spouses, children, and extended family here. Approximately 16 million people in the U.S. live in mixed-status homes, and our nation’s policies are not keeping up with that reality.  Instead, they punish the children and family members of undocumented immigrants, even if those family members are U.S. citizens themselves.
One such family, members of our Spirit-filled network, lives in Ohio. When Adriana (names changed for protection) went to the DMV to get her drivers’ permit, she was unable to do so because of her mother’s undocumented status. Not only that, but Adriana, who was born in the United States, was accused of faking her birth certificate, social security card, and other documents. Their story was chronicled by reporters from the local paper.
Race in America: A Conversation
My name is Robert. I’m a bookish, Jewish white male. I can’t sleep at night without Ambien because I can’t shut off my brain, and I’ve been thinking about race recently after participating in a series of conversations between Jews and blacks about race in America.
Jews know from Leviticus, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Jews have a history of standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks during the civil rights movement and Jews are at the forefront of social justice causes. Jews cannot stand idly by.
Our black-Jewish dialogue program was comprised of six meetings over six months. We got along very well. Our conversations were often difficult, sometimes intense. Blacks and Jews were better able to see the world through the eyes of the other afterwords. For me the most meaningful outcome was just being together—sharing a meal and forming bonds of understanding.
I learned that there is a popular “narrative” about race in America and many of the African American participants subscribed to it. I have a problem with the narrative. I don’t think it represents reality, and I don’t think it is constructive or helpful.
This opening blast is to defend my position. If it seems as though I’m attacking your race or making you feel that I’m devaluing your life experience as a African American, that is not my intention. My intention is to ensure that all Americans can achieve successful, meaningful, and happy lives. I think about young people in America who are black and I want them to succeed.
The narrative, as I heard it, was the following:
All whites are racist. I’m told there is the racism I know I’m doing and the racism I don’t know I’m doing, but it’s all racism. Racism in America is pervasive and omnipresent. The “system” is racist and it is designed to thwart blacks for the purpose of white supremacy. Examples include the criminal justice system, voter suppression, redlining of mortgages by banks, profiling by police, higher rates of expulsion in public schools, lower per-pupil funding in schools with high percentages of black students, and general discrimination in hiring, promotion and in all phases of life.
I heard that black people fear for their lives and believe there are whites who would kill them just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A traffic stop is a fearful event that can get you killed. The participants argued that white police “murder” black people almost every day and all black leaders have been assassinated.
I was told that America is tragically flawed and culpable for any number of evils. I believe that there is a responsbility for slavery and Jim Crow, but some claimed far beyond that. The black people in our group don’t believe they have a homeland in the way that the Jews can look to Israel. They don’t seem to identify themselves as Americans (at least not as strongly as I do). As a people with an overwhelmingly deprecating view of America, they are without a home of their own.
They conclude that racism puts barriers in their path that are essentially insurmountable and that for black people, life in America is difficult. Some believed that the best one can do is survive. Curiously, all the blacks in our group were successful in their chosen fields. Several were leaders and administrators with standing in the community. I was left with a cognitive dissonance I’m still trying to understand.
I challenged the narrative and set off a firestorm. The narrative is unassailable dogma, a law of gravity. No one is permitted to deviate from the narrative, black or white. The whites in the room are just as committed and pushed back just as hard.
I’ll break down my challenge into four points.
Our belief system, or “frame,” is the worldview we adopt because it makes us happy and it seems to predict events. No one has a perfectly truthful worldview. If they think they do, they’re wrong. To see the power of frames compare an hour of CNN with an hour of Fox News. Notice how differently they report the exact same events. The two popular news services live in separate universes.
When you choose news programs because they validate your frame, you see the world is working as your frame predicted. You receive “confirmation bias,” and you are more sure than ever that your frame is true. You become a reliable, loyal viewer; they sell advertising and make a lot of money.
If you think Trump is awful and should be impeached, you’ll find confirmation bias all day every day. On the other hand, if you believe Trump is just what the country needs, you’ll find confirmation bias for that as well. One or both of these frames is a mass delusion. I think it’s both.
If your frame is the racism narrative, you’ll have no trouble finding confirmation bias. You’ll see it in every sideways glance or in the tone of voice of an overworked waitress. The Southern Poverty Law Center paints the bleakest possible picture of race in America. It publishes data reporting every racial incident whether confirmed or not. These numbers increase year by year because the day race relations improve is the day they’re out of business. Donations will dry up. Jewish groups do the same thing, often with the same result—increased fear.
2. Correlation and causation
As I read the literature on the black experience with the criminal justice system, or on higher mortgage rates for blacks or high rates of expulsion in schools, I see logical fallacies and errors conflating correlation with causation. This is, after all, social science; not chemistry or physics. Causal factors are complicated and largely unmeasurable. Social scientists, authors, news commentators, academics, and politicians will examine the same phenomena and come to vastly different conclusions.
The narrative encourages us to regard all setbacks as the result of racism, incorrectly conflating correlation with causation. We can’t solve problems until we face them head on, in an honest search for truth. Reflexively attributing problems to racism is avoidance; it prevents us from seeing reality. It also robs us of our capacity for “agency.” One’s ability to take control of one’s life and act in one’s own interests is handed to others. Those “others” have their own interests.
3. It’s not healthy
This is the main point of my challenge: the narrative is toxic. For some it will be catastrophic. To tell a child that life is hopeless and it’s futile to try, to fill that child with exaggerated fear, is child abuse. The narrative, for some, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each of us has one life, a precious gift from God. If the narrative causes one child to lose faith in himself and become so discouraged he gives up, that life is wasted.
The narrative has its allure and its payoffs. In our present social and political climate, you gain power when you establish yourself as a victim. The victim card helps those who know how to play it to their advantage, but it fetters many others from disadvantaged circumstances.
4. The immigrant’s story
There are over 4 million black immigrants living in America. People of color who immigrate to America have an advantage—they have not been raised on the narrative—quite the opposite. They see opportunity in America like nowhere else on Earth. Yes, they know there is racism in America, that they will be black in a predominantly white society, but they don’t choose to let it get in their way. Compared to the circumstances of real hopelessness they left behind, America offers unlimited opportunity. To many immigrants, racism is real but something that can be overcome.
That’s my argument. Yes, there is racism. There is antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, you name it. We will, in time, make those prejudices socially unacceptable in the same way you wouldn’t dare light a cigarette in a restaurant today because no one would tolerate it.
This is not the Jim Crow America of 1950. We have made enormous progress on race. I say resist the temptation to be a victim, to be defeatist and cynical. I believe America is a big hearted, loving nation of powerful moral ideals unique in the world. For black people, the full realization of those ideals is coming slowly. First in the genius of our founding documents, then the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. it will come and African Americans should take a seat at the table of opportunity in America.
Change your frame. Discard the narrative. Look for the good in our nation and you’ll see confirmation everywhere. Believe in yourself, exercise your own agency, and make a life of your own choosing in this wonderful land.
Nice to meet you. I am a bookish, Jewish black woman. I, too, often stay up at night thinking about race in the United States (partly because thinking about race is my job, partly because racial dynamics inform so many parts of my life, and partly because I just find race fascinating.)
The passage you quoted from Leviticus is very personally meaningful to me. It reminds me of the famous African American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, who was quoted as saying, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” This idea, that human beings are collectively responsible for each other’s well-being, is one I hear frequently from black people, Jews, and any number of other groups.
That said, in my response to you, I’d like for us both to resist the urge to generalize any racial or religious groups. It’s worth pointing out, I think, that while there are certainly Jewish texts that support the idea of standing alongside one’s neighbors, that in no way means that Jews writ large participated in the civil rights movement. There were Jewish people who made heroic sacrifices in the fight for racial justice, but the majority of Jews did not participate in the movement, (just as the majority of black people didn’t participate in the civil rights movement.)
I’d also like to note that, while I understand the idea of treating black people and Jewish people as two distinct groups (after all, most black people are not Jewish; most Jews are not black), I personally cannot separate the parts of my own identity out into black or Jewish. I am both, fully, at all times, which means that my understanding of who is the “other” likely differs significantly from yours.
I do think we can agree on the idea that all people are deserving of certain fundamental rights and freedoms. My deepest dream is also that all humans, American or not, can achieve peaceful and meaningful lives. OK, onto the narrative. I’m going to respond to your thoughts in the same numbered order so that we can keep track.
Recognizing White Privilege
1. I’ve only rarely met someone who would argue that “all whites are racist.” The assertion I hear more commonly is that all white people have certain privileges due to white supremacy, whether they want to or not. Peggy McIntosh has outlined a very thoughtful list of some of those privileges in her famous article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
In terms of the “system” that people refer to — I think your list is a pretty good place to start. Our government puts in play a lot of structures and frameworks that shape the way we all move about in the world, knowingly or unknowingly. The fact that our situations are shaped by norms, laws, biases and patterns, and not just random occurrences, might be a helpful way to think of the system.
2. Black people are consistently killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are more subtle/debatable instances of this, of course, but there are also really obvious ones. If you read any of Dylann Roof’s explanation for shooting black churchgoers in Charleston, you might see that there are indeed people who are clear about their murderous hatred of black people. This is not ancient history.
Traffic stops are fearful events for black Americans — that seems to be a fairly self-evident claim to me. Perhaps knowing the story of Philando Castile, who was pulled over 46 times before being fatally shot by a police officer would help explain why. Republican Senator Tim Scott also talked thoughtfully about his experience being pulled over, and the fear that those stops inspired.
I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that all black leaders were assassinated. This sounds to me like hyperbole that was taken literally. Obviously some prominent ones have been, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
3. Personally, I agree with much of this one. I think the United States is flawed and culpable for a lot of wrongdoing beyond slavery and Jim Crow. Japanese internment, genocide of Native Americans, and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment were the first three to come to my mind. I imagine I could easily list several hundred.
In terms of identifying as American, that to me is a deeply personal decision. I find no moral value in identifying as American or not — just as I find no moral value in being American or not. But here’s my favorite poem about someone grappling with what it means to be American as a black man (or member of any number of groups that have not had full access to the “American dream”). It’s Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes: https://poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again
The African-American Experience
I’ve never had a black person tell me they thought life was hopeless because of their race. Spending time with black friends and family members is one of the most uplifting, empowering, hilarious, joyful things that I do.
I do think, though, that when confronted with the long list of ways that life in the United States and around the world is limited for black people because they are black, one might rightly feel somewhat dismayed. Black people experience higher rates of poverty, gun violence, maternal mortality, and incarceration than any other group in this country. We also have less access to jobs, education, and opportunities — you’ve acknowledged much of this in your letter. And, to come back to the idea that we cannot stand idly by, I think these circumstances collectively might naturally result in a feeling of hopelessness.
I am what many would consider a successful person. I have a stable job that pays well, a solid community, family, education, and access to everything I want on a day-to-day basis. But my individual success — the fact that I personally was born in extremely privileged circumstances and have managed to hold onto those privileges — does not prevent me from feeling somewhat hopeless about the circumstances that black people disproportionately have to deal with. In other words, my individual “success” feels somewhat meaningless to me knowing that I am the exception; that through no doing of my own, I have access to opportunities and resources that most people never will.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not trying to say that I haven’t made choices in my life, or that I haven’t worked hard or tried to be a decent person. I have agency. But I was also born to rich, highly educated parents who are U.S. citizens, one of whom is white. The fact that I now have a good job isn’t exactly an indicator that racism is waning.
In response to your challenge: If the “narrative” boils down to the idea that racism exists, I have to say, I’m comfortable with that narrative. Yes, racism can seem overwhelming. And to someone who doesn’t experience it every day, I imagine the thought of having to deal with it sounds soul-crushing. But what would be more devastating, in my mind, would be to ignore the realities of racism. In that world, people would be forced to believe that all these things we’ve talked about: income inequality, disparities in education and incarceration rates and wealth (etc., etc.) are simply the result of poor choices. That if black people just tried harder or took ownership of their decisions or believed in ourselves that these disparities would not exist.
That is an old, tired idea, and it is an insidious one. Trying to gaslight black people (or people from any marginalized group) into thinking that we are at fault for our own inequality is a belief that I do not believe can be justified. Racism is an organizing principle of American life. It was written into our Constitution by our founding fathers, and it has been codified into law. That has profound, enduring ramifications.
It’s also something that I think should resonate strongly with anyone who knows Jewish history.
A Few Closing Notes
With respect to correlation versus causation: Yes, I think there are often many things at play when we look at different situations. And I think it’s easy enough to explain away any given set of inequalities. I hear frequently comments like, “It’s not about race, it’s about housing segregation…or poverty…or education…or….” Yet, race cannot be separated from these things.
With respect to black immigrants: The idea that it is people elsewhere in the world that experience “real hopelessness” (but are somehow also immune from white supremacy or anti-blackness) is another old, divisive trope. First of all, what counts as real hopelessness and who is the arbiter? What assumptions are we making about the people who are able to immigrate to the United States? One of my dearest friends moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia as a young woman. Her family was well-off and she went to the best schools in Ethiopia. When they came to the U.S., suddenly they were poor (degrees and credentials don’t often translate over easily) and faced enormous challenges that they hadn’t in their home country — including, but not limited to, the fact that they were suddenly part of a minority group that is subject to negative stereotypes.
Cigarettes didn’t just naturally disappear because of the invisible forces of progress. There was extensive research to show that smoking cigarettes was addictive and giving people lung cancer. There were massive efforts to regulate the tobacco industry and increase public awareness, and laws were changed to prevent smoking in most restaurants. And still, the U.S. tobacco industry is estimated to be worth half a trillion dollars a year. This is despite the fact that everyone knows that smoking is bad.
And that’s cigarettes. Racism isn’t just going to disappear. It is baked into the fabric of our nation. If we want to fight against it, the most basic and fundamental step is to acknowledge it.
Mass Incarceration and Racial Oppression
The United States incarcerates far more of its population per capita than any other other country, with the exception of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean.
prisoners in the U.S., compared to 1.65 million in China, whose population is four times that of the U.S.32%
of Louisiana’s population is Black, and yet 67.8% of prisoners are Black.4x
That means that in Louisiana, Black people are incarcerated at four times the rate of White people.73.9%
If there is an error rate in convictions, which there is, the more people a government imprisons, the more innocent people it will imprison. This is because as the number of convictions that the justice system churns out increases, the time and resources available to spend on ensuring the quality and accuracy of each conviction decreases.
Since the gains of the civil rights movement became apparent, economic interests and political pressure to imprison millions of Americans has steadily but rapidly replaced segregation with mass incarceration. This has grossly overburdened the legal institutions that make up the criminal justice system and has caused police, lawyers, courts and prisons to resort to assembly-line justice. And therefore each conviction that this overburdened system produces is less likely to be accurate than a conviction that is a result of the considered and careful process envisioned by a system of adversarial justice.
Some believe this system was designed to disproportionately impact people of color: that it is engineered as an instrument of racial oppression to replace Jim Crow laws. Others believe mass incarceration coincidentally began at the end of Jim Crow and that it is a well-designed system used over-zealously that has had an unfortunate disproportionate impact on people of color. Whichever belief, the results are the same: Black and Brown bodies and lives bear the brunt of the sprawling criminal justice system that is omnipresent in many poor communities.
Because of the racial inequity upon which America was built and which is ingrained in American life today, when people see those Black and Brown lives being broken, people feel less empathy and pain than they would if the victims were white. American society’s tolerance for dysfunction (wrongful convictions, grossly excessive sentences, police brutality, and criminalization of addiction, poverty, and mental illness) is higher than it would be if the victims were considered by mainstream America to be lives that mattered: white lives.
So, as political and economic power has forced assembly-line justice to become the norm, the public has easily acclimatized to assembly-line justice, in large part because it is meted out so disproportionately to people of color.
In addition to the thousands of Black and Brown people who are wrongfully convicted, there are also hundreds of white men and women in the United States who have endured unthinkable injustices, decades of wrongful conviction, and had their lives completely destroyed by the criminal justice system. And their suffering is just as much a product of that now-acceptable assembly-line justice.
By tolerating the dysfunction for too long, we have made a system that will certainly convict too many innocent people. As a result, IPNO believes that the first and most important way to reduce wrongful convictions is to dramatically slash the rate of prosecution and imprisonment in the region. Therefore, IPNO supports and advocates for a radical reduction in arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment for minor offenses related to poverty, mental health and addiction.
How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts
From economic well-being to criminal justice issues, racial inequality is still very real in America.
Exactly 50 years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., America is still far from his dream.
Across measures ranging from criminal justice issues to economic well-being, black Americans still lag far behind white Americans. In some cases, there has been progress since the civil rights era and King’s death. But the situation has actually gotten worse for many black people.
There are myriad reasons for this. Outright racism. Policies that don’t adequately address past and current systemic obstacles for black people, particularly segregation. Policies that make such problems worse— like restrictive covenants, redlining, blockbusting, and steering. And a total lack of attention to key issues, such as the criminal justice system’s neglect of huge racial disparities in just about everything it does, from policing to incarceration.
Whatever the cause, the result is seen in the numbers below: From earnings to getting a college education to incarceration, black Americans generally do worse than their white peers. For all the hope that King professed, America is still a land of racial inequality.
1) Black Americans make much less money than their white peers
It’s not just that black people generally make less money than their white counterparts; it’s that the wage gap between black and white workers has widened steadily since the late 1970s.
A recent study on race and economic mobility found that black men in particular see much less mobility than their white counterparts, even after controlling for hours worked, employment rates, family structure, and a host of other variables. That could help explain how black workers remain so far behind.
2) Black people are still unemployed at nearly twice the rates as white people
Racism likely plays a big role in that: Studies have found that when all else is held equal in job applications but the name of the applicant is changed to be stereotypically black as opposed to stereotypically white, the stereotypical white names “were 50 percent more likely to elicit positive responses from employers” — and some research suggests these kinds of disparities have gone unchanged since at least the late ’80s.
3) White family wealth is nearly seven times greater than black family wealth
Given the numbers above, this statistic should be unsurprising: White families hold much more wealth than their black peers. As the Urban Institute noted, this is largely a result of the earnings gap — people accumulate less wealth over their lives if they’re making less money on a yearly basis.
4) Black people are more than twice as likely to live in poverty
The good news is that black poverty rates have declined over the past few years. The bad news is there are still massive racial disparities in who remains poor.
5) Black kids are more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods than they were decades ago
One of the key components to this story is neighborhoods. As Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox, studies have “found that federal subsidies designed to move poor families out of disadvantaged areas can substantially increase income for poor children when they grow up.”
6) School segregation remains fairly common
One of the great victories of the civil rights era was the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that deemed racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Yet, as Alvin Chang wrote for Vox, racial segregation in schools has remained stubbornly high — in large part because residential segregation has kept black kids stranded in neighborhoods with mostly black schools and white kids in neighborhoods with mostly white schools.
And while local policy reforms could alleviate the problem, white parents in particular are often resistant to ideas that can spur more integration — fearing that it will make their schools worse.
7) Black-white high school completion gaps have narrowed
Here’s some good news: The gap between black and white completion rates of high school has nearly closed since the 1960s. White Americans are still a little more likely to graduate, but the gap is nowhere as big as it was in the past.
8) The college education gap, however, remains huge
While black and white college graduation rates have increased over the years, white people are still more than 50 percent more likely to obtain a college degree.
9) Black voter turnout has generally trended up for the past couple of decades
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a tremendous victory for the civil rights movement, notably increasing voter registration and turnout in the South in the years following its passage. In the decades since, black voter turnout has fluctuated from presidential election to presidential election, but it’s generally trended up — and when President Barack Obama was on the ballot, black voter turnout even surpassed white voter turnout.
That doesn’t mean everything is perfect; a 2013 Supreme Court decision weakened the Voting Rights Act, and in the years since, states have more aggressively tried to restrict access to the voting booth in ways that could disproportionately hurt black voters, from strict voter ID laws to cuts in early voting.
10) Incarceration rates have grown a lot — and black people have suffered the most as a result
Responding to waves of crime in the 1960s through the early 1990s, lawmakers around the country passed laws that increased prison sentences and pushed for more incarceration to combat crime. Studies suggest this had only a small effect on crime rates. But it had an enormous effect on black people — who are disproportionately likely to be locked up.
A 2015 review of the research by the Sentencing Project concluded that only 61 to 80 percent of the disparity could be explained by higher crime rates in black communities — meaning as much as 39 percent is attributable to other factors, including, potentially, racial bias or past criminal records influencing a prison sentence.
The result was documented in a 2015 New York Times analysis, which found that there are, in effect, “1.5 million missing black men” in America who could be fathers or workers in their communities but instead are behind bars.
11) Black people are more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts
There’s no good historical data on this, but we do know that, as it stands today, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white people. Studies have suggested that socioeconomic factors and crime rates don’t fully explain the gap — and that racial bias may be a factor, based on research that shows that police officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations.
These disparities are one of the issues at the front and center for modern civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter. King, for his part, would have likely appreciated the continuation of these movements: As he said during his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
Race Relations and Slavery Postings