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History lives with us (Online Discussion)

January 27, 2012

Name three important historical events, legal and political issues, court cases, etc., that you think are important in understanding the larger history of race and racism in America?  How specifically does these events impact society today?  How do they contribute to inequality and injustice today?

Conversation ends February 10, 2012

  1. DeShaun Mizner permalink

    In chronological order, starting with the first slaves to be traded over 400 years ago, leading up to the 1800 and 1900s. This was a legal and sometimes political issue that showed racism at its finest. I recently watched the movie “La Amistad” which was by far the greatest slave movement movie of this day. I understood that as long as you were born in the states, you were a free and equal man, but if you were born on slave run plantations you were property. I think this slave movement still affects people today, and still feels like an issue that is kind of racy to talk about unless your sitting in GenEd listening to a slave lecture. It contributes to injustice today, because we can see that even though there are no black slaves, there are still ways in which the black population is under privileged or even treated in a different manner.
    Another major movement would have to be the Holocaust back in the 1940s. This would be a major political issue that has ruined the lives of many jewish families, some who may still be alive today. This showed that not only were african americans treated unfairly but jewish people as well. This was not a United States issue (until it was practically over), which means that racism was obviously world wide and at its worst peak. This is an issue that people will still get upset about, but i believe its something that will lead us to look out for this kind of behavior in the future.
    Lastly, the civil rights unit of the 1950-1960s. Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Jesse Jackson. Just a few of the major leaders that fought for equality among all. This was a political, legal and a court case issue. Many people fought and died for what we see today as equality among all men. In our class rooms we still discuss the importance of this era and how it still affects us today. This was a great time period because it showed that no matter how unfair or unequal things can be, its still possible to overcome. Some African American families who were considered unequal 50 years ago are alive and have way more opportunities, but lets all be honest….things are still unfair in a drastic amount of areas; education, occupation and even housing as we most recently discussed. Thats a major example of the injustice that the black population must go through, even after all the fighting that has been had.

  2. Kaylie DeWitte permalink

    The Holocaust was a tragic and life altering event, but I feel that it didn’t necessarily carry over into today’s society. It seems to have passed on and has just left the memories. You rarely see people being racist or discriminate against Jews like they are towards blacks. I feel they were only discriminate during the Holocaust because of Hitler and his whole army.

    • Jacob Holmes permalink

      How is this important if American society has forgotten about it? What impacts would the Holocaust have brought to America if it “has just left the memories?” If you want to post and talk about the Holocaust on these discussions where the the question states above, it asks pretty much how is it relevant in American society, and how has it impacted it.
      The Holocaust was a tragic event, and has definitely left its mark on American society, so saying that it has nothing left except for history hardly seems sufficient.

      • Danica permalink

        Great examples! I think the Holocaust has a long-term effect in how Americans view race. The Holocaust was so horrific that it stands as one of the primary examples of racism carried out to the extreme. Racism then was overt, and it was literally and intentionally killing people on account of their ethnicity. I think because the issues of the Holocaust were so horrific, the more implicit, “hidden” racism of today is almost “OK” in some public discourse on today’s society. Racism is NOT OK, but because the public mind thinks of Holocaust horrors when it hears the word “racism,” calling someone “racist” is seen as almost as bad as calling them a “Hitler.” The Holocaust is a powerful reminder and warning of what can happen when racism is carried out to that societal extreme, but the event also complicates the ways we talk about- or don’t talk about- racism and its effects in today’s society.

  3. Kaylie DeWitte permalink

    One of the most important legal issues that led to segregation was the Jim Crow Laws. These laws segregated most anything and everything that was to be used by both blacks and whites. It segregated public schools, restaurants, bathrooms, public transportation, and even water fountains. These laws led to people believing that it was ok to separate things like that because it fell under the rule of “separate but equal”. It didn’t matter that black students got the torn and old books at school, or blacks had to ride in the back of the bus or eat in the back of a restaurant as long as they still had the facility or resources. These laws have carried over through the years.
    Another contributor to segregation was one of the most important, slavery. Slavery started it all. It was the beginning of singling different looking people out and using them as labor and work forces. Just because they were white meant that black people must be inferior to them. The slaves were worthless to the white people on a personal level, but great when they needed them to work around the plantation and earn them money. If it weren’t for slavery it’s hard to believe that there would’ve ever been segregation of blacks and whites.
    One last contributor was the court case in 1954 of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In this particular court case, it was ruled that separate facilities were unequal in public schools, which then led to another court case of Plessy v. Ferguson that outlawed the rest of the Jim Crow Laws. Black people started standing up for themselves during this time. They fought for their freedom and eventually got some of their rights back as citizens. Housing in residential neighborhoods soon became unsegregated as well as schools. Even though the discriminating still carried on, blacks were able to attend places without question.

    • Why do you think so often we think about events that impact African Americans in terms of the history of discrimination and institutional racism and not other communities of color? Also, why don’t we think about the various laws and policies that privileged/privilege whites?

      • Sarah Eystad permalink

        I will touch on a few separate issues/events, but the main point I want to highlight is the importance of looking at race and racism from the very beginning, the birth, of this country, up until events that have happened within the past decade. These events give a scope which causes us to think about race from different vantage points, and also highlights communities other than African Americans (which, you’re right, is so often thought about).

        An important thing to think about within America’s history of race & racism includes Native Americans, and the racial relations that took place. Wars, massacres, forced displacement…these events that took place in the colonial years have had a tremendous effect on the history of this country. It is an aspect of our history that has been on the back burner of many people’s minds, but with the controversy of immigration laws, sparks many conversations about how “this country was founded by immigrants.” That’s an issue I don’t want to get into, but it’s an example of the complexity of racism, inequality, and injustice in America.

        Another event to focus on is 9/11. This obviously had a major impact on America and some people’s views towards Arabs, Arab Americans, and Iranians; and it shows how a single event can trigger an outbreak of racial discrimination towards people living in America regardless of who they are, but “what” they are. This event and the racism that took place, and still is taking place, is important in gaining an understanding of how racism is prevalent today, and is seen on a multitude of levels. It is a more contemporary example of how real racism is in America, and how prejudices towards other races can manifest from events of this nature. Racism is not just something to be deemed an aspect of our history in centuries past, but something that is going on right now. It gets people thinking of the prejudices and discrimination and overall, the division of people and culture in the world, that can stem from an event triggered by someone from a different race, in a different country.

      • Alex Clark permalink

        That’s a very good question regarding the question of why so much attention is given to African American race issues, but not so much minority/whites race issues. Not sure the answer to this but would be curious to here what others think.

    • Jacob Holmes permalink

      I read the first paragraph, how have the laws been carried over through the years? In common day, society has abolished the 3/5ths law, Jim Crow Laws, the separate but equal standards, and everyone can use and share everything equally. But I do agree with you to the extent that those events in history are very important for today’s society and have impacted it greatly.
      Are blacks still fighting for their complete freedom? You said they had gotten “some of their rights back as citizens” which ones are left that are missing that white’s have?

      • How is the continued denial of voting rights, how is persistent segregation, how is denied access to all resources important here? How also do we need to talk about race beyond African Americans

    • Laura Zaro permalink

      You used great examples of events that have molded people’s views on racism and segregation throughout history. The Jim Crow laws were a great example to use because there are so well known and looking back now, we can see how far the United States has come in terms of racial discrimination. Toward the end of the first paragraph where you discussed the Jim Crow laws, I was under the impression that you were saying those laws are the reason people believed that “separate but equal” treatment was acceptable. I was curious if you think the Jim Crow laws are the sole reason people justified the “separate but equal” doctrine? Or do you think other events and laws in history are the reason people viewed racial segregation as acceptable?

  4. John Pally permalink

    One historical event that impacted racism in America today is the making of the ships that could travel greater distances. Without this, slavery would have been almost non-existent. With these ships being able to travel greater distances and also carry more cargo, it sparked the slave trade. This impacts today’s world because this is one of the reason why there is racism today. This contributes to inequality today by, some people thinking that blacks should still be slaves because they do not have the capacity to work without “guidance”. Next was the Holocaust, which occurred in the 1940s. It showed that even though people were being killed, countries still did nothing to help. It showed that even when the Jews were allowed leave, countries would reject them into entering their country even with the knowledge of what was happening. This impacts society today because the Jewish people, African Americans, and Gypsies are still being oppressed today. Maybe not as they were before, but there is still oppression throughout the world. It seems as if countries and/or people did not learn from the Holocaust because people are still being discriminated against. I personally have Jewish heritage and sometimes people do think I am Jewish. It gets to the point to where they thinking I am cheap and good with money. It contributes to inequality today by, even though people acknowledge it, it seems as if people do not care about what happened as much as they should, that an entire people almost got killed off. Another important historical even that is important in understanding the larger history of race in America is, segregation. It showed that Whites believed that they were the superior race and that blacks did not deserve to be on the same level as them. It impacted society by, giving a long lasting effect. Segregation still occurs today, you see it in neighborhoods and in schools. People today still believe that there is a biological difference between blacks and whites, even though there have been experiments to show there are no differences between races.

    • How does the ideology that was evident during the Holocaust (race as biology) still exist? What was the source or connection between Nazis and race science/policy in the U.S.? Also, how might we connect this history to the new white nationalist movements?

  5. Reed Clarridge permalink

    One of the chapters of American racism I deem important is the presidential election of 48. This was the first election where presidential candidates actually targeted the black vote as a large migration of blacks moved from the jim crow oppression of the south to more freedom in the north, including the right to vote without grandfather clauses and literacy tests. It was Truman specifically who saw the migration as a potential tool for votes and he threw civil rights into his platform. The result of this action became the largest upset in an American Presidential election. This action did not signal a shift out of racism, though. In fact, the third party candidate, Strom Thurmond, now famous for his 24 hour filibuster during the Civil Rights Act vote, netted 2.5 percent of the popular vote on a platform little more complex than classic good stuff southern racism and segregation. Many pundits try to use this election as evidence to the shift out of racism, but the racism they talk is present in Thurmond’s voting base, while Truman’s maneuvers can be perceived as exploitation. Events like this can be misinterpreted, or at least interpreted as evidence to reduce modern national shame. Also, this showcases the ease with which those with referent power can ret-con past events into spins which benefit modern agendas.
    Barack Obama’s presidency is an interesting period for me, as well. I feel as though a lot of the personal attacks directed at him are racially motivated. In fact, I would go so far as to say that many of those people demanding that he release his birth certificate might as well be calling him a nigger. It’s really difficult for me to step back and say that is his skin color was white he would likely be under the claims of being a muslim and not being born in this country. I don’t think many of these people even believe those very claims, they just want to say something really horrible about the guy, so they throw allegations his way about being a socialist muslim who was not born in this country. Racists are not using the same language, but the understanding still exists.
    Korematsu v. US was a landmark supreme court case on the constitutionality of Japanese internment during WWII. The case determined that because the US was at war with the Japanese empire, it was constitutional to take away the rights of those with Japanese ancestry for national security. However, justice Murphy wrote the dissent using the wonderful diction, “I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no
    justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. The exclusion of the Japanese falls into the ugly abyss of racism, and resembles the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy.” He went on to compare the treatment of Japanese Americans with the treatment of Americans of German and Italian ancestry, as evidence that race, and not emergency alone, led to the exclusion order which Korematsu was convicted of violating. This represents a very dangerous precedent for the federal gov to exercise power due to it’s nature of stripping rights from people because of their race.

  6. Jacob Holmes permalink

    One that sticks to mind is Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. These two individuals had put their necks out, literally, to make whites and blacks equal, to end segregation, to make separate but equal abolished, and create together, and equal to be the future of society. This today has stopped the separate but equal laws, and the Jim Crow laws have been burned and thrown away. If this at all contributes to inequality and injustice today, it would have to be with white supremacists, saying that black people have been struggling for centuries in America, and that they have been striving to be “better” than white folk. In general society, it could cause jokes between more educated individuals, like “oh hey ha-ha, that black person would be sitting in the front of the bus” out of sarcasm.
    Another important history event would be that of 1946, Jackie Robinson had changed America’s past time of sports, introducing the first black into the system of athletic and competitive sports. He was booed and cursed at, until the public saw him as a real asset to the team, and manager Leo Durocher gave him a chance to do something no other black man has done before. Tabloids, newspaper, radio, television, communities all erupted, with feelings from anger and doubt, to amazement and awe. This was a true breaking point of major league sports and integration into what molds so many teens today. If this had never happened, who knows what would really be going on today, all sports could still be dominated and for whites only, but since he did do this, teens are faced with a potpourri of cultures playing sports, and interacting with different races. Since the introduction of blacks into sports, certain injustices that can be seen is that since blacks are generally more poor than whites, they receive more athletic based scholarships than whites do to universities. Also, it creates jokes such as “oh yeah of course he can dunk, he’s black” or “you can not outrun him, he runs so fast cause he is black!”
    The third important historical event I can think of is when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Although this was a main source of income for many cotton plantations in the south, and servants as well as maids. This put blacks as second to whites, making them lower on the food chain, and creating that ever spiraling downward effect of racism in the culture that we even see today. We see this today in jokes and how people address others not of their own color, and we also see this in institutional racism, and like the video under participation, predatory loaning. This contributes to inequality by giving less opportunities for blacks, and more for whites.

    • John Pally permalink

      I like what I read. i agree with you that King and Parks did do a lot to end segregation. I believe that Jackie Robinson did help change the view in sports, but there is still segregation in sports today. It is seen when people say that “only white people can play QB”. Also, do you think that these historical events help out racism in an overall way or just for a certain group?

      • Chris Morgan permalink

        In terms of sports I think we see less segregation and more stereotypes. Legally in the United States the NBA, NFL, or any institution for that matter cant legally segregate sports. There’s not an NBA for white’s and an NBA for blacks. But what you do see prevelantly is stereotypes. The NBA is dominantly black, the PGA tour is dominantly white, the NHL is definitely white, etc. I don’t think that racism necessarily plays a role in this rather than it just being the culture of the sport. Actual Segregation has nothing to do with it at the professional level because atleast in America, that wouldn’t be legal. Whether there are social inequalities that put certain races at a disadvantage in particular sports though would be a whole different discussion…

  7. John: Why do you think we only learn about MLK and Rosa Parks (and what do we learn about them anyways) and not people like ED Nixon, Amzie Moore, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer?

  8. Laura Zaro permalink

    Issues concerning race and racism continue to be prevalent in society today despite the progress that has been made throughout our nation’s history. There are many instances that are important in understanding race and racism in the larger history of the United States. One of the most significant is the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Passed in 1864, it officially prohibited slavery and servitude within the United States. It finally gave slaves freedom and recognition as an actual human being, not a piece of property. This Amendment impacts society today because it continues to serve as the basis for many Supreme Court case decisions. One such example is the controversial case of Plessey v. Ferguson which put in question the doctrine of “separate but equal”. A decision on the case was finally reached in 1896 which upheld that racial segregation in public facilities is considered “separate but equal” treatment and therefore legal. This applied to all public facilities including railway cars, schools and grocery stores, just to name a few. Over 50 years later, Plessey v. Ferguson was eventually overturned and a new ruling on the “separate but equal” doctrine was reached. This ruling came in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which declared that separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. It was also ruled that the “separate but equal” doctrine did indeed violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which states no one can be denied equal protection of the law. This meant black and white students could finally go to school together, which was once unthinkable. The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was also significant because it was a key event in the Civil Rights Movement. Although tremendous progress was made during that period of time, discrimination and inequality was not diminished. And still, no matter how much time has since passed and no matter what additional progress has been made, racism continues to have an impact many people in society. Looking back at our nation’s lengthy history of racism and discrimination, it is hard to say whether or not it will ever become a thing of the past. However, events such as the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court cases of Plessey v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education can help us all gain a better understanding of the history of racism, as well as a glimpse of what is possibly to come.

  9. Alex Clark permalink

    There have been numerous legal and political decisions made throughout the history of the U.S. ; which have resulted in an increasingly race based lifestyle for all. Moreover, these decisions have helped to increase the already growing number of inequalities and injustices that take place in our country every day. One recent legal/political decision that has had a major effect on society today was the “War on Drugs” instituted by Reagan in the mid 1980’s. This has affected the U.S. in many ways; mainly by spending billions of taxpayer money on the department of corrections and other justice departments. Along with using lots of money, this policy has led to harsh sentencing guidelines such as 3 strikes and minimum life sentences for drug trafficking and similar crimes. The racial issue with this is that studies have shown blacks and minorities are much more likely to be prosecuted and sent to prison for these crimes than white people are. This is a systematic problem and the reasons why black and minorities are more active in the criminal justice system has many reasons; however that is for a different discussion.

    Another decision, this one in the economic category, has had a huge impact on the economy for many black farmers. For decades, the USDA has denied loans to african american farmers, hurting their economic capacity for earning profit. This is just one way in which systematic racism has hurt minorities and African Americans in the past.

    The third and final Legal decision which has contributed to racism in America is the infamous Dred Scott V. Sanford (1856) Supreme Court ruling. The court ruled that the bill of rights did Not apply to African Americans. Although this ruling didn’t last too long, it goes to show just how the nation’s rulers felt about race when they were in the process of building our nation to the great place that it is today.

  10. Alex: Good examples … how with each of these do we see a continued impact? Yes, Dred Scott is challenged with 14th amendment, with 1964 Civil Rights Act, etc. yet the ideology of who constitutes a citizen, who has rights that the state must respect, remains powerful. How might we think about Dred Scott in relationship to war on drugs or sweatshops or contemporary slavery?

  11. Danica Wixom permalink

    I picked three historical events that occurred early in US history. I think that what happened to define race and its societal implications early on in our country’s history sets the momentum for how race is viewed and dealt with now. Discrimination and other forms of inequality and prejudice are direct results of our historical past. While today’s American individuals had no part in the racial oppression of the past, American society as a whole is a continuous entity, and so it is undeniably affected by the events of its past foundations.

    The American Industrial Revolution, marked by the 1793 invention of cotton gin by Eli Whitney, has a large part in today’s society because it introduced us to the concept of race and its subsequent racial hierarchy, which plays out in every realm of society. The economic boost that came with the cotton gin called for a large and cheap labor force. Slavery because racialized and its economic benefit for first white slave holders, then the economy at large, was extraordinary. The subsequent American harvest of wealth was made at the expense of an entire race. Money was tied to race, both in the public mind and in the way it played out in society. Having money made you more human, and the consequences of being seen by institutions and governments as being less-than-human are still experienced today.

    Manifest Destiny, a belief of the 1840s, told white men that they were unconquerable warriors, endowed with God’s blessing to possess all of continental America. This belief fueled the Louisiana Purchase, exploration, and displacement of the tribes who originally “owned” the land. America was a prize to be won, and Manifest Destiny introduced very early on the concept of white superiority to detriment of other races. White superiority is seen today in policies that enforce white privilege. While superiority and privilege are not entirely the same thing, the ties between the two are evident when white privilege is at risk of being curtailed or taken away. A sense of entitlement is revealed, which is precisely what Manifest Destiny endowed.

    The Transcontinental Railroad, which was begun in1865, finished the jobs started above to conquer all of the American continent, to exploit cheap, non-white labor to do so, and to uproot and displace native peoples who were in the way. The Chinese were the primary workers here, and though they were not exploited as extremely as African slaves were, the concept behind the exploitation was the same: They are inferior to Us. Chinese laborers because quickly stereotyped as hard-working and flexible, as well as expendable. Though stereotypes have lessened in their explicit racism, they are still at work today. This was a time when cultures and identities were destroyed to make way for the new white American. Native Americans were not allowed to live as they had, where they had, and soon they would be destroyed or else forced to assimilate to the new dominating power.

    I also want to share a great resource for the history of racism. This is a very helpful interactive timeline that provides the social context for man racial events in US history:

  12. Chris Morgan permalink

    I believe perhaps the most imporant event in understanding what originally shaped racism and inequality in America was the institution of slavery. Work was in high demand in North America
    where slavery was a legal institution for a long period of time. African Americans and other minorities were forced to work on plantations and were properties of their owners. Women were
    not only subject to slave labor but were raped and their children became property of the slave owners as well. Often times these children were sold at auctions to other slave owners. Slavery as an institution not only was inhumane and immoral but it was the basis for the belief that white’s were superior to blacks and that people of color should not be subject to the same rights as everyone else. Though slavery no longer exists in America, it set the foundation for institutions of racism that we still see today and has advanced the present notions of white superiority that we see today in our country.
    The second historical event that I see as majorly significant is the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education (Topeca, KS). The court ultimately ruled that the “Separate But Equal” clause established in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson was unconstitutional. This paved the way for integration of the public schools as well as a number of other public social institutions. Though there was widespread resistance by many states across the nation (as evidenced by such other historical events as the Little Rock nine), it was the beginning of the end for segregation in America. This monumental decision was the first huge step and victory in the Civil Rights Movement and has since then set a precedence on the non-tolerance policy our public institutions have for segregation in schools, the workplace, etc.
    The third and most currently relevant event that has changed the way we look at racism in America and has challenged the fundamentals of the Constitution is the events of 9/11. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack in American history, the government shifted our focus from domestic to foreign affairs. With that came new notions about racial stereotypes- in particular those of Middle-Eastern people. Airport security tightened, pretext stops were becoming more prevalent, and the passing of the Patriot Act allowed the government to read citizens emails, tap their phone lines, and essentially invade on the privacy of average americans. Through legalizing this, the government ultimately perpetuated already exist racial stereotypes and has raised tensions not only between white’s and minorities living in America, but between American’s and the rest of the world.

  13. Todd Mehrkens permalink

    The first three important historical events that come to mind when I think about racism in America is the segregation laws, slavery trade to the U.S., and Japanese internment camps during world war 2. Segregation laws literally were racist and gave certain people benefits over others. These laws stated to the rest of the world and to Americans that white people are superior over all other races. Even though today we have got rid of these laws, many of the people who lived during that time period, while they were in effect have passed on those beliefs to others through their actions and how they talk. Also many of these laws led to segregation of where people lived. Many of people of the same races settled down together and this hurt the integration of people in society. Along with certain races being a majority in certain areas, police are more likely to have greater numbers of them in certain racial areas because of racial stereotypes. Slavery coming to America was another important historical event that led inequality between races today. When many slaves first came to America, this was the first interaction many Americans (at this time the majority of the U.S. population was white) had with blacks. By having the first meeting between the two races as one being a slave to another, it was clearly visible that whites were seen as superior compared to blacks. As the United States grew those beliefs of white superiority were engrained into societal beliefs, which then led to government laws to show those beliefs. The most recent event out of the three are the Japanese internment camps, where the U.S. government took all the Japanese looking people out of their homes in the U.S. and put them in camps because they believed that they were spies to help the enemy in the war, Japan. By having these camps, it stated to the public that every person within a certain race will act the same. In other words that people in society with the same race will act the same. Along with grouping people’s actions together with race, the way the government treated the Asians in the camps was unconstitutional. They treated the prisoners like enemies when they were Americans. These camps also contributed to racial discrimination today. During the 1940’s when these camps started, it showed society’s true colors by allowing the government to establish these camps. If people truly believed that everyone, no matter their race, were seen as equal, then the majority of Americans would have got the government to stop the camps as soon as they were set up. It’s true that some people believed in equality, but if people truly believed in their beliefs then they would stand up for those beliefs. In my opinion by having all 3 of these historical events, it has helped to keep injustice and inequality in America.

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