Contribution and Racism in US History
books we learn from in school do not give the whole picture of the history and
achievements of minorities in the US. Prejudice there was directed against
Native Americans who stood in the way of European movement west. Racist
sentiments justified the slave trade in Africans, a fine argument supporting the
economic advantage slave owners enjoyed over those who hired labor.
struggle for full citizenship and equal opportunity in the US has been ongoing
from pre-Revolution days. Even before the Declaration of Independence, vocal
abolitionist groups opposed the practice of slavery. The matter, however, was
sidestepped by the framers of the Constitution who recognized the already
intense differences between northern and southern (slave) states. They put it
off for a better day, feeling it would tear the new republic apart before it
the issue was finally taken up in the national debate, it became a focal point
of economic issues that led to the Civil War (1860-65). The Emancipation
Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln to free the slaves and further weaken
the Confederacy. The North won the war, the Union was preserved and slaves were
free. But they were held in economic servitude and denied the right to vote in
many states through elaborate Jim Crow laws and outright intimidation, most
notably by the sheet-clad Ku Klux Klan.
struggle ebbed and flowed over the next hundred years. The resurgent Civil
Rights movement began in about 1955 and culminated in Lyndon Johnson’s signing
of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, a decade later and a full
century after Emancipation. Much has changed since the ratification of the ERA,
though African Americans still experience a higher incidence of poverty,
unemployment and incarceration for comparable crimes than whites.
waves to the US have also been subject to racism, especially Orientals in the
western US, and Latinos wherever employed, most often in the food production,
housekeeping and garment industries. Chinese laborers were imported to provide
muscle for the massive expansion of railroads into the western US. Once their
indentured service was completed, many stayed on, settling into Chinatowns in
burgeoning west coast cities. Japanese immigrants also formed a significant
group on the west coast, large enough to draw the suspicion of occidental
Americans when Japan entered WWII. Their internment in camps and the seizure of
their property remains one of the stains on America’s image as a refuge for
those seeking to build a better life.
people from south of the US-Mexico border, and more recently from politically
troubled Central American countries, have had a varied experience in the US. At
one time, nearly a third of the southern US was under the control either of a
Spanish king or Mexican rulers. Expansionism in the 19th century saw
these lands brought under US control. The Rio Grande border was fairly porous,
and people moved in both directions across it.
the 20th century, however, economic disparity drew more poor Latinos
into the US. Many came in labor gangs imported to work in the produce fields,
not just in the Southwest, but even as far north as the Great Lakes states. Many
‘settled out’ and got US citizenship, though seasonal migration continued to
disrupt education for their children. Back-breaking labor and substandard wages,
often paid illegally under the table, led to the rise of La Raza Unida and the
United Farm Workers movement in the San Joaquin valley of California. It spread
across the country.
the other coast, immigrants from Puerto Rico moved up through the eastern
seaboard, often landing in the garment mills of New York and other cities.
Again, poor wages and prejudice concentrated them into ghetto neighborhoods.
presidential campaign of Barack Obama (2008) brought the issue of racism back
into the political discourse, where he addressed it eloquently. His historic
election was a sign that the nation had moved beyond its racist past and that
the door of opportunity for African Americans and other marginalized ethnic
groups had opened even wider.
however, has not ended in the US, despite the strides made.
Rights Movement worldwide,
speech on racism, Philadelphia, PA, March 2008
Jim Crow Laws, Wikipedia
is Reverend Wright When You Need Him, TruthDig April, 2009, US refusal to go
Black Women Still Get Less Media Attention Than Whites,
Seattle, April 2009