The History Of Racism In The U.S. And Why It's Our Job, As White People, To Fix It.
This country was founded on white supremacy. This country was founded on racism. This country was built for the white man.
I, myself, am a white woman. Married to a white man. With three white children. Because of this, it is my responsibility to be part of the change in this country, shifting away from the inequality that was built into the foundation of the country that I was born into. I may not have been around in 1492 when the white man came to America, but those colonizers are my ancestors. I do still benefit from their crimes against humanity.
If you are one who does not believe in things like racial inequality, white privilege, and systemic racism, then I will attempt to briefly explain the history of why they are, undeniably, still issues today.
First I will begin with the Indigenous history of this country:
In 1492 Christopher Columbus landed in, what is now known as, America with between 80-90 other men. Upon docking, they came upon the Lucayan indiginous tribe. People whom he referred to as “Indians”, because he had wrongfully assumed that he had landed in Eastern Asia. He refused to call them by their correct name, even after finding out his mistake, which is disrespectful on its own. Even so, the native people of this island met them with warmth, offering them food, water, shelter, and even asking if they “were sent from heaven.” Despite the kind greeting, they chose to enslave the Indiginous natives, and within 30 years their island, and their peoples, would be nearly completely wiped out by genocide.
He and his men proceeded to sail to other areas in, what we now call, the Americas and kill off most of the rest of the Taino. This was just the beginning of a long history of murdering, raping, enslaving, and displacing the different tribes of the land. They were overtaken, and those who were not killed were made to live in small areas, as their land was taken out from underneath them by entitled white men who saw them as primitive and less than human.
Even after they had been forced into these areas, we continued to strip them of everything that they found sacred. In the treaty of Fort Laramie, signed in 1868, the Sioux Tribes were promised undisturbed use and occupation of The Black Hills, or “Paha Sapa” in Lakota. After a vision by Nicolas Black Elk, a Lakota Medicine Man, it became known as “The Six Grandfathers'', meant to represent the six sacred directions, North, South, East, West, above, and below. To them it meant love, kindness, and the wisdom of our human grandfathers. However, despite the treaty, and the sacred meaning behind the land, white men began to see the mountain as a tourism opportunity. Another way to line their pockets at the expense of others. So, they decided to hire controversial sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who was heavily affiliated with the KKK, to carve the faces of presidents into this mountain face. During all of this planning, they began to offer money to willing participants for every indiginous person that they killed. When they began to realize what was happening, they gave them an offer of “leave this land, or die.”
Before this, in 1882, Henry Pancoast, a Philadelphia lawyer, was quoted saying “We must either butcher them, or civilize them.” (As if murdering people for not being like you is a sign of being “civilized”) and from there, Residential schools were born. In these boarding schools, they separated children from their parents and did everything that they could to indoctrinate the children of these Indigenous tribes into the European lifestyle. They taught them Christianity, and white values. They did not help them in integrating into the dominant society, but to live at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder and allow the white man to stay in power. These children were also given inadequate living conditions, no medical care, and very little food while in these schools. They were abused and sexually assaulted. Before being sent home they were often used for slave labor and many died being forced into dangerous labor conditions. The last residential school, located in Saskatchewan, was only closed down 24 years ago. I was 8 years old. Many in my generation have dealt with this, it’s not just a story, it’s their reality. This is not old news.
Even today, in 2021, these good people have to deal with land being stolen from them for oil production and mining, they are plagued with poverty, the land that they survive off of is being destroyed by exploitation of natural resources and climate issues, Native women are 3.5 times more likely to be raped and/or assaulted than any other race, and this rarely comes from inside of their community. Native women are also the most likely to go missing or be murdered. There are currently almost 6,000 reported cases of missing Indigenous women. Schools on reservations are grossly underfunded and many aren’t even necessarily safe, structurally. Native languages are dying out, despite being the history of this land and an important part of preserving that history, and the American education system is doing nothing to combat this, because they whitewash all of history class in our schools and do not care to tell any side of the story that doesn’t paint the white man as superior ruler of this country since it began.
Let’s move on to the history of black people in this country, shall we?
In late August of 1619, around 20 captive Africans first touched the soil at Point Comfort, currently Fort Monroe National Monument, part of England's new colony in Virginia. They had been torn forcibly from their homes and their families in Africa, specifically Kimbundu-speaking peoples from the kingdom of Ndongo, located in part of present-day Angola. They were bound, and put onto a ship for months, not knowing where they were headed. I just want you to take a moment to think about how terrifying that, alone, must have felt. Along with this they were stripped of their identities. They were made to change their names and take on more traditional European names, as well as the surnames of their “owners”. They were no longer permitted to speak about their homeland or the families that they left behind.
Before moving on, I need to specify that this was not the first case of African peoples in the U.S. There were African immigrants on this land long before that. Some of their own free will, and some as slaves. In fact, they were a part of the attempt to help aid the Natives in thwarting the European colonization, and they were a strong ally. Unfortunately they were met with the same lack of respect by the white man as any other person of color, and they had been traded as slaves in Europe long before the colonizers entered U.S. soil.
It’s been estimated that between 6-7 million Africans were imported for slavery to the U.S. in the 18th century alone.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, slaves were used in the tobacco, rice, and cotton fields. They lived in poor conditions, they had little to no health care, they were raped, beaten, and starved as punishment for even the smallest indiscretions, or if their “owners” just needed to blow off some steam.. There were instances of babies being born from the sexual assault of slaves by their capters, and those babies were classified as “mulattoes”. They were most often not allowed to be a part of the general public, and were often brought into the slave trade themselves, with many being taken away after birth, never to be seen again.
Slavery lasted for hundreds of years in the U.S., even with an ever growing movement against it, mostly coming from the Northern part of the country where slavery was abolished before it was in the South. It wasn’t until January 31st of 1865, after a four year war between the North and the South, that the 13th amendment was finally added to the Constitution, making slavery illegal. Then the 14th amendment granted them legal citizenship. However, this wasn’t a magical fix-all. These slaves were left with no land, no family, no jobs or formal education, and still dealing with being seen as less than human by the majority of the population.
Around this time, white supremacy groups, the most well known being the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) began to form. These groups sought to keep the black population down, and incite intense acts of intimidation and violence. Lynchings were technically illegal, but largely practiced and ignored by those in power. In 1704, the first form of policing was created, known as the “Slave Patrol”. That’s right, folks. The police began as a way to keep tabs on, and control, black people. Anyone surprised?
In 1908, among poor living conditions and lack of employment opportunities, there came a big rise in protests and civil rights movements. There came the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I would gladly list all of their amazing accomplishments throughout the years, but that’s a post for another day.
Until 1915 states were able to use the “Grandfather law”, stating that you were not allowed to vote unless your grandfather was able to vote, making it so that black people were not able to vote. Even until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, they used literacy tests to keep black people from voting, and in turn keeping them from getting proper representation in the United States and furthering the power of white men.
Why is it that literacy tests were such a barrier? We will get there.
This is where a lot of people like to use “Well what rights do we have that they don’t?” because now, technically, they have all of the same “rights”. And that is where the systemic part of this comes in, so let’s break that down.
Segregation. Anyone with anything above a first grade education knows what that was. Around 1865, segregation began with “black codes”. These dictated where black people were allowed to live and work. There were separate schools, water fountains, bathrooms, parks, bars, phone booths, sections in libraries and in restaurants.
The Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods. They also subsidized builders who were mass producing subdivisions for whites, but it was required that they could not sell any homes to black people. This was a process called “redlining”. The black neighborhoods were given less care and they were made to live in areas that were much more rundown.
While all of this was still happening, white people were on the down-low stealing things that were created by black people and calling it their own. Food, clothing, hairstyles, art, inventions, and music. You wouldn’t believe how many of your favorite oldies songs by popular white musicians do not actually belong to them originally, but were popularized by them while the original artist got no credit. Elvis was a big one for this. Much of this was along side the openly racist mocking and unflattering characterizing of black people in the media, marketing, television and movies.
In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. It declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and, by extension, that ruling was applied to other public facilities. In November of 1960, a sweet little girl 6 year old named Ruby Bridges bravely walked into William Franz Elementary school and became the first child to integrate into a white school in the south. This poor little girl was met with so much volatility and hate. She had things thrown at her, and racial slurs screamed at her, largely by grown adults and their children, whom they were teaching their hateful and abusive ways. This was in 1960.. My mother was alive at that time. Ruby Bridges is only 66 years old today. Many of these school kids are our grandparents. This wasn’t a long time ago.
Again, however, this integration did not fix the problems. Right around that time (not a coincidence) they began funding schools by property value. Which they still do to this day, by the way. This made it so that schools in black neighborhoods were significantly less funded, making it much harder for a black person to get the education and extracurricular experience needed to attend a good college and get a higher paying career. Poverty is often generational. Yes, it can be overcome, and is by many. However, seeing as we are only one generation removed from this time, it’s not hard to comprehend that the black community is still very affected by this today. Especially since the laws regarding school funding have yet to change.
Not to mention the fact that racism is very prevalent. The KKK is still a large group. Black neighborhoods are still overly policed, giving racists more fodder. It gives them reason to claim that black people commit more crimes, when really they are just more watched. As for more crime in “black communities”.. The fact that we put them in a situation where they are systematically kept in poverty, a system created by white men for white men, and now have to occasionally take more desperate measures to feed their families, and then victim blame them, is so gross. Unarmed black people, even children, are far too often murdered by police in this country, and people still try to find reasons to excuse it instead of holding the police accountable for their actions. A black man is still widely seen as “more suspicious” than a white man. A strong willed, badass outspoken black woman still gets pinned with the “angry black woman” trope. Racial bias is not yet gone, even with the most well intentioned of us, because of what we heard growing up. All of this and that's without me having even touched on the way that Latinx, Asian, and Jewish citizens are treated, which is coming.
So, what can we do to fix this?
Put your ego aside and just listen. There are valid issues, and just because you do not experience them yourself, does not make them untrue or invalid.
Stop treating every fight for equality like it’s being done just to cause trouble, and start listening to the fucking message.
Start realizing that things only have escalated to where they have because people are still refusing to listen.
Stop allowing yourself to benefit from these systems without any push back to help others have the same chance.
Don't be complacent.
Listen. Don’t talk over. Don’t interject. Don’t invalidate. Ask questions. Show empathy. Admit our own biases and work to unlearn them.
I shouldn’t be needing to tell this. You should be listening to the stories and experiences of the BIPOC community.. But the sad truth is that if you are someone who needs to hear this, then you are not someone who is likely to be listening to the BIPOC community. That is where us white allies step in. We have to educate you now, because I am sure that they are sick and fucking tired of having to constantly be fighting and advocating to simply exist on equal footing in a country that is rightfully theirs. Stolen from them, built by them, whitewashed into some bull shit that attempts to strip them of their identities and culture, unless WE want to use it. I’m done. I’m beginning to rant now. Bottom