Race and Racism in America

By Jackson, Sr., Jesse L. | National Forum, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Race and Racism in America


Jackson, Sr., Jesse L., National Forum


For a long time, the racial paradigm in America has been defined as the dynamic set of relations between blacks and whites, beginning with the primary encounter of African slavery. Emerging from that condition, in the twentieth century as blacks became more assertive in claiming their Constitutional and social rights, "race" or racial matters have become associated with the way in which America handles issues related to people of color, especially blacks. As a consequence, because blacks have occupied a subordinate role in American society and have been the targets of racial animosity leveled against them by whites, they have suffered from this discrimination. America, then, has constructed a "racial mountain" where the demands of blacks and other people of color also have defined the white majority as having racial interests as well.

I began to participate in the movement against racial discrimination as a young man in Greenville, South Carolina, who sought to do normal things such as using the public library; the library, after all, was funded by the taxes paid by my parents and other black people. For this, I experienced my first arrest. I went on to become involved with the Civil Rights Movement directed by the Southern Christian Leadership Council as a staffer to its head, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is important to understand that the movement for civil rights, which took place primarily in the 1960s, was not the product of one man or one organization, but was a people's movement. From the time when Martin Luther King, Jr., led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, until today, the Civil Rights Movement lives and is a product of every person who will not bow down to the dehumanization of another person or group of people.

Some of the most dramatic events that the popular history of the movement has not captured were the individual acts of courage by persons who simply made up their minds to act because freedom was a precious thing that could not be obtained as a gift from someone else. They came to understand how deeply it depended upon their own personal commitment to do something that would bring about change.

The results of this movement were concrete: the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and Affirmative Action. Through these laws, many people of all colors have been able to achieve upward mobility in society. Blacks have benefited from laws that made it illegal to discriminate in hiring and promotion, or selling a house, or voting and holding office, or providing higher education. As a result, the black middle class has grown, achieving ever-greater breakthroughs in every field of employment; black elected officials have grown from 250 at the time that the Voting Rights Act was passed to nearly 9,000 today. Currently there are thirty-eight black members of Congress. Also, 1.1 million blacks are now attending America's colleges and universities.

Women of all colors have benefited from Title IX, which has equalized their opportunities to participate in sports activities as both amateurs and professionals, and to make substantial salaries in the process. Indeed, more than any other group white females have benefited from Affirmative Action with their pace of achieving employment and starting businesses for themselves. Also, whites as a whole have benefited more than blacks from laws passed in the 1980s that have prohibited discrimination against the elderly and the disabled. Therefore, laws that protected disadvantaged groups from discrimination and promoted the ability of people of color also have helped to create the conditions that have allowed all disadvantaged groups in society to compete on a more level playing field.

BACKLASH AGAINST CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS

Nevertheless, great disparities in opportunity still remain today between the white majority and disadvantaged groups; yet, rather than accept advances we have made as a sign of the movement of society toward a truly democratic system, some in the majority have felt threatened enough to launch a counter-movement to eliminate the laws and to use public policy to exact more severe punishment of offenders. …

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