The Ugly Face Of RACISM
By Trevor K. McNeil
America has an ugly history of racism, on both the systemic and individual level. Even the Irish, who are known to crackle audibly in the sun, were not considered “White” in the capital W social-economic sense in America until the late 19th century. One of the most diverse places in American cities during the Victorian era were the ghettos. Irish, Scots, Pols, Blacks and Asians all lived side by side, often in close quarters with little animosity between them. A grouping galvanized by their common enemy. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elites who thought they owned the land because their families fended off the British after stealing it from the natives. It wasn’t until after the Civil War and enforcement of Jim Crow Laws that black and white separation was solidified.
This situation is not, of course unique to America. There have been many instances of the intentional segregation of “othered” minority groups throughout the history of the world. Two groups often targeted for exclusion are the Jews and the Roma. The oppression of Africans, while mostly limited to nations involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, primarily Britain (who abolished it in 1833), the United States of America, and the islands of the Caribbean, have been among some of the longest lasting and most brutal.
An example of colonialism on Africans in Africa, is South Africa. Despite constituting roughly 8% of the overall population, the Dutch and British settlers in the southern tip of Africa managed to dominate the entire area. At least that is the simplest description of what happened. The white colonialists created the segregated state that the Republic of South Africa was to become. A long history of separation of the races in South Africa was perpetuated after the Boar War which ended in 1902. The National Party election in 1948 led to enforcing policies of formalized segregation. Control allowed them to push through the notorious Apartheid doctrine.
Change would eventually come to both America and South Africa, though it would come in very different ways at different times. Both nations have gone through years of unrest. Many black groups including the African National Congress battled against the government of South Africa and the apartheid model. The world took notice and placed paralyzing sanctions on South Africa.
Facing the Truth
The Apartheid era in South Africa was deeply and openly racist. No one denied it, least of all white South Africans. Though it is easy to forget that the end of the Afrikaans Party was spelled by the party itself. First came the release of Nelson Mandela form prison in 1990 and then the opening of the 1994 general election to the native population for the first time since colonization in 1652. The election ended in a historic moment of poetic justice, when Nelson Mandela became the nation’s first black president. There is still a long way to go to repair the damage of hundreds of years of colonialism but they are at least aware of this and taking the first steps.
The general belief by white Americans has been that systemic racism ended with the Emancipation Proclamation and went away entirely, including on the personal level, some time in the late 1960s. The names changed but the situation hasn’t. The policy of segregation turned to red-lining, voter suppression, mass incarceration and veiled police brutality.
In America the Civil Rights movement fought for change with aggressive activities in the 1960’s. Two factions evolved. One militant and one peaceable, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King occupying opposite ends of the spectrum. MLK and Malcolm bravely stood up against government oppression, most clearly represented by the segregation doctrine of Jim Crow. This era of activism peaked with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Devils In the Details
Recent events have shown racism is alive and well in America. Numerous high profile murders of African Americans by the police or individuals claiming to be making citizen’s arrests on the behalf of the police have inflamed activists. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks have spotlighted police brutality. These murders have slapped complacent white America in the face. Nearly nine minutes with a police officer’s knee on a black man’s neck caught on video shook up the American psyche. White America for the first time has been shaken to its core. Black Lives Matter activists have filled the streets with protesters. For the first time, protesters are as much white as black. Hopefully, America is finally looking racism in the eye and is willing and ready to do something about it. The demand for a multi-racial democracy is louder in the United States than ever before.