Racism isn’t about how you look. It’s about how people assign meanings to the way you look. Change always starts first in the mind. Your thinking determines the way you feel which influences your actions.
Jim Crow Laws were placed in the USA in 1877 and ended around 1950 which became more prominent in the 1930s. These laws legally kept colored and white races separate from each other. Often the term “separate but equal” was used to defend these laws, yet this was rarely the case. The word “Jim Crow” came from an old song “Jump Jim Crow Routine” that originated in 1828 which was written by a white comedian named Thomas D Daddy Rice who went performing blackface to make fun of slaves. In the 1930s, the Jim Crow Laws affected every aspect of life. The colored people weren’t allowed to eat, sit-by, ride a train with or even enter an equivalent building as white people and vice-versa. Often white people used to look down on the colored people, pity, and lower them.
Before the standard of places meant for colored people was most frequently in worse condition than the places of the white people. There have been biases in other areas of life too that included biases within the criminal system. Colored people underwent harsher punishments than the white race for equivalent crimes. Many bad things happened to colored people and white people who supported them. Often punishment for this cruelty was either non-existent or not appropriate for the crime.
Black Code Slavery and its impact
The laws affected all of North America but were often harsher within the south. In the sovereign war, the south fought for slavery while the north fought against it, which became the cause of the Jim Crow Laws. There are multiple meanings behind the term “Jim Crow”, all of them refer in a negative context to slaves, freedmen, and blacks. In the Ruling of 1865, the southern white democratic legislatures had passed something called “Black Codes” that severely limited the rights of freedmen. Most of these black codes were based on vagrancy laws where if you were black, you should prove that you have employment which was recognized by whites or else you would be forced into labor. You could be put in prison and then kind of leased out to people to do the job. It’s also called as Black Code Slavery.
The Colfax Massacre and its aftermath
In 1873 there was an event in Louisiana called the Colfax Massacre. There were two groups called the White leagues(North) and the Redshirts(South) who were open about their opposition to having good American rights and their wanting of power. The white league attacked a court-house held by republican forces at Colfax where about 150 African-Americans were murdered.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed, which says that there would be no segregation in places of public accommodations like restaurants, hotels, trains, etc which got torn apart in 1896 with the Plessy vs Ferguson court case, which is predicated on the concept of segregation by legislation. In Louisiana, it was always legal to ride for blacks and whites in the same car but The Separate Car Act of Louisiana kind of added classifications for the mixed races. If you’re one-eighth of African Ancestry, you are considered colored and you could not ride on the train. Plessy vs Ferguson was an organized act by the black and colored community to fight this new law.
Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth black with a white complexion, walked out to the train, after announcing his racial heritage he perceived to sit down and got arrested which launched the court case Plessy vs Ferguson where the court went to end up saying “separate is equal”.
Blinding of Issac Woodward Junior
In 1946, there was an incident called the Blinding of Issac Woodward Junior, who was a member of the Armed Services, an African-American who just after few hours of honorably discharged from the United States Army, was brutally beaten up by South Carolina police where he was blinded which caught the attention of the nation. The local police were then tried within the court of South Carolina but they were all proved acquitted by an all-white jury. Immediately after this incident, the then-president Harry Truman had put civil rights on the radar and issued two executive orders to wipe out a section of Jim Crow laws by desegregating the army and therefore the federal workplace.
Civil Rights Movement, 1954
Martin Luther King, the Baptist preacher from Alabama, was the leader of the Civil Rights movement which began in 1954. He used what he had learned from the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi of non-violence to do the successful bus boycott. This showed African-Americans and progressive whites that they could use their power as the citizens to boycott and engage in civil disobedience to change the law which eventually resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, court cases like the 1967 Loving vs Virginia court case which went to legalize interracial marriage throughout the South. The 1954 court case of Brown vs Board of Education which ruled down that “separate is inherently unequal” began the process of segregating schools throughout the South. The 1964 interstate commerce clause which broadened the scope of segregation included public accommodations, hotels, restaurants, etc.
April 4th, 1968 is a date commemorating the life and legacy of a person whose fight for quality for African-Americans ended with an assassin’s bullet. Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. His death brought chaos in cities across America and also inspired professor Jane Elliot, an elementary school teacher in Riceville, Iowa to conduct a controversial classroom experiment with her third-grade pupils. Later a similar experiment was conducted with the audience at the famous Oprah Winfrey show. The exercise was conducted on a group of individuals based on a physical characteristic which they had no control, separate them according to the color of their eyes, mistreat one group badly and the other very well, and see what would happen. This exercise was known as “Brown-Eyed, Blue-Eyed exercise.”
Illogical nature of difference
Complexion and eye-color are due to the same chemical called Melanin. There’s no logic in judging people by the number of chemicals in their skin. Pigmentation shouldn’t be a deciding factor of how you treat another person, but unfortunately, it does. We hate it because we are taught to hate. Anything you learn can be unlearned. There’s no gene for racism or bigotry. We are the product of ignorant people who have been taught an ignorant thing that there are multiple races. There’s just one race on the face of the earth and that we are all members of that race, THE HUMANITY. Pigmentation in your skin doesn’t determine your intelligence or your worth as a human being. It’s time to get over that.
Impact in cities
Megan Ming Francis, an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington mentioned in her TedTalk, “The violent interactions between Black Men, Women and Police Officers play out in cities and towns across the United States, often with much more devastating results. According to the most recent statistics, blacks are six times more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites.
Also, statistics indicate that 33% of blacks that had been killed by police were unarmed. The killing of unarmed blacks continues to happen at an alarming rate because the presumptions of dangerousness are tightly bound to race for so many in this world. Education isn’t a cure for all America’s racial sins’. A book isn’t going to stop a bullet barreling through a 17-year old boy named Laquan McDonald in Chicago and the longer classroom times are not going to save Fredy Gray, who was illegally stopped and manhandled by police in Baltimore, it’s not going to stop the killing of various people like Eric Garner and George Floyd.
NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Coloured People) focused on fighting and escalating levels of violence that blacks endured due to the resulting actions of police, politicians, and pride white citizens in the South and North. To wage this big campaign against racial violence, the NAACP organized mass demonstrations on the streets, petitioned three different presidents to form a statement against lynching. These massive extraordinary campaigns forced America to confront lynching and mob violence against African-Americans.
We must confront the ways that our actions and institutions cause differential treatment of blacks, even if done unintentionally. After all, it’s not Black versus White, it’s Humanity versus Racists. Most of the people across the United States are taking to the streets, demanding to be an equivalent, not as dangerous but as people whose life has value and deserves protection. Some of these groups are associated directly or indirectly with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The One-Drop Rule was implemented by the slave-masters in the 20th century, a social and legal principle of racial classification that was prominent within the USA that asserted that any person with even a single ancestor of black ancestry is considered black. This law was made to achieve two objectives:
1) Reserve the racial white purity of the White race
2) Breed out the Black race by effectively wearing down the black DNA
This rule is currently defunct in United States laws and was never codified into federal law.
White Australia Policy
For over 70 years in the 20th century, The White Australia Policy kept Non-Europeans from immigrating to the country. The gold discovery in Australia attracted many immigrants all over the world. Over the subsequent two decades, almost forty thousand Chinese immigrants would come to Australia to purchase Gold. Competition to gold fuels contributed to multiple tensions that set in motion with growing resentment towards the Chinese settlers. The colony of Victoria eventually restricted Chinese immigration by imposing a tax on Chinese migrants and limiting the number of Chinese passengers arriving in Victoria. Also, the growing number of Asian Migrants, who were willing to work for lower wages were brought in to work in sugarcane plantations in Queensland that increased competition in jobs. This was seen as a threat to the working man’s paradise, the perception that Australia offers the means of a comfortable life to all.
Commonwealth of Australia
In 1901 the self-governing British colonies united and formed the Commonwealth of Australia. One of the worst bills introduced by the new federal parliament is the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. The Act sought to exclude all Non-Europeans from Australia which formed the basis of White Australia Policy. In the wave of World War II, Australia’s vulnerability in defense and power became evident and therefore the government began to encourage migrants from Britain in a bid to populate or perish. Over time attitude towards race and ethnicity slowly changed in Australia and around the world. Australia also realized that its relationship with Asian countries is becoming significant strategically and economically. In 1947, Non-Europeans were allowed to settle permanently in Australia which slowly dismantled the White Australia Policy.
In many parts of the world, colorism is taught to children in the form of fairy-tales that feature light-skinned princesses. Within the cosmetic industry, multiple fairness products became popular that are meant to lighten the complexion and that they demean dark skin in their advertisements. Various industries and employment fields give preferences to a lighter-skinned person over a dark-skinned person. A light complexion is considered as the symbol of beauty, racial superiority, and power which successively continues to possess strong influences on marital prospects, employment, status, and income.
Views of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A Nigerian writer and a storyteller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned in her TedTalk about the differences between Western and African literature. She also mentioned the writing of a London merchant called John Locke in Western Literature who sailed to West Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. He represented the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories within the west, a tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, differences, darkness, etc.
A single-story creates incomplete stereotypes, they make one story become the only story. The repercussions of a single-story rob people of dignity. It makes recognition of our equal humanity difficult and emphasizes our differences rather than the similarities. Stories matter, they can either be used to disgrace and destroy or to empower and humanize. They can break people’s dignity and can also repair that broken dignity. If we reject this idea of associating a single-story with a culture or a place, we regain a sort of paradise.
Another American activist and a lawyer, Valarie Kaur from the past many years kept fighting for issues like immigration-detention, deportations, surveillance, special-registrations, gun-violence, prison-practices, hate-crimes, and racial-profiling in America. She initiated a lot of campaigns and lawsuits to make the nation safer for the next generation. She also founded a project called Revolutionary Love, a non-profit organization that produces educational material aimed at fostering love as a public ethic. She is also the founder of the Groundswell Movement which was considered as America’s largest multi-faith online uprising network recognized for dynamically strengthening faith-based uprising within the 21st century. After September 11, 2001, when her family friend got killed during a hate-crime, she started documenting hate-crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans and created an award-winning documentary called Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath.
In 2015 at the Parliament of the world’s religions she spoke in her keynote address, “Revolutionary love is the call of our times. The love that is at the hearts of all our fates. The love without the thought of the outcome that sets others free. The love so deep that you will give your life for it.” On the same day her son was born, people were marching within the city’s streets across the nation protesting the killing of the black unarmed body, hands up chanting “I can’t breathe”. When her son was only 8-weeks old, she had to bundle her son up and take him to a candlelight vigil to mourn the lives of three Muslim students all shot in the head on the Chapel Hill by a person who despised religion.
Human bodies are seen as perpetually foreign and potential terrorists. Black bodies are seen as criminal, brown bodies as illegal, trans bodies as immoral, indigenous bodies as savage, women’s bodies as property. When we call bodies inferior and strange to ours, it becomes easier to imprison them, rape them, and kill them. Forgiveness is not to forget but to become free from hate. A better solution is to practice revolutionary love where humans show up for each other, a love that can remake the world around us and within us.
Neha Gupta | Senior Software Engineer, Bangalore