Racial discrimination has been the most widely discussed issue in the United States of America since the colonial era. Out of all minority groups, such as Native Americans, Latin Americans, American Jews, Asian Americans, etc, African Americans were the most distinctly regarded as those of different race. Black people were deprived of even basic rights and freedoms and were for long enslaved by White people and forced to serve them. When the slavery was abolished and African Americans entered the White society, it accepted them rather unwillingly. African Americans were restricted in their rights in almost every area of human activities because of white supremacy which White people firmly believed in; with time they began fighting for their rights which resulted in numerous legislations in their favor, improving their overall welfare, and creating a number of organizations which protected their rights.
Abuses and Discrimination
Black people were facing numerous types of abuses and discrimination starting from limitations in housing and ending with separated education. Housing was one of the areas where Black people were discriminated against. Housing discrimination existed up to the 1970s and led to the development of black “ghettos”. At this, federal government seemed reluctant to deal with this problem; moreover, “the policies of the government favored segregation and discrimination against minorities in housing” (Reed and William Monroe Trotter Institute, p. 7).
Racism could be observed in the military as well. Opportunities which were offered to African Americans were rather rare and, “although African Americans had served in all the nation’s wars, they had, since the end of the Civil War, been restricted to a limited number of racially segregated units in the regular army and the National Guard” (Sanfeliu and Shulcloper, p. 242). A great number of Black soldiers served in war; they used to be recruited to the navy only for menial positions with the Marines excluding them completely and the army using most of them “as food handlers, dockworkers, grave diggers, and laborers” (Sanfeliu and Shulcloper, p. 242).
African Americans’ rights were also abused in the sphere of education. School segregation demanded black children to study in separate schools. Black schools differed greatly from the White ones: “We used second hand textbooks which White schools discarded and we hardly had any equipment or visual aids. There were times when there was no heating in winter but the students still continued studying because they wanted to be educated” (Interview with Richardson, 2009).
These are only some of the abuses and restrictions which African Americans used to face. In general, they were discriminated against practically in any sphere of human life and often had to appease with such treatment.
The Reason of Racial Discrimination
During the oppression era, black, and any other kind of people who were classified as “colored”, were doomed to discrimination. Those were the times when the notion “white supremacy” appeared and started spreading over the word. White supremacy can be regarded as “a doctrine of White racial superiority that justifies discrimination, segregation, and domination of persons of color based on an ideology and belief system that considers all non-White groups racially inferior” (Sue, p. 100). White people expressed their white supremacy everywhere; only the color of a person was enough to attack him/her on the street or to fire him/her from job. The Whites thought of themselves as of a pure race which should not be contaminated by the unworthy.
Thus, the only reason why African Americans were discriminated against was that they were different from the members of the White society. White people considered them inferior and a person with black skin who accidentally got into a group of white people was viewed as a villain, as the one who did not have a right to breathe the same air with the Whites.
Black People’s Fight for Their Rights
With time, African American people tired from bearing oppression and discrimination and the second half of the twentieth century saw their ardent fight for their rights and freedoms. Their fight began with the Civil Rights Movement which started in the 1960s and soon spread worldwide to end only in 30 years. The Civil Rights Movement entailed much civil unrest with the Black Power Movement espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966. Black people who organized this movement “protested […] economic system that kept people impoverished. They called for black pride and demanded power, social rights, and the dignity denied to their communities…” (Joseph, p. 81). The Black Power movement was not formal, but it has not only greatly changed black-white relations in the United States, but increased black people’s confidence in their power and changed their perception of themselves.
Apart from this, black people often organized sit-in demonstrations the purpose of which was to settle civil matters. Mrs. Richardson, 67, the interviewee, states that most of the demonstrations were successful and the marchers, as a rule, obtained what they wanted: “Sit-in demonstrations had the most various purposes. Those could be raising salaries, paying arrears of wages, refusing to dismiss segregated school, and things like that. Our local government was quite compliant, though the demonstrations could last for a week sometimes” (Interview with Richardson, 2009). African American people worldwide organized nonviolent meetings, demonstrations, and even mass rebellions for the government to notice them and meet their views; this was how they expressed their desire to be equal with the others.
Changing the Situation
Though African American people still face racial discrimination in the modern society, significant changes have taken place since those times when their rights were practically absent. Black people now enjoy the same rights and opportunities as the White people. Each case of discrimination is thoroughly considered by the government and the guilty bear their punishment.
The government of the United States, as well as those of other countries, has adopted numerous laws which protect the rights of black people. African American children study in desegregated (or integrated) schools together with white children. Though the process of desegregation was rather painful for both the communities (black students were transferred to former white schools where they were not welcome and where white students continued oppressing them), it was still beneficial for the black community. Now they can easily enter any higher educational establishment and find a job they like. In addition, Black women can marry White men and vice versa without being afraid of public contempt or misunderstanding. Black people work in government and are often chosen as heads of law enforcement agencies (Dulaney ix). Finally, in 2008 the United States of America elected Barack Obama as the president of the country. This was the first case in the history of the country when a black person became a president.
In general, the welfare of the African American population has tangibly improved. Their incomes have increased significantly and though the incomes of some of Black people are smaller than those of White people, they are still higher that the incomes of other minority groups’ members (graph 1).
This graph presents weekly earnings by members of different race/ethnic groups in 1991. As the graph shows, the income of white population is still the highest, but the income of black population is not significantly lower. At this, it is not the lowest income of all the ethnic groups mentioned in the graph. This means that the situation regarding African American welfare has changed and their living standards continue improving each year.
The US government has adopted a number of anti discrimination policies which are widely applied at all institutions in the country. The same is true about Canada and European countries where the fight with racial discrimination never stops. The governments of different countries have already adopted non-discrimination laws and policies which guarantee equal rights, freedoms, career and working opportunities, as well as health and other services to people, irrespective of their ethnicity or skin color.
There exist different governmental and non-governmental organizations which protect the rights of black people and other minorities. One of such organizations is OECD (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) which is a federal agency pursuing the goal of eliminating employment discrimination. Another organization is the Commission of Racial Equality which “has powers to mount investigations into the policies and practices of employers […] to determine whether they have discriminated on racial grounds” (Burstein 326). Apart from these, there also exist Civil Rights Organization, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Human Rights Watch, and others. All these agencies and organizations are aimed at ensuring that African American people, as well as other minorities, have the same rights and freedoms as white people.
African American people have gone through a number of abuses and discriminations in housing, limitary, education, and other spheres. The main reason of this discrimination was white supremacy which White people established and which allowed them limiting a person in his/her rights only because of the skin color. Closer to the middle of the twentieth century black people could no longer stand such treatment and began fighting for their rights and organizing meetings and demonstrations. This resulted in adopting laws which improved their welfare and creating organizations which protected their rights.
- Burstein, Paul. Equal Employment Opportunity: Labor Market Discrimination and Public Policy. New Jersey: Aldine Transaction, 1994.
- Dulaney, Marvin W. Black Police in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Feargin, Sandra. Our Economic System. New York; Triumph Learning – Coach Books, 1993
- Joseph, Peniel E. The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era. New York: CRC Press, 2006.
- Reed, Wornie L. and William Monroe Trotter Institute. African-Americans: Essential Perspectives. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993.
- Richardson, Emily. Personal Interview. 2009.
- Sanfeliu, Alberto and Schulcloper, Jose. Progress in Pattern Recognition, Speech and Image Analysis: 8th Iberoamerican Congress on Pattern Recognition, CIARP 2003, Havana, Cuba, 2003: Proceedings. London: Springer, 2003.
- Sue, Derald W. Overcoming Our Racism: the Journey to Liberation. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2003.