ELIMINATING RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
The barbaric murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Emmett Till and countless others by police and white vigilantes exemplify a history that continually divides our nation. Ingrained in the core of US cultural and ideological DNA are the legacy of genocide and slavery, our country’s Original Sin.
The genocide and containment of the First Nations people coupled with centuries of chattel enslavement of millions of Africans provide the foundation for the violence, oppression, economic deprivation and xenophobia that inform today’s society. The European colonizers, in search of religious and economic freedoms used their bible and concocted “science” to dehumanize and create the justification for the concepts of race and racism. Driven by avarice and greed, they called those who did not look or worship like them savages, in need of domination, civilization and salvation. They created the concept of a white race and whiteness laws that laid the foundation for white supremacy. Paradoxically, the ‘Founding Fathers’ in 1689, drafted the Bill of Rights, appropriating for themselves expanded liberties and freedom in ways never before seen, while ignoring and denying the liberties of those they oppressed. Why? Land was plentiful and slaves were money.
By 1776 there were four million enslaved people of African descent in the US. Today they would be valued at $80 billion dollars. In “The Black Tax” author Shawn Rochester states “...the value of uncompensated labor from 1619 to 1865 reaches $50 trillion dollars.” Slave labor not only built capitalism and the vast wealth amassed in the US but it also drove the growth of capitalism and wealth in Western Europe. Walter Johnson, a leading historian on slavery wrote in 2018, “There was no such thing as capitalism without slavery; the history of Manchester (England) never happened without the history of Mississippi.”
Wealth gap statistics best illustrate the enduring legacy of accumulated inequality and lack of access to power and opportunity for Black and Brown people. The Federal Reserve Board found that, in 2016 the median net worth for white families was at least 10 times greater than of Black and Latinx families. Furthermore, 50% of First Nations people live in poverty.
Demands for reparations for the centuries of stolen labor, underpaid jobs and violations of fundamental human rights by the government, corporations and institutions have recently been brought into sharp focus and are currently pending as points of discussion and negotiation in the US and before the world. Sojourners for Truth and Justice joins with those demanding reparations.
The treatment of Chinese immigrants further highlights the reality of white supremacy. The California gold rush, 1848-1855, saw the first wave of Chinese immigrants. This was followed by those recruited for large labor projects, such as the Transcontinental Railroad. A subsequent outcry of “degraded and inferior race” against the Chinese resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, suspending Chinese immigration and declaring all Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship. It was among the many legal restrictions between 1878 and 1952 that evoked the ‘free white person’ clause, denying citizenship to categories of people of color, even those who were born in the US, based solely on national origin. This included First Nations people. These laws laid the foundation for the caste system providing more or less justice based on color that prevails today.
Latinx communities also experience a persistent legacy of discrimination and exploitation. Once described as lazy, now described as criminal job snatchers, they too continue to fight for their rights. These include equity in health care, job safety and security, education, voting rights and housing. Current US policy regarding Mexican immigration is particularly egregious. The separation of families and internment in overcrowded, filthy, for profit camps has garnered worldwide condemnation for its incredible cruelty.
Virulent anti-Japanese sentiment caused more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from their homes and detained in concentration camps during WWII, based on ethnicity alone. Two thirds were American citizens and one third were children. Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized this action in 1942. A congressional report later found that the order was based on racism. Not a single act of sabotage was committed by a Japanese American before or during the war. Despite their mistreatment, many Japanese Americans joined the military. Because the armed services were segregated they, along with Black Americans, served in separate divisions with white officers at the helm. German Americans were not subjected to the same treatment.
The current administration has weaponized the coronavirus by renaming it the “China Virus.” This has resulted in hate crimes against Asian Americans that have increased to 100 per day during the pandemic. We were told “they” are responsible for the pandemic. These divide and conquer techniques are repeatedly used to maintain the status quo. Despite all this, acts of racial solidarity are happening all over our country. For example, Tsuru for Solidary, a Japanese American organization, and La Resistencia a Latinx organization, have demonstrated together highlighting the unsafe conditions in immigration detention centers that are worsened by COVID-19 and the travesty of separating children from their parents. They have demanded closure of the centers. They point out that this treatment draws parallels between WW11 and today’s detentions.
Racism, supported by hundreds of discriminatory laws passed by Congress and enforced by violent racist policing, grants white people the privilege to move through the world without fear or thought of race defining their actions; a privilege subconsciously engaged in by many white people because it seems reasonable and normal. White privilege provides the blinders that prevent working poor and middle-income white people from seeing what they have in common with Black, Brown and other oppressed peoples. Research has shown that many white people support the idea of racial equality but are less supportive of policies that could make it more possible.
The rebellions by enslaved people, the Underground Railroad, the Herculean efforts to overturn Jim Crow laws, the historic marches, freedom rides and all other actions for equality by oppressed people demonstrates a continuing struggle for freedom. These struggles are a central part of the US story and lead to the massive worldwide demonstrations, led by young people that we see today for equality for all people.
The ancient proverb, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” speaks directly to the US today as it continues to benefit from the roots of its greatest strength, diversity, while tearing apart and weakening its branches by denying equality to all of its diverse people. Will this nation live or die by its own hands? Looking at our current turbulent times, one thing is certain. Only the people's commitment and dedication to humanity and respect for all life will finally make that determination.
As the young people gather to carry the demand for equality nationwide, they should be buoyed by the words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand it never did and never will.”
The struggle continues. We, Sojourners for Truth And Justice believe the following actions should be taken to advance change:
Ensure every eligible voter is registered and votes. Voting is key
Support the actions of people, groups and public officials who call for the immediate cessation of the killing and maiming of Black, Brown, Asian and First Nation people by vigilantes or the police. All perpetrators must be held accountable
Support efforts to dismantle institutional racism at all government levels and in the private sector
Develop and teach an anti-racist and inclusive curricula as an integral part of education at all levels
End discrimination in the workplace, housing and all avenues of public life
Support calls for reparations
Organize a Truth and Reconciliation process.
"A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity." Nelson Mandela
TIMELINE - RACISM:
1774 - 1832 Treaties between First Nations people and the US negotiated to establish borders. The US routinely broke and violated these treaties;
1789 First US Presidential Election, propertied white men only;
1790 Naturalization Act, limited citizenship to “Free White Men”;
1831 - 1877 Trail of Tears, “Indian Removal Act,” a series of forced marches of more than 60,000 First Nations people from the South to west of the Mississippi to make way for Cotton plantations;
1854 People v Hall, California Supreme Court, denied Chinese First Nations people and free Blacks status to testify in court against whites;
1856 Dred Scott v Sandford, Supreme Court decided enslaved and free Blacks were not US citizens and “they had no rights a white man was bound to respect”;
1865 13th Amendment, abolished slavery;
1866 Civil Rights Act granted citizenship to formerly enslaved persons, overturned Dred Scott;
1870 The 15th Amendment granted formerly enslaved men the right to vote;
1870s Institution and proliferation of Jim Crow laws in Southern States, lynching and organized racial terrorism widespread
1875 Page Act - first federal immigration law prohibiting the entry of Chinese women
1879 Standing Bear v Crook, successfully argued in US District Court that “an Indian is a person” became the first Native American judicially granted civil rights under US law
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years and declared all Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship; 1878 – 1952 Racial Prerequisite Laws; series of laws that denied naturalization to those deemed not white therefore could not be assimilated including First Nations, Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European people;
1896 – 1904 Blacks eliminated from voter rolls in North Carolina;
1892 Plessy v Ferguson, separate but equal doctrine ratified by the Supreme Court;
1913 California Alien Land Laws, “aliens ineligible for citizenship” prohibited Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean farmers from owning land
1920 19th Amendment - Women's Right to Vote
1924 First Nations people given full citizenship. The right to vote was not granted universally but on a State-by-State basis;
1929 – 1936 Asian Exclusion Act limited the number of immigrants from any country to 2% of the people living in the US at the time of 1890 census;
1929 – 1936 Largest deportation from the US, 1.8 million Mexican Americans
1941 Executive Order 9066, authorizing detention camps for Japanese citizens and residents;
1942 Korematsu v US, challenged executive order 9066, 1983 voided by California court, lead the way to 1988 US federal law which granted reparations to incarcerated Japanese Americans;
1944 Executive Order 9066 overturned by Supreme Court. First time word racism used in a Supreme Court case;
1948 Executive Order 9981, desegregating the armed services;
1954 – Brown v Board of Education overturned Plessy v Ferguson, separate but equal unconstitutional;
1962 First Nations people granted the right to vote in Utah. There was now universal franchise for First Nations people;
1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom, helped to create a new national understanding of the problems of racial and economic justice;
1964 Civil Rights Act, outlawed discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, Jim Crow laws overturned;
1965 Voting Rights Act, prohibits racial discrimination in voting;
1965 – 1970 The United Farm Workers organized strikes and a grape boycott to improve conditions for mostly Filipino, led by Larry Itliong, and “Chicano” workers, led by Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez:
1967 Loving v Virginia; repealed the anti-miscegenation laws nationally;
2013 The Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing 9 states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without federal approval;
2015 Obergefell v Hodges, same sex marriage recognized in all 50 states
2020 Ramos v Louisiana, unanimous jury vote needed to convict in criminal cases.