- Racial disparity: Institutional Racism from Black Codes to the Present
- Segregation Policies, Redlining and the Present Racial Housing Disparity
- Slave-based Economy: Slavery Was the Source of White Real Estate and Power
- The Racial Wealth Gap: Two Reports on Income and Asset Disparity
- Black Incarceration: War on Crime, RDL, Racial Profiling, Stop and Frisk
Institutional racism didn’t end in 1865. The present racial disparity is the result of segregation policies starting with black codes, then Jim Crow; some that lasted well into the 1970s, others that have been created since and are in place today
(05-07-2018, updated 07-11-2018) A question I saw on Facebook: “What have whites done, since slavery, to prevent blacks from succeeding? Why do we owe them anything?” So, how did the racial disparity in America happen? Why is there so much black poverty? Does racial inequity still exist? This post can be considered an introduction to the hold-my-beer series that resulted. The answer requires looking into centuries of black history, of institutional racism, the many creative ways whites have systematically excluded blacks from the American dream. Black history is shaped by institutional inequity. Of course, it not only resulted in the racial disparity we still have today, it was also the driving force behind the agents of change within the black community and beyond. However, the focus of this series will be the effects and lasting consequences of institutional racism.
Yes, obviously slavery, before and during the Civil War. But anyone who thinks that once slavery was over, everything was hunky-dory, has either had no history lessons to speak of, or wasn’t paying attention. After the Southern states capitulated, the Federal Army stayed in the South for another eleven years to ensure that all enslaved people were indeed freed and that they were paid for their labor from then on, and treated fairly and equally in general. Public programs like public education and public healthcare were set up, and the army oversaw elections. African Americans voted and ran for office and African Americans became mayors, senators, congressmen. This period is called the Reconstruction.
The Black Codes
As soon as the Union Army left in 1876, however, white Southerners came up with the Black Codes, laws that ensured white supremacy and white power over blacks. This was the beginning of institutional racism post-slavery. Different states had different laws or more or less severe versions, but the following are some of the most common: Any black person who could not prove he was employed and had housing would be arrested and “rented out” until he had paid off the exorbitant fine; apprentice laws allowed for the “hiring out” of young children and orphans as free labor; some states didn’t allow blacks to own land; they were excluded from certain jobs and trades; they were not allowed to own firearms; they could not testify in court against a white person; and interracial marriage was a crime. In short, these black codes returned Southern society to how it was before the Civil War in every way but universal slavery for blacks.
The Black Code was succeeded by Jim Crow: from 1877 (end of Reconstruction) to the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Acts were passed into law. The public programs set up during the Reconstruction were severely cut the moment the federal officials left in 1876. Laws were enacted that segregated blacks from whites in all areas of society, laws that made it illegal for blacks to leave their job (they were forced to sign one-year contracts) or the state they had been enslaved in, laws that required blacks to be able to spell better than their hick white counterparts if they wanted to vote, and apart from laws, white supremacist organizations like the KKK and employers also effectively intimidated most black folks into staying away from the polls. In late June, 1946, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, in a public radio address, called on
every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi to resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls in the July 2 primary. And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures.
All these laws were justified by the overarching Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Their bullshit line was that they didn’t see blacks as unequal, but rather as “separate but equal”. And although the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) guarantees equal protection under the law, regardless of race, in reality blacks could not count on it. Between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States, that we know of, that is. Of these murdered people 3,446 were black. Many of the white people who were lynched were killed because they helped blacks.
It’s a myth that segregation was only a Southern thing, and that it, too, ended, in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Acts. Many whites want to believe that everything’s been hunky-dory since then. No more segregation, equal rights for all, so the present racial disparity must be … what? … must be due to African Americans being lazy, or dumb, or because of cultural differences? What?
When I started researching individual Jim Crow laws, like segregated housing, I realized that this was going to take more than one post. So in the following posts I will discuss several forms of institutional racial inequity, not just during this period and not just in the South. The next post will deal with housing, and I have to say, I was gobsmacked to read how deliberate government policies led to the current situations in America.
A note on the side: In these posts I’m primarily focused on African Americans because I started researching this in response to the question on Facebook by Mr. Clueless. (But at least he asked.) Also, it fits in with some research I’m doing in a different area. In many cases my findings apply to other ethnic minorities as well. I might take on each minority separately in some way in the future, but I can’t make any specific promises at the moment.
This post is Part 1 in the series How Whites Hold Blacks Back. Here is the next one.
(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “But That Was Then, This Is Now : Part 1 Introduction”, 05-07-2018)
- 14th Amendment to the US Constitution (Web Guides : Primary Documents in American History). Washington, Library of Congress. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?ollId=llsl&fileName=014/llsl014.db&recNum=389
- Black Code. Encyclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/topic/black-code
- Foner, Eric. Reconstruction. Encyclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/event/Reconstruction-United-States-history
- History of Lynchings. NAACP. http://www.naacp.org/history-of-lynchings/
- Plessy v. Ferguson. Justia. Washington, US Supreme Court. – https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/163/537/case.html
- Tristam, Pierre. Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo’s Legacy of Hate. (Candide’s Notebooks). – Common Dreams. July 17, 2007. https://www.commondreams.org/views/2007/07/17/sen-theodore-g-bilbos-legacy-hate
- Urofsky, Melvin I. Jim Crow Law. Encyclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law
Header image: mine.