Idea of Americanism: Descriptive Essay

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America is a contradiction. It’s core constitutional values rest on prosperity, and the idea that all men are created equal, and yet was built and is thriving off of the systematic oppression and domination of people of color. It could be argued that the American culture hinges on on a widespread set of views, norms and beliefs, rather than true democratic norms. Without a doubt, from a young age we’re indoctrinated by Americanism. Activities such as learning the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, serve as a tool utilized to limit any form of disobedience to our country and flag. In the same way, there is a sense of preserving Americanism and regarding it as sacred, which is vital to American culture.

These ideologies are so entrenched into contemporary society, that many see the denouncement of Americanism as unpatriotic and disrespectful; the most relevant example being Colin Kaepernick. In discussing America specifically, America maintains one of the longest standing democracies in history, which may be in part to these practices and norms we seek to maintain. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to credit the validity of American democracy, without a willingness to recognize the basis on which the nation was established. American democracy is not as substantive as many believe, due to the use of illiberal voter suppression tactics, and the ill-treatment and exploitation of people on the basis of race.

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To begin, one of the key elements of democracy includes the right to vote, in many cases it’s even seen as a duty or obligation. Voting is key to many modern democracies because it generates representation among political figures. Plus, it allows for those not in the political arena to appoint who will be governing public and private life. Explicitly taking away voting rights from citizens would be depriving us of the most fundamental privilege, and erasing any means of political choice or freedom. Rather, certain tactics are implemented to target certain communities, that either lower the chances of people from that community voting or stop them from voting altogether. These are recognized as voter suppression laws; legislation that reduces the chances of voting from a certain group, who are likely to be against a certain candidate or proposition.

According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, such penal laws were first introduced after the Civil War reconstruction, and primarily affected African-American people, despite the 14th and 15th amendments ensuring their right to vote. Despite popular belief, there was a period of time in which African Americans were granted the right to vote, freedom of speech and civil liberties, however, this all changed once reconstruction ended in 1877 and federal troops withdrew from the old confederacy These rights were soon systematically stripped by racist government who, at the time were Democrats, and keen on preserving the sanctity of whiteness in America. Since federal troops were no longer there to defend the political rights of African Americans, they became vulnerable at the grave threats of white employers and senseless violence from the Klu Klux Klan: a white supremacist hate organization that was most active during the reconstruction south.

Used forms of these undemocratic practices included poll taxes, which required voters to pay two years prior to an election. This primarily affected poverty-stricken areas in which many African-Americans resided. In addition to poll taxes, literacy tests were popular and considered the most effective form of voter discrimination. Literacy tests required a potential voter to read a part of the constitution and explain it to a voter clerk, who was always white. (CRF 1). It was then up to the clerk to decide if the potential voter was literate or not. These literacy tests affected almost all black men who were never taught to read, while their white counterparts were virtually always given a sentence to read and or interpret.

In addition, the grandfather clause was used as a form of voter suppression in the way that it only granted those whose grandfathers were able to vote before the civil war, the right to vote themselves. This was first enacted by Mississippi in 1895 but was soon mimicked by other southern states after it was deemed effective. With the right to vote being reduced, African-Americans found themselves with little to no influence over laws, local policies, schools, taxes, or public courts. As mentioned by authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky in How Democracies Die “the disenfranchisement of African Americans preserved white supremacy and democratic dominance in the South, which helped maintain the democrats’ national viability”(124). Although voter suppression laws were first used during the reconstruction era and outlawed through the Voting Rights Act, author Vanessa Willoughby mentions how voter suppression still manifests itself in our modern society. Now, it’s in subtler ways, such as voter ID and exact match laws. Nonetheless, these policies continue to impact communities of color, especially immigrants, and impoverished people who are less likely to possess documents needed to attain proper identification.

Lastly, authors Danyelle Solomon, Connor Maxwell, and Abril Castro, touch on the threat of revoking voter rights of American citizens with undocumented parents. They write “While such a threat is racist, xenophobic, and constitutionally dubious, it stokes fear in millions of Americans of color. These recent examples serve as a critical reminder that some of the most powerful lawmakers in the so-called land of the free remain committed to limiting full access to American democracy” (31). To summarize, seeing as how voting is one of the key components to democracy, the absence of making voting attainable for all eligible citizens, supports the idea that American democracy isn’t as robust as it’s made out to be.

While voting fulfills an important role in sustaining democracy, minority rights and equality remain an integral key to any well-maintained government. Democracies consist of many institutions that were created to aid in reducing racial divisiveness, but in America specifically, these institutions significantly increase the gap between race and class. In discussing racial injustices, it’s important to recognize the basis of the current president’s whole campaign is built upon the idea that “deviant” people are tainting true American values and culture. Such ideas are harmful in and of themselves, but become lethal when they’re being projected by arguably one of the most influential men in the world. In the novel, How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky, and Danial Ziblatt, they touch on the ways in which Donald Trump exudes many characteristics of an authoritarian leader. Also, that it’s essential that we’re cautious of any “influential political leader that restricts or encourages the restriction of basic civil or political rights” (65). In addition to this, the “toleration or encouragement of violence” is a very dangerous element of any presidency and can lead to the downfall of any established democracy. (66). In other words, a democracy without the presence of civil and political rights, isn’t a democracy at all. Even before Trump, racial disparities at the hands of oppressive government plagued this country since its founding. Each one of the systems to be discussed has a history of disproportionately considering communities of color as an afterthought or unequal. Including institutions like the education system, the criminal justice system/prison industrial complex, and law enforcement.

To begin, it's critical to note that minority discrimination in this country is far from removed, it’s merely evolved and adapted to current times. Rather, America disguises its racism under the guise of patriotism, democracy, protecting our borders. The present ugliness in this country is embedded within the politicians, judges, and government officials who essentially hold the most power. In recent years, the president and the government have utilized tools that uphold and promote systematic oppression. The criminal justice system is just one example of an institution that has generated one of the largest racially motivated gaps today. Mass incarceration specifically, doesn’t start with that first arrest or detainment. It starts small, with disobedience in the home, that translates to insubordination in school and eventually leads to suspension or expulsion.

The School-To-Prison Pipeline represents a prime example of this path that unequally affects young African American students. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund defines this as “funneling students out of school and into the streets and the juvenile correction system perpetuates a cycle recognized as the School-to-Prison-Pipeline, depriving children and youth of meaningful opportunities for education, future employment, and participation in our democracy” (1). In Meridian, Mississippi, law enforcement, routinely arrests students, forcing them out of the classroom, and turning it into a harsh environment where they feel violated rather than safe. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, staff members give to police, “unfettered authority to stop, frisk, detain, question, search and arrest schoolchildren on and off school grounds (3)”. In Birmingham, Alabama, there are law officials permanently assigned to almost every high school. School is meant to be a place where students can flourish and grow mentally. Yet, when a student goes to school and immediately enters an environment that criminalizes them, it’s sending a message that their safety is categorized as an afterthought. Ultimately, forcing students out of the classroom results in them being more likely to run into trouble with the law.

Racial discrimination in our criminal justice system is stemmed from a history of racial prejudice. Slavery, one of the most relevant examples of exercising undemocratic practices, was justified by the notion of a racial hierarchy. It was rooted in the idea that African Americans were inferior to white people, and in turn benefited from slavery. The presumption of guilt and villainization hat has been assigned to African Americans since America’s history of lynching, and slavery has more presently affected minority communities in terms of the criminal justice system and law enforcement. In the article “Presumption of Guilt” by Equal Justice Initiative, the article speaks on how law enforcement carries a strong unconscious mindset of associating criminality with blackness, which may be why we see so many young men of color dying at the hands of police officers (EJI 2). The idea of “shoot first, ask questions later”, has been demonstrated by law enforcement for decades. Studies show that police officers are more likely to carry out stop and frisk searches or detain men of color based solely on their intuition, and judgment.

On the contrary, many politicians such as Bill Otis place the blame for the state of the prison system on individual character rather than factors such as systemic racism and undemocratic practices. In his writings discussing racial disparities in the prison system, Otis says “I don’t care a whit about what the prison population looks like...I also don’t care about whether they’re young or old, and I don’t care if they’re male or female. I care about what their behavior is, period.... If blacks (or young people or men) want to appear less in the prison population, it’s easy: Abide by the law. If you do, have a nice day. If you don’t, you’ve assumed the risk” (1). The issue with this way of thinking is that it removes all and any responsibility from the systems that are disportionately keeping people of color incarcerated. Once we stop viewing these systems as ineffective, we move away from any effort to change or at least improve them. Essentially, African Americans are affected tremendously by political and social institutions, that typically serve as an aid to others. Since a stable democracy is inherently reliant on such institutions to benefit, and serve everyone, a democracy containing practices that oppress some, while favoring others cannot be labeled as substantive.

In conclusion, what are seemingly the most beneficial social and political institutions actually end up promoting most of the undemocratic norms we see today. Voter suppression laws have not been eradicated, and are being used in more discreet ways than ever.The education system works against students of color, and is one component that perpetuates the rate of imprisonment of black and brown bodies. People with felonies cannot vote, so who is more likely to not show up to those voting polls when the time comes? These systems don’t work separately, rather they’re all interconnected and operate to create practices that criminalize people of color, prohibit voting, and reduce the chances of participation in our democracy as a whole. A successful democracy is reliant on the full participation of all citizens, but once we began oppressing voices, and uplifting others, that democracy becomes unstable, and in grave danger of collapsing.

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Idea of Americanism: Descriptive Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
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