History and Purpose
Racism has been a constant in the United States of America even before it was an internationally recognized country. Of course, the land we now call “America” was occupied by peoples different than the current residents. One could even say that this land was built on racism. Of the many things the Europeans did when they came to the New World in the 16th century was slavery, the most violent and overt form of racism (John W. Kincheloe, 2011). Times have changed and even though some people may want to believe racism doesn’t exist in America because of the outlawing of slavery in the 19th century and the civil rights act of 1964, racism still exists, just in different forms. Racism is still institutional and pervades every aspect of our culture. As one article states, “we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go”, which is another way of saying that racism is less than it used to be in the US but much remains (Steinfels, 2019).
There have been many milestones that may show the dissipation of racism in the US, such as the election of Barack Obama. But for every positive milestone, there has been another millstone around the neck of this antiquated institution. For every step forward, there have been steps hack, these events are what Steinfels calls “small accomplishments with improbable lapses.” (Steinfels, 2019). A short walk through racism in America will start with slavery when the first slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619 to the thriving slave trade in Montgomery, Alabama in the 19th century to the Jim Crow policies of the 1870s through 1960s that segregated black Americans and kept them from voting — at times through pure terrorism (Lopez, 2015). Then there are the subtler policies of today, which have racially disparate effects despite appearing race-neutral — including racial disparities in police use of force, the higher rates of incarceration among African Americans, and longer prison sentences black people tend to get when they’re convicted (Lopez, 2015). It is important to discuss this topic and study the history of racism so that people can get a proper perspective of racism. Knowing the deep historical roots of it can provide awareness and empathy while ignorance will allow people to perceive racism as less of a threat in our society.
This paper will discuss the plight and situation of African-Americans in American society. But before I discuss three aspects of racism in America we must define terms with which we will be engaging, for as Socrates said “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” (cornerstones, 2010) I will first define racism. Race is the social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics, such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories (Definition and Key Concepts, 2019). Racism is A system of advantage based on race and supported by institutional structures, policies, and practices that create and sustain advantages for the dominant white group while systematically subordinating members of targeted racial groups (Carlos Hoyt, 2012). This relative advantage for whites and subordination for people of color is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society (Definition and Key Concepts, 2019). With these two terms defined we can discuss race and racism’s place in several sectors of American society: the educational system, the workplace, and society in general. In discussing racism’s place in the educational system I will discuss the school to prison pipeline.
The “school to prison pipeline” is the idea that there is an institutional push to ensure students from a certain race are not given adequate educational opportunities and instead moved to the penal system. It is a process of criminalizing youth that is carried out by disciplinary policies and practices within schools that put students into contact with law enforcement and once they are put into contact with law enforcement for disciplinary reasons, many are then pushed out of the educational environment and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems (Nicki Lisa Cole, 2019). This system works via two key forces that produced and now maintain the school-to-prison pipeline: the use of zero-tolerance policies that mandate exclusionary punishments and the presence of SROs on campuses (Nicki Lisa Cole, 2019). For example, behavior that once just meant a trip to the principal’s office or a call to the parents is now met with suspension, exclusion from school, or arrest (ADL, 2019). The role of racism is evident when one looks at the statistics of the students that are sent into the school-to-prison pipeline. Black and American Indian Students Face Harsher Punishments and Higher Rates of Suspension and Expulsion. While Black people are just 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they comprise the greatest percentage of people in prisons and jails – 40 percent (Nicki Lisa Cole, 2019). In contrast, white people make up just 39 percent of the incarcerated population, despite the fact that they are the majority race in the U.S., comprising 64 percent of the national population (Nicki Lisa Cole, 2019). While the school-to-prison pipeline theory has a significant impact on younger people, students, if they avoid the school-to-prison pipeline, and graduate school and go on to the workplace, there are challenges that remain in the workplace.
In the workplace context, race discrimination constitutes any unfavorable treatment against a job applicant or employee, specifically because of his or her race or race-related characteristics, such as skin tone, hair texture, or facial features (Stanciu, 2018). This racism can manifest itself in many ways. I will label the two major categories of racism in the workplace “soft racism” and “hard racism”. Soft racism is when good, or positive things don’t happen to people of certain races or ethnicities based on their race. This mainly manifests itself via a lack of promotions or what is often called a “glass ceiling”, or an invisible barrier to promotion within a certain company or industry. One study found that there is a “glass ceiling” preventing promotion and black and minority ethnic (BME) managers feel they have to work twice as hard and have twice as many qualifications to succeed (Latoo, 2009). Additionally, there are many instances of “hard racism” in which employees feel threatened, vulnerable, or even face violence. One example is a 43-year-old shipyard worker who was one of 18 victims who experienced racial slurs, Ku Klux Klan references, and – most chillingly of all – eight nooses hanging from the ceiling of the company’s break room (Phillpott, 2019). In another example, one officer claims he was harassed at work, overlooked for promotions, and subjected to racist slurs, including the placing of ‘mug shots’ of famous African Americans (such as James Brown and Jesse Jackson) in his workspace with his badge number written under the pictures, a stuffed panda was also hung from the ceiling, intended, according to other witnesses, to represent the officers mixed ancestry (Phillpott, 2019). There is racism in specific places and in specific forms but there is also racism in society overall. Now we will discuss how racism manifests in American society.
Proposals for Action
As stated earlier, many institutional aspects of racism have been undone or eliminated, and therefore the public should feel better about the state of racism. But according to some current research, over half of the US public has a negative view of race progress. According to the Pew Research Center, even 150 years after the abolition of slavery 4 in 10 Americans say the country hasn’t made enough progress in racial equality and there is skepticism among Americans that blacks will ever have equal rights with whites. While it may not be unbelievable that Americans don’t see enough progress in race relations and racial progress, it is alarming that Americans seem to see relations as getting worse. According to Pew, most Americans (65%) say that it has become more common to express racially insensitive statements since the election of Donald Trump. One good thing about this renewed skepticism is that the election and national mood setting of President Trump are that this attitude may only be temporary and will dissipate after Trump’s term is up and/or his bully pulpit goes away.
It is important not to ignore the presence of racism in the US. American University professor Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” Professor Kendi states that Americans have to be active in their efforts to confront and combat racism and that if any group ignores racism and/or do not take action, then they are to blame and that it will not go away (Berlatsky, 2019). Action must be taken in order for racism to be removed from society. Here are some proposals for lessening racism in America. One action that should be taken is to provide safe spaces for people to talk about their racist attitudes. Racism attitudes may not be changed but it is possible to close lips and offer these spaces for expression, and also to make clear what is permissible and impermissible in the workplace. An employee must know that offensive remarks are dangerous and that swift action must be taken when they are used in the workplace. Another way to curb racism in the workplace is to improve cultural competence in the workplace. This can be done in part by creating and providing cultural competence classes and workshops. Lastly, to promote a universal understanding of the rights of people across society, there should be a victim’s rights statement. This should be evident and stated in plain and clear language so that everyone knows that all people are equal and that minorities’ rights will be protected. This should be endorsed by leadership and promoted from the top down and its implementation should be monitored regularly. These are just a few steps, albeit minor ones but everything that helps should be attempted because one racist action is too many.