The American War against De Jure and De Facto Discrimination
Throughout the semester, we have examined the differences between de jure segregation, that which is written into law, such as slavery and Jim Crow, and de facto segregation, that which is seen as customary. Even though the battle against de jure discrimination has been a victorious one, with the desegregation of the American military and federal government in the 1940s, the reversal of Plessy vs.
Ferguson in the 1950s, and the passing of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s, our country still sees an almost daily example of de facto discrimination’s stronghold on our society, with blatant racial profiling, continued residential segregation, and the 2013 decision of the Supreme Court to overturn certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Even while African Americans were fighting for the United States during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the laws Jim Crow were still in full effect, and African Americans saw segregation within the military.
The American War against De Jure and De Facto Discrimination Essay Example
As with the American Civil War and World War I before, African Americans were relegated to segregated divisions and menial positions, and even military bases, facilities, dining halls, and ships were segregated. However, some headway was made when, in 1942, the Marine Corps accepted its first black soldier, and again in 1944 with the desegregation of military training facilities (Notes on WWII). During the 1940s, two other victories came to the fight against de jure segregation. The first was Executive Order 8802, established by President Franklin D.
Roosevelt in 1941 and prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry and the federal government. It also established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, intended to help African Americans and other minorities obtain jobs in the defense industry during World War II. Within the 4 year span of 1940 to 1944, our country saw a 300% rise in African American manufacturing workers (Notes on WWII). The second was President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the American military in 1948.
African Americans were now free to serve alongside their fellow white servicemen, which they did for the first time during the Korean War of the 1950s (Notes on WWII). Arguably the most important step towards destroying segregation as we knew it in America was the development of the modern civil rights movement. Mainly credited to the Pittsburgh Courier’s 1942 ‘Double V Campaign’, which symbolized the battle African Americans endured against both our enemies abroad and the enemies within this country.
The Pittsburgh Courier urged African Americans to help in the war effort, while also calling for the federal government to help in the effort to establish equal rights for all of its citizens, regardless of race. The Double V Campaign was one of the first of its kind, a social media campaign to spread the word about equal rights during World War II (Notes on WWII). Another main catalyst for the explosion of the civil rights movement came in May of 1954. The case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was a huge victory in the fight against de jure segregation in public schools.
The Supreme Court overturned the previously scrutinized decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson and the idea of “separate but equal”, unanimously deciding that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. Over 50 years later, in a speech given at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Barack Obama would explain the similarities between segregated school in the 1950s and those we see now: “Segregated schools were and are inferior schools…and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.
Legalized discrimination…meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations…[explaining] the wealth and income gap between blacks and whites, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persist in so many of today’s urban and rural communities…A cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continues to haunt us” (Barack Obama).
As detailed, literally in black and white in the map of the 21 Most Segregated Cities shown in class, most of these highly segregated schools and cities are in the North, and most designate the poorest and most run down parts of the city for African Americans and other minorities (Notes on African Americans in the 21st Century).
From the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, which led to a Supreme Court decision declaring that segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional, to sit-ins and “Freedom Rides”, to the development of the SCLC, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference, many other protest and resistant movements began during this period. The SCLC, founded by a pivotal member of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters, organized a movement called the Birmingham Campaign, which eventually led to President John F.
Kennedy introducing legislation barring segregation in public accommodations, discriminatory hiring practices, and creating government oversight, another victory in the battle against de jure segregation. The two seemingly final blows to de jure segregation came in 1964, with the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965, with the Voting Rights Act and Executive Order 11246. The first, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, adamantly fought for by President John F. Kennedy and eventually enacted during President Lyndon Johnson’s term, outlawed both racial and sexual discrimination in public facilities, schools, and in the workplace.
The second, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests, poll taxes and property qualifications, generally designed to prevent African Americans from voting (Notes on Civil Rights Movement & Black Power). Around the time of these new government acts, the Black Power movement began to take shape in the Northern and Western urban areas. Taken from the ideals of Stokely Carmichael, Black Power preached racial pride, economic nationalism, and mutual cooperation.
However, within the Black Power movement, there were also those that preached black militancy and self-defense, a seemingly more “radical” and violent view than those previously expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr. This more “radical” approach was embraced by those that called themselves the Black Panther Party, inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams. Huey P. Newton, cofounder of the Oakland chapter of the Black Panthers, simply stated that “we want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace” (Notes on Black Power).
However, 1965 also saw the beginning of some huge setbacks in the civil rights movement, with the assassination of civil rights icon Malcolm X, the Watts Riots in Los Angeles after an African American protestor was struck by police at a traffic stop, and the beginning of the “Urban Crisis”, which would continue for decades. The “Urban Crisis” saw the deterioration of inner cities due to the white middle and upper classes moving from these city neighborhoods to the suburbs, taking their tax revenue and businesses with them.
After the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, major cities across America became battle grounds, some resembling third-world wastelands, for the next great “war” of our time (Notes on the Civil Rights Movement & Black Power). As this “war” continued into the 1970s, losing 20% of its population from 1970-1975, and 12,300 fires being set in 1974 alone, the Bronx became the poster child for the urban crisis (Notes on “The Message”: The Urban Crisis & Origins of Hip Hop).
It was in South Bronx that the origins of hip hop emerged. “Rappers are viewed as the voice of poor, urban African-American youth, whose lives are generally dismissed or misrepresented by the mainstream media…If rap music appears to be excessively violent when compared to country-western or popular rock, it is because rap stems from a culture that has been seeped in the fight again political, social, and economic oppression” (Becky Blanchard).
As a political response to what was happening in the inner cities, hip hop made a wide-spread audience aware that, while most aspects of de jure discrimination were gone, de facto discrimination was still alive and well in some of the greatest cities in the country. This era also saw the development of the “War on Drugs” by President Richard Nixon in 1971, later receiving increased funding and enforcement through President Ronald Reagan and his successors.
This “War on Drugs” saw the increase in the number of arrest in the 1980s by 28%, and the increase in number of drug-related offenses by 126%. It also saw the enactment of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which saw a 100:1 sentencing ratio for prosecution of crack, widely viewed as an African American drug, to powder cocaine, generally seen as a rich, white drug.
We have also seen the establishment of mandatory minimum sentencing, allowing no judicial discretion in sentencing hearings, and the “three-strikes” law, mandating state courts to impose harsher punishment on repeat offenders. An astonishing statistic, African Americans comprise only 13% of drug users, but are privy to 35% of arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those incarcerated in this country for drug-related offenses. Making up less than 10% of this country’s population, African Americans make up 35.
4% of our prison population (Notes on the War on Drugs). If that isn’t a blatant and embarrassing example of de facto discrimination, I’m not sure what is. This continuation of de facto discrimination was also made clear with the establishment of certain government mandates like “Operation Hammer” in 1987, an attempt to crack down on gang violence in Los Angeles, but really just made it legal for police in Los Angeles to stop and search young black men simply for being young and black, and over 15 years later
with the establishment of the “Stop and Frisk” policies in New York City, another example of allowing police officers to stop young black men simply for being young and black. “Stop and Frisk” allowed over 700,000 people, mostly minorities, to be stopped by police in New York City in 2011 alone, with only 6% of those searches actually leading to arrests. There is also a phenomenon referred to as DWB, or “Driving While Black”, where black men are, once again, stopped by police officers simply for being young and black.
“Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease, [fearing] that our black bodies incite an accusation” (George Yancy). Although we know it to be untrue, many people believe that racial discrimination, in all of its forms, is no longer an issue, as we see in the 2013 Supreme Court decision to reverse provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Once again granting certain states the right to enact voting restrictions without federal approval, Chief Justice John G. Roberts stated that “our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions” (Adam Liptak, New York Times, June 25, 2013), as if racial discrimination is simply a thing of the past.
Contrary to Chief Justice Roberts’ viewpoint, the 21st century has seen numerous cases of publicized racial profiling, a clear representation of the still very existent de facto racism in the United States. One such example was seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. The levees in the low-lying, poorer neighborhoods broke, specifically in the area of the Lower 9th Ward, and those poorer, generally African American, families were without the means or resources to flee.
Over 1800 people died and over 700 were reported missing, and the slow federal response caused chaos in one of America’s greatest and most historic cities. Those in power spent so much time passing the blame back and forth, African Americans and other poorer minorities were left without aid for weeks. Media coverage made the presence of de facto discrimination that much more visible, with videos plastered all over the news of African Americans looting, stealing, and robbing, little being said about them doing it simply as a means to survive.
From Timothy Thomas and the 1991 Cincinnati Riots and reports of continued police brutality in cities like Cincinnati and Los Angeles, to the case of Trayvon Martin, to continued residential and educational discrimination, it is obvious that the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the current view of racism in this country are far from the truth. “I wait for the day when a white president will say, ‘There is no way that I could have experienced what Trayvon Martin did (and other black people do) because I’m white and through white privilege I am immune to systemic racial profiling’” (George Yancy).
As Malcolm X explains in his autobiography, “the white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly” (Malcolm X, 427). Even though the 21st century has seen its obvious discriminations, the African American community has also seen many political victories. With the appointment of Colin Powell as the first African American Secretary of State in 2001, followed by the second in Condoleezza Rice in 2005, followed by the election of the first African American President, Barack Obama, in 2009, it would seem as though African Americans are finally making headway in national politics.
However, the United States has still only seen four total African American Senators, an embarrassment when you realize that the Civil Rights Movement began over 50 years ago, and the Fourteenth Amendment, granting every American citizen equal rights and protection under the law, was enacted almost 150 years ago. From the beginning of World War II to the year 2013, African Americans have fought an amazing battle against the constraints of de jure and de facto discrimination and segregation.
There have been many great victories, as well as several crippling defeats, but the battle still rages on today. In order to rid our society of the ever-existing de facto discrimination, we must shed the stereotypes we are fed through our families and friends, the media and popular “gangsta rap” music, and our crippling school systems and view each other in the same light we do ourselves. Dark skin does not automatically mean dangerous or criminal, and that is one stereotype that I believe will always have a firm place on our society.