Follow the paper trail to understand American racism

The United States has a long and often unstated history of problematic race relations. There is a lot of glossing over of racist incidents in American history classes. For example, history classrooms in some parts of the country refer to “state’s rights” as a cause of the American Civil War. In fact, confederate states explicitly stated slavery as a cause of secession in their secession ordinances. In another incident, while the US is often painted as the freedom fighters who opposed Hitler, Americans turned away Jewish refugees from Europe. Americans were notably anti-Semitic, regarding Jews as potential threats and Communists, which at the time (and arguably today) was an insult. This also occurred for other groups, including Chinese and Japanese immigrants, who were kept out with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Along with legalized apartheid (Jim Crow), there were also numerous anti-miscegenation laws. This is not to mention the extensive abuse and genocide of Native Americans by the American government, which, in its greatest irony, inspired Hitler to create his “Final Solution”.

That is all good and well, one might argue, but those days are long behind America. This post-racial thesis has some critical flaws. Even with the end of the Holocaust, there have been numerous bomb threats to Jewish community centers.  In a time when marijuana has been legalized in numerous European countries and some US states, half of American inmates are imprisoned for non-violent drug related offenses and many are African-American. This is not a coincidence, so much as an intentional policy goal. This is not to mention that there is only one museum dedicated to slavery in the US. Even today, while Native Americans protest for their legally binding land rights, Keystone XL Pipeline has been approved by Pres. Trump. Just as another example not related to ethnicity, prior to the Affordable Care Act, being a woman was a pre-existing condition by most medical insurers. There is also continued attacks on women’s rights, including repeated attacks on Planned Parenthood, transgender rights, such as the infamous bathroom bills, and so on.

So, one might argue, isn’t this just a global trend, especially with the rise of Brexit and the far right in Europe? While there is a surge in the far right, the aforementioned problems are far less prevalent in the legal system, even given the surge. European societies all have universal healthcare systems and far fewer incarcerated people. The US, in fact, is number one in incarceration rates, even surpassing the rates during the apartheid state in South Africa.

While it may be true that racism can be used as a guilt-baiting tool for politically disingenuous forces, there should also be concrete steps towards reform. In order to do this, there must be recognition of modern problems in society, the result of centuries of exclusionary policies.


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