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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Abeng Essay: The Beginnings and Development of Racism in The U.S.: Some Implications for Black Americans (Part 1) by Cicely A. Rodway

The Beginnings and Development of Racism in The U.S.: Some Implications for Black Americans (part 1)
by Cicely A. Rodway
copyright 1987 C. A. Rodway


"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor qualifying them to hold office... I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as the cannot so live, while they do remain togerher, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."  
~ Abraham Lincoln 1895

Lincoln, in this statement, presented a viewpoint which was not atypical in his time nor in the times before and after his presidency. It is a viewpoint which is based on the belief that black peoples are inferior to whites. It is a viewpoint which has led to individual and governmental acts and policies which have attempted to dehumanize Black people in the United States and to circumscribe their individual and group efforts.Finally, it is a viewpoint which has had devastating psychological repercussions on blacks as well as whites.

These views are steeped in prejudice, which prejudice as defined by James Jones, "is a negative attitude toward a person or group based upon a social comparison process in which the individual's own group is taken as a positive point of reference." (p. 3) He goes on to point out that the "behavioral manifestation of prejudice is discrimination - those actions used to maintain own-group characteristics and favored position at the expense of the comparison group," (p. 3)

Implicit in a position such as Lincoln's is the need to ensure that the roles of black and white people are clearly defined and positions of inferiority and superiority maintained. In order to ensure that whites maintain the superior position it often becomes necessary to set up structures within the society and to implement policies with this in mind. Carmichael and Hamilton have defined such policies as racism which they define as "the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group." (p. 1)

Individual Racism and Institutional Racism

Carmichael and Hamilton in continuing their discussion of racism in the United States, make a clear distinction between what they refer to as "individual racism" and "institutional racism". Individual racism is described as being overt and is therefore easily recognizable as it manifests itself by causing "death, injury or the violent destruction of property." The second type of racism, institutional racism, is much more insidious as it is less identifiable for it "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society." They give us examples of institutional racism, situations in which,
...five hundred black babies die each year because of lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community... or when black people are locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants and loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. (p. 4)

Jones expands on this definition of institutional racism by suggesting that there are two meanings of the term. He agrees with the first definition as given by Carmichael and Hamilton and states that "racist institutions are but extensions of individual racist thought."(p. 5) He uses examples of grandfather clauses and poll taxes as ways in which there is manipulation of the political process to achieve individual or collective racist ends. He further suggests that "institutional racism also exists on an even subtler level " as described below.
Colleges, graduate schools, and professional schools have for many years relied heavily on standardized test scores a criteria for admission. Black children and students routinely have inferior training in both test taking and the content of test materials. Therefore, in many cases the 600 SAT's or 700 GRE's requirement might as well be a "white only" sign on the gates of educational institutions. (p. 5)

Cultural Racism

Jones also suggests a third category of racism which he calls "cultural racism" and which he states contains elements of both individual and institutional racism. He defines cultural racism as "the individual and institutional expression of superiority of one race's cultural heritage over that of another race." That throughout this country's history, a large segment of the white population believed and continue to believe in the "cultural inferiority" of Black people is no longer a moot question. Statements such as this made by John W. Burgess typify this belief. 
A black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason; has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind. 

Respectable Racism or New Racism

Finally, to complete the discussion on definitions of racism, Piliawsky posits that racism in the U.S. in the 1980's has evolved into "respectable racist." It is a form of racism in which he says, "whites rationalize that Black inequality is due to moral failings of Blacks rather than to white racism." (p. 202) This "respectable racism" or as Joel Dreyfus puts it, "new racism", 
...is particularly dangerous because it attempts to deprive blacks of the validity of their grievances...The new strategy is simple but admittedly brilliant; it denies the existence of racism and accepts no responsibility for inequality. The effect of such an attitude places black demands in the position of being outrageous. (p. 54)
Piliawsky and Dreyfuss are supported by John E. Jacobs who, writing in The State of Black America -1987, reiterates the fact that racism is alive and well:
Typical of the moral blinkers donned by the nation in recent years is its indifference to the continued existence of racism and racial disadvantage that permeate our society and degrade national life and aspirations.
Racism continues to live on despite the pious pronouncements that we are now in a color-blind society. It can be seen in the daily drum fire of local reports of racially inspired outrages that show old forms of racism thriving alongside the more subtle forms of discrimination that have become popular. (p. 9) 
Jacobs also documents some of the racial incidents which occurred late in 1986. These involved the Chief of Police in a New Orleans suburb, white cadets in Klan dress at the Citadel and the lynch mob in Howard Beach, QueensIn his continuing discussion of racism and discrimination, Jacobs states that,
housing discrimination is commonplace, as has been documented time and again. Discrimination in other aspects of life is also documented in incidents ranging from blacks passed over for jobs and promotions to blacks discriminated against in voting procedures.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the continuation of illegal discrimination and the resurgence of racist feeling are fostered by the administraion's refusal to admit that racism may still be a problem.
Jacob's observations bring to mind the racial climate which preceded the racial disorders in American cities in the four summers prior to 1967. In 1967, President Johnson, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the problem of the riots, set up The National Advissory Commission on Civil Disorders (known as the Kerner Commission). He gave the Commission the job of coming up with answers to three questions:
1. What happenned?
2. Why did it happen?
3. What could be done to avoid it happening again? 
The report of the Commission - The Kerner Report - found that the violence which occurred was, 
 ...usually generated out of a series of tension building incidents which occurred over a period of time and were capped by a quite often routine event, (generally involving police action of some sort) which triggered the disorder. (p. 9)
In attempting to give reasons for the riot, the Commission concluded that among the causes, "the most fundamental is the racial attitude and behavior of white Americans to black Americans." (p. 7) It also stated, "that white racism is essentially responsible for the exposive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War 2." (p. 9) It cited as some of the factors responsible for this "explosive mixture" as being:
Pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, housing and education which helped to exclude Negroes from the benefits of economic progress. (p. 10)
The Kerner Report placed a heavy emphasis on the "destructive environment of the ghetto," and stated that:
What white Americans have never fully understood - but the Negro can never forget - is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. (p. 10) 
The Commission made a number of suggestions and recommendations which it felt would help to ensure a deescalation in racial violence. To this end, it suggested the,
...enactment of special programs to deal with housing, education, employment and social welfare in order to eliminate discrimination and supply greatly expanded opportunities for ghetto Negroes. (p. 11)
It was also recommended that machinery should be immediately set in motion to ensure better mechanism of communication between the government and "ghetto negroes" as well as between the police and "ghetto negroes".  The practices of the police and the low level of police protection which was afforded blacks in the ghetto also came under attack, and suggestions were made about improve-ments. 
Finally, having made its recommendations, the Commission warned that:
To continue present policies, is to make permanent the division of this country into two societies: one, largely negro and poor, located in central cities; and the other, predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and outlying areas. (p.12)
Three years after the publication of The Kerner Report, The Institute of Government and Public Affairs, at the University of Illinois, sponsored the Assembly of 1970. The purpose of this Assembly was to examine the Report and discuss the state of race relations. At this assembly it was found that  there had been marginal positive gains for Black people since the Report. The Assembly reported that in fact, "things have gotten worse for black people."

Twenty years have gone by since The Kerner Report was published in 1967, yet in terms of racism, racial prejudice and racial discrimination, little has changed. In recent months there has been a nationwide upsurge in incidents involving racial violence against blacks by members of the white public as well as by the police. In many quarters, including police administrators, there have been prophesying of "a long hot summer." The wheel would appear to have come full circle which in the context of the deep seated origins of white racism appears almost inevitable. This inevitability can only be understood if the historical roots of racism are closely examined.

A close examination of the roots of racism serves to expose the belief system which informs white Americans' beliefs about and attitudes towards Black Americans. It is a belief based on the inherent inferiority of Black people. It is a belief that lies at the root of white racism and has spawned the policies of segregation and discrimination which are so enmeshed in the history of the United States. To fully appreciate the long history of white racist views which have had such negative effects on all aspects of Black Americans' existence, it is necessary to begin at the very beginning when the first [Africans] were brought to America from their Motherland, Africa.



Read the second part of Dr. Cicely A. Rodway's paper The Beginnings and Development of Racism in the U.S.: Some Implications for Black America



Works Cited


Carmichael, Stokely, & Hamilton, C.V. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage, 1967.

Jones, James M. Prejudice and Racism. Philippines: Addison-Wesley, 1972.

Piliawsky, Monte. Exit 13: Oppression and Racism in Academia. Boston: South End Press, 1982.


______ The State of Black America 1987. New York: National Urban League, Inc., 1987.






Cicely A. Rodway, Ed. D, LCSW, CASAC, is a retired English Professor of the Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program at Queens College, CUNY (City University of New York). Currently she functions in two roles: Coordinator of the SEEK Program's Academic Learning Center and the Coordinator of Vocational and Higher Education at HANDS ON Health Associates, an outpatient clinic for people in recovery in East New York, Brooklyn. A daughter of the Caribbean, she was born in St. Lucia, West Indies, and grew up in Guyana. 
Read her poem Roots: For Women of The African Diaspora

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