Despite the erection of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor the United States has had a streak of discrimination against minorities that dates back to colonial times. Those of you non-Americans reading this blog may find this recitation disappointing. Americans have read all this before but not in this concise summary.
The First Group to face discrimination were Native Americans, who most Americans now call Indians or American Indians.
Europeans believed the original inhabitants of America were heathens and savages who needed to be civilized through Christianity and European culture. This led to genocide, mass murder, stolen land, attempts to wipe out Native American traditions, as well as forced assimilation through institutions like residential schools and the establishment of “Indian reservations”. To this day the term “redskin” is used to describe Native American.
Historians call the Bear River Massacre of 1863 the deadliest reported attack on Native Americans by the U.S. military—worse than Sand Creek in 1864, the Marias in 1870 and Wounded Knee in 1890. This link to a Wikipedia List of Indian Massacres will make most people sick.
Searching for cheap labor, early American colonists brought slavery to this continent by kidnapping Africans and bringing them to North America to work in their fields.
Many of the Africans brought to America starting in the 17th century arrived as slaves, kidnapped from their homelands in various parts of Africa. A number of them were known to be royalty and literate. African men, women, and children were stripped of their names and identities, forced to “Christianize”, whipped, beaten, tortured, and in many cases, lynched or hanged at the whims of their white masters, for whom slavery was key to maintaining their vast properties and land. Families were separated through the process of buying and selling slaves. While not all Africans in America were slaves, a large number were, particularly in the southern states. For those Africans in America who were free, discriminatory laws that barred them from owning property and voting, for example, as well as the belief in the intrinsic inferiority of dark-skinned peoples by the dominant white majority, held them back from full equality in the United States.
The Union victory in the Civil War may have freed African Americans but their lives were no picnic. Southern state legislatures passed restrictive “black codes” to control the labor and behavior of former slaves and other African Americans. Outrage in the North over these codes eroded support for the approach known as Presidential Reconstruction and led to the triumph of the more radical wing of the Republican Party. During Radical Reconstruction, which began in 1867, newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government for the first time in American history, winning election to southern state legislatures and even to the U.S. Congress. In less than a decade, however, reactionary forces–including the Ku Klux Klan–would reverse the changes wrought by Radical Reconstruction in a violent backlash that restored white supremacy in the South.
Disenfranchisement after the Reconstruction Era in the United States of America was based on a series of laws, new state constitutions, and practices in the South that were deliberately used to prevent black citizens from registering to vote and voting. These measures were enacted by former Confederate states at the turn of the 20th century. Their actions defied the intent of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1870, which was intended to protect the suffrage of freedmen after the American Civil War.
The sharp and sweeping rise of racial segregation in 20th century America is now subsiding but is still a reality for African Americans in many communities throughout the United States. Police stopping and harassing Black car operators has been well documented in recent years. The most obvious segregation were separate but equal schools (they weren’t equal), separate drinking fountains and toilet facilities, and housing segregation. Black Americans were denied employment and housing just because they were dark skinned.
The first significant Chinese immigration to North America began with the California Gold Rush of 1848–1855 and it continued with subsequent large labor projects, such as the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. During the early stages of the gold rush, when surface gold was plentiful, the Chinese were tolerated, if not well received. As gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity toward the Chinese and other foreigners increased. After being forcibly driven from the mines, most Chinese settled in enclaves in cities, mainly San Francisco, and took up low-wage labor, such as restaurant and laundry work. With the post-Civil War economy in decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney and his Workingman’s Party as well as by California Governor John Bigler, both of whom blamed Chinese “coolies” for depressed wage levels.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The act followed the Angell Treaty of 1880, a set of revisions to the US–China Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that allowed the US to suspend Chinese immigration. The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943.
The Irish people faced much prejudice, racism and discrimination after their immigration to the United States because they were poor, uneducated, less skilled, considered disruptive and were Catholics in a land of Protestant dominance. The common perception was that the Irish were drunkards. From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 Irish arrived, 75% of these after the Great Irish Famine of 1845–1852 struck.
With Japan’s December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, racism against Japanese-Americans intensified. Like Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, Japanese-Americans were targets of harassment, discrimination, and government surveillance. Members of the community lost homes, jobs, and businesses. But the worst blow was the February 1942 Executive Order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans. They were now deemed enemies of the state. Over half of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to the camps were born and raised in the U.S. and had never set foot in Japan. Half of those sent to the camps were children.
Although Jews first arrived in America over 300 years ago and enjoyed a certain level of religious freedom, anti-Semitism was acceptable and common socially, as well as legally in some cases. For example, some states in the late 18th century barred those who were not Christian from voting or holding public office.
Job and housing discrimination were common throughout the 20th century. Examples are Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio rants in the 1930’s and Charles Lindbergh’s isolationist speeches accusing the Jews of pushing America into World War II. Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” was published in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, which excerpted the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”
Henry Ford asserted that there was a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. He blamed Jewish financiers for fomenting World War I so that they could profit from supplying both sides. He accused Jewish automobile dealers of conspiring to undermine Ford Company sales policies. In 1919, he purchased a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. He installed Charles Pipp as editor and hired a journalist, William J. Cameron, to listen to his ideas and write a weekly column, “Mr. Ford’s Page,” to expound his views. For a year, editor Pipp resisted running anti-Jewish articles, and resigned rather than publish them. Ford closed the Independent in December 1927. Ford died in 1947, apparently unrepentant.
Islamophobia is the term that has been coined to describe the current hostility toward Islam and Muslims in the United States, manifested in prejudice, harassment and discrimination. There is an anti-Muslim hate crime epidemic. Attacks on Muslim Americans have come in four waves since 9/11, said Corey Saylor, director of CAIR’s department to monitor and combat Islamophobia. According to the FBI, in 2001 anti-Islamic hate crimes spiked by 1,600 percent with 481 incidents. At least six mosque projects across the U.S., not just in New York, have faced bitter opposition in 2010. Now President Trump has stopped the entry of anyone from seven predominately Muslim nations. The president denies that his focus is on Muslims. He says it is an effort to deny terrorists entry into the United States. No terrorists have been identified from those seven nations.