“Jim Crow” is a funny term that was used as a name of the laws that segregated people by their skin colors. The Jim Crow Laws emerged in southern states after the United States Civil War. It was first enacted in the 1880s by lawmakers who were bitter about their loss to the North, which was also the end of slavery. It statutes separated the races in all aspects of life; it created inequality between races that favored whites and repressed blacks. This inequality grew in the subsequent decades with the help of the United States Supreme Court. In the 1950s and after many attempts, the Court began to demolish segregation. The remaining of the Jim Crow systems was finally abolished in the 1960s through the efforts of the Civil Right Movement.
The term “Jim Crow” is originally from a minstrel show character developed during the mid-nineteenth century. A group of white entertainers applied black cork to their faces and imitated Negro dancing and singing routines. Such acts became popular in several Northern cities and the nickname Jim Crow later became the name of the segregation laws (Wormser). These laws were fundamentally created to detain people of color as an inferior class and Whites as a superior class. It legalized the practices of racist behaviors from White people against colored people. The laws were the root of racism that we have nowadays. After the Jim Crow Laws were declared, they had a direct impact on African Americans; they affected the lives of Black directly. Blacks were placed at the bottom of social classes, forced to live in segregated environments, and were treated differently regarding to their skin color. Merlino expresses the idea of Jim Crow Laws and says that they created segregations that restrained African Americans to be underneath White Americas in many figures of life.
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White Americans were better off, but African Americans were worse off from the existence of Jim Crow Laws. The laws were based on the philosophy of equal but separate, they favored White people and depressed the Black people. White Americans maintained their rights and power in politics. According to Dr. Devid Pilgrim, “The laws restricted the right to vote only to people who their ancestors had voted prior the Civil War. This automatically prohibited African Americans rights to vote due the slavery before the Civil War. White people gained benefits because they had absolute control over the politics of the country and even obstructed Black peoples’ involvement in politics. The laws also maintained the difference between social classes. They forbid any intimate relationships between White and African Americans. Merlino argues that under the laws, states passed laws that prohibited interracial marriage (16). Moreover, it implied that White people were the upper class citizens and people of color were lower class citizens; this created norms that allowed White people to command more respect in society than Black people. For instance, Black people were never allowed to assert that White people lied and to laugh derisively or curse at White people (Pilgrim).
The Jim Crow Laws allowed White people to preserve their control over Black people because they provided much more legal authorities to the white people. White people could physically abuse black people and simply get away simply through impunity (Alan). Black people had very few legal resources against the assaults because the criminal system was operated by white people under Jim Crow Laws (Pilgrim). The police, prosecutors, judges, juries, and prison officials were all biased against Blacks. The laws also promoted the establishment of segregated neighborhoods. They formed restrictions that forced African Americans to live in a certain areas such as the Center Area. Merlino states that in 1960, the Central Area was home to four out of five Blacks in Seattle. The majority of the remaining Blacks lived in public housing developments sprinkled throughout the city’s South End. The reality was that Black people had few options other than the Central Area.
From the late 1920s through 1948, many property deeds in other parts of the city included restrictive covenants that barred sale to Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Jews in some cases. The North End of Seattle was almost exclusively White. People who were non-White citizens had difficulties purchasing houses because most properties were attached with restrictive agreements that banned selling property to Blacks. Nevertheless, the areas that White people occupied were better developed because most Whites were richer than Black people. Merlino says that Willie McClain’s mom cautioned him against crossing the railroad track, the line that separated blacks from whites (23); the regions between Black people and Whites were clearly separated. People only lived in their own areas and were not allowed to trespass in the other areas that were occupied by people of different color.
There were double standards under Jim Crow registration. The laws separated every public facility in everyday lives; Whites had their facilities and Blacks had theirs (Pilgrim). The common and obvious examples included railroads, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, neighborhoods, and cemeteries. These public facilities were equipped with a sign reading “For Colored” or “We Serve White Only.” Merlino mentions, “Around town, signs went up on restaurants, hotels, and theaters reading “White only” and “We Don’t Serve Colored.” (22). However, White facilities were better built and equipped while Black facilities were inferior, older, or lacked maintenance. In particular, White schools were almost uniformly better in every respect, from buildings to educational materials. This led to lower literacy level of Black people. White people used this fact to determine that black people were below them because black people did not do well in intelligent tests.
The Jim Crow Laws made it legal for White people to discriminate against people of color through segregations. Black people were forced to stay separated from White people area, otherwise they might be arrested or physically abused. The example is shown in Merlino’s book as Willie McClain told his experience “he remembers walking down the street with his friends and White people yelling at them, “Go back to the projects!” and “You’re in the wrong part of town!” when the kids tried to walk to a big public park nearby, the police stopped them and told them to go back to High Point. “In Gulfport, you were liable to get hit, shot, killed, and disappeared.” McClain says. “Here, I guess you could say it was open and blatant, but not life-threatening. It was more of a threat: “You better get yourself back up there before we do something to you” (25). McClain clearly explained that he and his friends were not welcome by White people to the white neighborhoods even though it was a public park.
Much has changed the world over since the abolishment of Jim Crow’s laws. There have been positive strides towards ending racial discrimination in the world. The African Americans have started gaining respect from their White countrymen. This has been emphasized in American Elections where a Black man, Barack Obama, has been elected for two terms consecutively as the president of the United States. As the icing on the cake, he triumphed against white competitors who were both more politically experienced and richer than him. African Americans also dominate the celebrity circles in the United States. Many Blacks are successful sportsmen, athletes, musicians, models, and actors and command global recognition and adoration. Examples are Oprah Winfrey, a talk show host that was rated by the Phoebes magazine as one of the most influential women in the world. Sean Carter a.k.a Jay Zee and his celebrity wife, Beyonce are musicians of great repute that have an almost cult like fan base across the globe. There is considerable tolerance for Africans in the West nowadays as is proved by the many number of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean highlands pursuing education in Western colleges and others landing lucrative jobs and business deals in Western countries.
Racial discrimination against Blacks is far from over, but the approach used for segregation has been redesigned to avoid conflicts with civil rights activists. The forms of racial discrimination have been altered in order to conform to the modern political order and standards (Alexander). This is meticulously done and has been successful since it is rarely noticed. The world focuses on successful African Americans like Barack Obama and in the process, becomes oblivious of what happens to the less privileged Black Americans living in slums and without formal employment. Racial discrimination in the contemporary world after Jim Crow is concealed in legal jargon and discriminates in social matters like acquiring employment, voter rights, education, religion, and housing to mention a few. According to Michelle, there are many African American young men languishing in American jails due to some minor criminal offences which relegate them permanently to a status of second class citizens with less to offer in the global economy.
The American government policy dubbed war on drugs that was initiated to nab drug users and traffickers especially those dealing with crack cocaine has caused great suffering and anguish to the African American society. This was a government initiative that was officially authorized in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. It had been triggered by an upsurge of crack cocaine use in slums inhabited by African Americans, which are commonly referred to as ghettos. The government used a lot of force in the war on drugs campaign; the force was so severe that the American Black community suspected it was being unfairly targeted. This campaign was responsible for a sharp rise of prisoners in American jails from a humble figure of about 300,000 to an excess of two million. The majority of prisoners in the prisons were Black Americans charged with drug offences. America is said to have an unmatched record in the world of using its judicial process to oppress minority populations mainly Blacks. Statistics show that in most American cities, around 80 percent of African American men will attest to having had a brush with the law or even have served a stint in prison. This is the height of marginalization as statistics and research studies have shown that other races residing in America use drugs on a scale similar to that of the Black Americans. However, the rate at which the Whites are charged in courts for drug related offences are twenty times less than the Black men. (Michelle).
Social stigmatization and formal discrimination haunts prisoners once they are released from jail. This hinders the former convict from acceptance to the community and at most times the ex convict label is attached to the former prisoner for the rest of his life. The White public perceives former prisoners especially those of the Black race as people unworthy of respect in the society. This defeats the main purpose for prisons as correctional facilities meant to rehabilitate criminals and enable them to fit in the society after serving their terms in prison. The stigma has great detrimental limitations on an ex convict’s ambitions in life and his personal development. The former offenders are denied many government benefits, are slapped with numerous legal restrictions, which contributes to a cycle where the ex-prisoners may land in prison to serve another term for committing another crime. The ex-prisoner finds that he can only fit in the prison walls, where they are all equal, no sneering or jeering. This also contributes to their acceptance that they are “jailbirds” or their fate is to stay in jail where they do not strive to be accepted.
The first predicament that faces a released prisoner is housing. Ex-prisoners who had served sentences on charges of felony are disqualified from seeking public housing for a period of not less than five years. President Clinton complicated things further for former convicts. In the year 1996, his regime proposed the “one strike and you are out” rule. This is a law that led to the eviction of a tenant whose family members, guest, or even workers were engaged drug related crimes. The rule was extremely severe such that eviction took place even though the offence never took place in the tenant’s house. Eviction was also carried out if the said offender did the offence without the awareness of the tenant. Based on such strict laws, relatives and friends of former convicts are usually unwilling to accommodate them in their homes for the fear of being evicted. This policy has largely contributed to ex-offenders being homeless after prison and forces them to commit crime to go back to prison where they do not strive to be housed.
Finding employment is also cumbersome for a former offender since potential employers tend to reject them owing to their criminal records. There is common fear that the ex-convict would continue engaging in his activities at the workplace or even the fear of him recruiting other workers to his underworld. The only job opportunities available for them are in environments where they do not interact with customers, for example, in manufacturing plants or in the construction industry. Manufacturing jobs are hard to find in inner cities where they reside. The issue of financial burdens to be met by convicts compounds the problem further. The lucky ex-offender who gets employment has to pay various legal fees as well as a number of fiduciary penalties (Michelle). In the unfolding scenario, the small income the ex-prisoner makes is never enough to cater for his needs. It also kills his morale for work as he never realizes the fruits of his labor given the high expenses involved in daily operations.
Another predicament in the job market is the stereotype of criminality that is associated with Blacks. Most criminals tend to be Black Americans, and employers have a tendency of perceiving black workers even those without a criminal record as potential criminals waiting for an opportunity to commit crime. This means that even before they go to look for a job, they are already sentenced as criminals in the minds of an employer, and any slightest suspicion may land them another jail term.
Under President Bill Clinton’s regime, there was an act of legislation geared to welfare reforms which decentralized the uniform federal welfare programs. The Aid to Families with Dependent Children was at the time replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy families. Under the new legislation, families could only access aid from the program for a maximum of five years. It further made it mandatory for anyone receiving the benefits to work, with mother taking care of young children not being exempted. The legislation further barred permanently anybody with a history of felony conviction from receiving any aid from the federal program. This leaves convicts with very few options like working harder than others or committing a crime and return to the comfort of jail.
Former offenders are not allowed to vote in elections. This is a gross violation of human rights and it is seen as a ploy to trim the numbers of Black Americans participating in elections. It is also seen as a step behind in the quest for zero racial discrimination. This disparity targets African Americans just some years after they were accorded the right to vote in the United States’ elections. With these discriminations going on without anyone raising a voice, the marginalized often hold on to anything in order to restore lost self-esteem. This has led to a rise of violent gangs in Black American neighborhoods made of former inmates. This is what is commonly referred to as the gangster culture in America.
Unlike in the times of Jim Crow laws, the new order uses criminality to discriminate against Blacks. The former used forced labor, race, slavery, and color while the new system uses mass incarceration of Black men so that they are unable to use their talents and abilities to contribute to the global economy. The mass incarceration has also degenerated into a social quagmire due to the large number of missing fathers and husbands. As a result, there are many women without husbands, which make them adopt the role of husbands in their families, which comes with lots of difficulty (David). On the other hand, children without father figures in their lives lack mentors and often lack a direction in life. This causes a vicious circle where the children may unwittingly engage in drugs and other forms of crime, which will eventually lead them to the cells. This has been talked about in the public domain to Black American audiences. The speakers preach a message of personal responsibility and the increasing absence of Black fathers that leads to a neglect of fatherhood duties in the society examples of such speakers are Bill Cosby and Barack Obama who touched on the issue in a Chicago Church after being nominated by the Democratic Party as its presidential candidate.
Racial discrimination has also been perpetrated by the war on terror, which is mostly seen to target people of Arab origin and those who confess the Muslim religion. This has made life unbearable for Muslims in the United States as they are a target of police swoops and searches on suspicions of perpetrating terrorism (Random History). Some conservative Americans had perpetrated a smear campaign on Barack Obama when he announced that he was running for the United States presidency. The campaign was based on the premise that Obama had spent a part of his life in Indonesia, a Muslim country. They also had issues with his middle name, Hussein. To them his interaction with Muslims and Arabs was a perfect reason to deny him the opportunity of leading the most powerful country in the world. They thought he would compromise with the Arab world and derail Americans fight to combat terrorism.
There has been a lot of focus on political and economical segregation of African Americans to an extent that that cultural oppression is forgotten (Sciele). This form of discrimination degrades cultural and social beliefs of Blacks. There is also discrimination on the mode of dressing and architectural preferences. In all these areas, the common adage has been that the cultural ways of the Africans are primitive and inferior to those of the Whites. Cultural oppression hinders group affirmation and empowerment of African Americans, which consequently affects negatively the prosperity of Africans in the United States (Sciele)
In conclusion, racial oppression is still taking place against African Americans long after the Jim Crow’s laws were reviewed. The dimension the discrimination is taking in the modern world is complex; this makes it impossible for the common person to realize. This is a dangerous path since even activists cannot rise against the oppression through legal organs without sounding ridiculous. This phenomenon is compounded by the attention of the world shifting to a few famous Black Americans often concluding that all African Americans are high fliers and are doing great economically and socially. As a result, the poor African Americans living in the Ghetto continue facing hardships without the world noticing.
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