Issue In Institutional Racism Essay

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The history of the United States is one of duality.
In the words ofthe Declaration of Independence, our nation was founded on theprinciples of equality in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, long before the founders of the newly declared state met inPhiladelphia to espouse the virtues of self-determination and freedomthat would dubiously provide a basis for a secessionary war, those samevirtues were trampled upon and swept away with little regard. Beneaththe shining beacon of freedom that signaled the formation of the UnitedStates of America was a shadow of deception and duplicity that wasessential in creating the state. The HSS 280 class lexicon definesduality as a social system that results from a worldview which acceptsinherent contradictions as reasonable because this is to the believersbenefit. The early years of what would become the United States wascharacterized by a system of duality that subjugated and exterminatedpeoples for the benefit of the oppressors.
This pattern of duality,interwoven into our culture, has created an dangerously racializedsociety. From the first moment a colonist landed on these shores,truths that were self-evident were contingent on subjectiveinterpretation. This discretionary application of rights and freedomsis the foundation upon which our racially stratified system operateson. English colonists, Africans, and Native Americans comprised the earlyclash of three peoples. Essentially economic interests, and namelycapitalism, provided the impetus for the relationships that developedbetween the English colonists, the Africans, and the Native Americans. The colonialization of North American by the British was essentially aneconomic crusade.
The emergence of capitalism and the rise of tradethroughout the 16th century provided the British with a blueprint toexpand its economic and political sphere. The Americas provided theBritish with extensive natural resources, resources that theagrarian-unfriendly British isles could not supply for its growingempire. When Britons arrived in North America, the indigenous population posedan economic dilemma to the colonists. The Native Americans were settledon the land that the British colonists needed to expand their economiccapacity.
To provide a justificatory framework for the expulsion ofNative Americans off their land, the English colonists created aideology that suited their current needs. The attitude of Anglos toward the Native Americans began as one ofambivalence and reliance. When the English first arrived in NorthAmerica, they needed the Indians to survive the unfamiliar land andharsh weather. Once the English became acclimated to their surroundingsand realized that the Indians were living on valuable land, it was onlya matter of time before guns and shackles replaced treaties andhandshakes. In the name of Christianity and capitalism, the English colonistsquickly turned their backs on the short lived missionary zeal thatcharacterized the early colonial period.
Now, the savage Indians wereviewed as unable to save themselves and extermination would be a worthyenterprise in the sight of the Lord. The idea that one possesses aGod-given right to mistreat others runs through much of Western cultureand became especially acute in North America after the emergence ofcapitalism. For example, in New England many settlers rejoiced at the extraordinarydeath brought upon the Native American population by the introduction ofepidemic diseases. It was viewed as a way of thinning out thepopulation. In the world of the New Jerusalem, where a city was to bebuild upon a hill, such trite concerns were of little consequence forthose with divine providence.
Duality, and its means of placing the truth and its allied freedoms inthe hands of the powerful, furnishes the chosen ones with widelatitude to create theoretical arguments that justify and perpetuatesystemic arrangements of inequality. John Winthrop outlined hisreasoning for the British right to North American land in terms ofnatural rights versus civil rights. Natural rights were those that menenjoyed in a state of nature (i. e.
Native Americans). When some menbegan to parcel land and use tilled farming, they acquired civil rights(English colonists). Inevitably, civil rights took precedence overnatural rights. This method of thinking enabled privilege to theEnglish and provided a justification for the institutional and systemicextermination of the indigenous people (Growth 83). Before addressing the subjugation of African-Americans by the English,I think it is important that I make an important theoretical point in myargument. All political systems are rational, in the sense that thereis a logic and a thinking that guides those making the rules.
Whitesupremacy and its associated beliefs (Christianity, patriarchalism, etc)provided the rationale for the creation of a system of duality that institutionalized racism. Robert Smith writes about the inherentcontradiction of espousing the self-evident equality of men and theirGod-given right to liberty while at the same time sanctioning genocideand slavery (Smith 8). The only way this incongruity could be remediedwas to deny the fundamental humanity of those being oppressed. Thatnegation of one group humanity by another is the crux of duality and aprinciple tenet of all forms of oppression and subjugation.
Toobjectify a group of people provides an oppressor with a recourse forthe actions one takes. In the case of the United States, subjugatedgroups are often reduced to a stereotype that is not based in fact: Native Americans were wild savages; Africans were lascivious, lewdbeings that engaged in bestiality with apes; Asians were sneaky,mysterious and not to be trusted. What is important is the stereotypefit an institutional definition that allows the group to be oppressedwithout self-reflection about ones perverse actions. Professor Turnermentioned in class the Sarte quote, To be a stone, you must make allaround you stone. And to act as a savage, one must make those aroundoneself savages. To address the enslavement of Africans, it becomes necessary to onceagain look at the economics that fueled the decision to bring slavery tothe United States.
In capitalism, a driving force is to minimize costsand, as a result, maximize profits. The labor intensive tobacco andcotton fields presented the need for a low cost labor supply. Impelledby white supremacy, the English began to move away from the system ofindentured servitude that characterized the early years ofcolonialization and towards slavery. By definition slavery must be sanctioned by the society in which itexists and such approval is most easily expressed in written norms andlaws. From the moment Africans set foot in North America, they faced asystem that perpetuated and encouraged their enslavement. Throughout the 17th century, laws and regulations regarding slaves werebecoming more explicit in their dehumanization.
All questions ofwhether these men and women would be seen as such were erased with anumber of legislations that sough to erase any ambiguities. By 1705 theonly real question remaining was what type of property the slave was tohis captor. . Ringer writes by 1705, Virginia had rationalized,codified, and judicially affirmed it exclusion of blacks from any basicconcept of human rights under the law (Ringer 67).
Intrinsic to the subjugation of Africans was an ideology that reducedAfricans to lesser beings. Reasoning behind this idea has gone fromChristian beliefs to scientific evidence to current day beliefs inAfrican-American laziness (an idea whose roots are as old as whitesupremacy) and the use of IQ tests as measures of innate intelligence. What has stayed constant is a manipulation of the truth and a myopicself-interest by those parties with an interest in keeping privilege. White supremacy and it dualistic vision of society becameinstitutionalized in colonial North America, emanating from the base andstructure of society.
The Civil War Amendments to the Constitution wereno more than words on paper, with short lived legislative muscle. Fromthe vision of Forty Acres and a Mule, the newly freed African-Americansmoved on to sharecropping, lynchings, and segregation. The mid to late 19th century witnessed the beginning of Chinesemigration to the United States. Immediately, they were met by variouslaws and ordinances designed to restrict their economic, political, andsocial advancement. This was combined with racial commentaries thatechoed those levied against Native Americans and Africans. The Chinesewere heathen, morally inferior, savage, and childlike.
The Chinese werealso viewed as lustful and sensual. Often Chinese immigrants weredepicted in cartoons with devil-like features and devious expressions. Economics also played an important role in the discrimination Chinesefaced in the United States. Chinese exclusion, a policy initiated in1882, banned U. S.
entry to Chinese laborers. After the U. S. acquisitionof California in 1848, there arose a need for cheap labor, and Chineseflocked there to work on the railroads. By 1867 they numbered 50,000;their number increased after the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, whichpermitted Chinese immigration but not naturalization.
Anti-Asianprejudice and the competition with American workers led to anti-Chineseriots in San Francisco in 1877, then to the Chinese Exclusion Act of1882, which banned Chinese immigration for 10 years. Once againinherent contradictions were seen as reasonable because it was to thebelievers benefit. A scarcity of employment opportunities combineswith prejudices to create a atmosphere of hatred and political blamedirected toward the Chinese immigrants (The Heathen Chinese 230-240). Another case of dualistic application of justice towards theAsian-American community is the case of Japanese-American internmentduring the Second World War.
In 1942, Lt. Gen. John L. De Wittrationalized the deportation of Japanese nationals andJapanese-Americans with A Jap is a Jap. When second-generationJapanese-Americans in the nations ten concentration camps were draftedfor the war effort for cannon fodder, outraged Japanese-Americans formedthe Fair Play Committee to protest the conscription of those who werenot guaranteed the least bit of civil rights. In reply, the USgovernment jailed those who refused to serve, questioning their loyaltyand admonishing them for not embracing the opportunity to discharge theduties of citizenship.
Perverse logic such as this often guides racistpolicies and the institutions they uphold in a dualistic society(Okihiro 118-20). Latino Americans have faced similar obstacles other disadvantagedgroups have endured within the United States system of duality. A primeexample was the relations between the United States government and theisland of Puerto Rico. When the Puerto Rican people joined the UnitedStates in its war against Spain, they were promised the blessings ofthe liberal institutions of our government.
What they received was theForaker Act, which made the island the first legally definedunicoroporated territory without any promise of statehood or protectionof the Constitution. Since the Northwest Ordinance of 1790, allprevious conquered lands had been treated as colonist extensions of theUnited States, with the promise of eventual statehood. But forcommercial and industrial interests, the island of Puerto Rico wasdenied this right of self-governance. Combine those interests with goodold fashioned racism and you have a pretty damn punitive system.
Beliefs such as that Puerto Ricans were inherently incapable ofgovernment for the people and by the people provided justification foran authoritarian system. The inability to engage in effectiveself-government was based on theories of racial purity and proximity tothe equator (Puerto Rico 947-1001). A contemporary issue that illustrates the relationship betweenindividual attitudes about race and the consequences of institutionalracism is the debate over affirmative action in admissions to institutesof higher education. The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was the last definitive statement the Supreme Court has made onaffirmative action in an educational setting.
It allowed race to be afactor in admissions to universities and colleges but forbid the use ofquotas. In response to those that argued that the Constitution shouldbe color-blind, Thurogood Marshall wrote in the Bakke decision, thatfor several hundred years Negroes have been discriminated against notas individual, but rather solely because of the color of their skins. While interpretation is widespread and diverse on what that decisionactually meant, it has generally been interpreted as accepting theprevalence of institutional racism. Justice Blackmun stated in hisopinion that to overcome racism it may be necessary to take into accountrace, not in order to subjugate a race but for the purpose of endingsubjugation (Smith 158). So the question I would like to address is the furor over so-calledreverse racism brought on by affirmative actions programs. Aconservative argument against these programs states that any programthat addresses race is racist in nature.
But the basic equationProfessor Turner outlined in dealing with racism was:Power + Privilege + Prejudice = Racism. Preconditions for racism include the ability to define the requirementsof participation and the power to subordinate a certain disadvantagedgroup. In this academic framework, it is absurd to consider affirmativeactions that seek to increase participation of African-American andother disadvantaged minorities in education racist because of the natureof the power and of the privilege relationships involved in thesepolicies. Unfortunately, the individual view of racism, defined innarrow personal terms, has come to dominate the public debate. Nolonger are politicians and the courts willing to address theinstitutional basis of racism.
This brings me to the final point of thepaper: Should public policy be color blind in a race conscious society?In The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson brought to theforefront the crisis of the underclass. Robert Smith critiques Wilsonfor his lack of recognition of racism as a factor in perpetuating anunderclass. Placing the blame for poverty and the underclass oneconomic causes, Wilson supports universal policy initiatives. But thisdoes not address the fact that African-American poverty is more severethan white poverty.
And most importantly it does not address thestructure of racism and, consequently, of poverty. Institutional racismis a problem that lies at the heart of the African-American underclass. In the American Dilemma , Gunner Myrdal defined the cumulative nature ofdiscrimination, where discrimination in one area can result indiscrimination in another and then another, creating what is commonlycalled the vicious cycle (Smith 160). Specific programs are needed totry to break this cycle. A recent Cornell Review article, addressingaffirmative action in the California school system, stated thatAfrican-American students were admitted to the universities with anaverage SAT score of 300 points below what the average white, acceptedstudent achieved.
While this article attacked affirmative actionpolicies as unfair to white applicants, I think as a society we need toaddress the question of why there is a 300 point gap between the twogroups. In Myrdals framework, it makes perfect sense to attack a linkin the cycle, by providing an educational opportunity that will paydividends in the long run. In a 1965 speech to Howard University, Lyndon Johnson provided thisargument for affirmative action programs to address institutionalracism: We seek not just freedom but opportunity – not just legalequity but human ability – not just equality as a right and a theory butequality as a fact and as a result (Smith 160). Institutional racismis embedded in our society and will be most difficult to extricatebecause it involves a forfeiture of privilege.
But the stakes are highand the consequences of inaction seem to be severe. Freedom is only thefirst step towards the establishment of true equality. Works CitedOkhiro, Gary. The Victimization of Asians In America.
The World AndI. April 1993, pp. 397-413Racism In The United States Course Packet. Growth of the EnglishIdeology of Race In America, ; Ringer, John We The People And Others ;The Heathen Chinee, And American Technology; Puerto Rico As AnUnincorporated Territory: The Early Years And The Struggle OverAmerican Citizenship. Smith, Robert. Racism In The Post Civil Rights Era.
SUNY Press. Albany1995.Social Issues

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