The United States has a sordid history of racism. There is no way around this fact. No justification, nor deflection, can simply dispel this history to obscurity. This history is not a thing of the past, it is ongoing. Discrimination against the natives, whose land we stole. Police brutality and mass incarceration that disproportionately targets people of color. Mounting pressure from the White House to construct the infamous border wall. The United States still struggles with race relations and continues to mishandle the issue seemingly more than it has taken strides to rectify it. This is not to say that the ill cannot be remedied, rather, we as a nation need to recognize and acknowledge it. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend the injustices regarding race are past troubles.
Wrongs Against the Native Population
The United States began in colonies established in what has been commonly called the New World. However, this world was only “new” to the European colonists and conquerors. The land itself was already inhabited by people with their own ways of life. They were the native inhabitants of this land. They lived with this land, honoring and revering it highly, and they were accommodating to the outsiders who arrived at their shores. The settlers were not so amicable. For hundreds of years, European settlers and later United States forces systematically waged a genocide of those who had been here before. During western expansion, and under President Andrew Jackson in 1838 and 1839, we saw the infamous Trail of Tears.
Ultimately, this horrendous event lead to the quartering off and segregation of Native Americans that continues to this day. According to a report by NPR, “More than a third of Native Americans and their family members have experienced slurs and violence, and close to a third have faced discrimination in the workplace and when interacting with the police. Native Americans who live in majority-Native American areas are significantly more likely to experience this kind of discrimination”.
After a long history of targeted war and disease, these indigenous people continue to be victimized by the country that took their homes from them. However, great strides have been made in recent years. For example, after winning in the 2018 midterms and being sworn into office earlier this month, Democratic representatives Deb Haaland (New Mexico) and Sharice Davids (Kansas) became the first Native American women elected to the House of Representatives. They are in significant seats of power to ensure their voices are heard. Perhaps this signifies a change in what lies ahead.
The Struggles of Black America
The United States implemented slavery of bought or stolen Africans for hundreds of years. From colonial times well into the 1800s. The horrors of slavery are well documented and were a heinous assault on human rights. People were treated like objects. Viciously beaten, raped, and even killed. They were considered property instead of people.
However, the injustices did not end after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; nor did they end after the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. There were steps taken to help remedy the deep-seated and systemic racism that permeates American history. Treatments to symptoms, not cures for the disease.
Racism against black Americans is alive and well in this country. In recent years, it even seems to be thriving. This could be attributed, not to an increase in racism itself, but to to the increase in cell-phone technology; the camera phone specifically.
Police brutality has always been a problem in this nation, especially brutality against people of color; black Americans especially. However, until recent years this problem was widely unseen by white Americans. The camera phone exposed the problem.
Yet, police brutality is not the only systemic problem in our society. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, details how the U.S. prison system is a relic of slavery. It is an institution that systematically and disproportionately targets people of color in order to use the prisoners as cheap labor. This problem must be addressed and acknowledged. The prison system is ineffective, immoral, and in great need of reform.
Japanese Internment Camps During WWII
After the Pearl Harbor attack, one that pulled the U.S. into war with Japan, America reacted with great prejudice against U.S. citizens of Japanese origin or descent. Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps where they were to be detained.
T.A. Frail with the Smithsonian Magazine writes, “The roundups began quietly within 48 hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. The announced purpose was to protect the West Coast. Significantly, the incarceration program got underway despite a warning; in January 1942, a naval intelligence officer in Los Angeles reported that Japanese-Americans were being perceived as a threat almost entirely ‘because of the physical characteristics of the people.’” The article goes on to mention that, even when the U.S. entered the conflict against Germany and Italy, descendants from these nations were not detained. The effects of these camps can still be felt by those it affected to this day.
President Trump and the Border Wall
Championed as a barrier to defend the United States from illegal immigration from Central America, President Trump’s coveted border wall is nothing more than a symbol of racism and exclusionism. It is a physical representation of racist views shared by President Trump and his base of supporters. Border walls are largely ineffective, as history has proven time and time again. Yet, the United States continues to sit in a government shutdown for over 20 days, the longest in the nation’s history. President Trump is holding this nation hostage all in order to appease the racist ideologies of his supporters.
In a 60 Minutes interview, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked if she believed Donald Trump was a racist. Her response was quick. “Yeah, no question.” She went on to say, “When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dog whistles of white supremacy. When you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crises like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our borders, it’s night and day.”
President Donald Trump has used racist, xenophobic, and nationalist rhetoric to rile up the vile underbelly of American racism. He has brought the problem out from hiding and legitimized it with a powerful political voice. He has been endorsed by white supremacists.
Whether he agrees whole-heartedly with his racist words and policies or he simply used them to gain support in his presidential bid, this fact is still the same: Donald Trump and his supporters are racist. For to say these words without fear of what they may bring or to support his presidency despite his racist rhetoric is to turn a blind-eye to those it may harm. It is to embrace privilege. The privilege of knowing that they will not be the target of the hatred that exists within his extremist base. The Donald Trump presidency is the next chapter in America’s racist history.
We Must Not Lose Hope
While this president is at the center of this new chapter, the people are speaking out against him in large ways. In the 2018 midterm elections, there is now a more representative democratic majority in the House of Representatives. The future is looking brighter should this sense of inclusiveness continue to grow and permeate through the nation. Perhaps we are in the infancy of this nation finally achieving the ideal it has presented to the world for so long. The Land of the Free.
Perhaps the presidential disgrace of Donald Trump is the siren to inspire the nation to do what is right. To resist his racism and acknowledge the problem that led to his ascent to power. To work vigorously to move this nation into a better future. To make this nation a welcoming home for all.