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Wednesday, 22 May 2024
Racism enshrined in America’s national character
Amir Darwish

As a person of colour and someone who arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker and faced racism, I found the events in the US triggering painful memories.

The case of racism towards Americans of African origins is not new. It has roots in the national character of the country.

During the slave trade era, white American slave traders gathered slaves from all over Africa in one place. They imagined that they all have the same ethnic and cultural background. Slaves used to buy their freedom and hold a piece of paper to confirm that, even then, not all were safe as some White Americans would kidnap them and sale them in the slave markets. Moreover, slavery was a "race" duty in a society where slave owners and lower white class American citizens were under the illusion that they are blessed to be "free". White Americans allowed their vision only to see the colour of the skin and nothing else. When they first came in contact, they saw any unacceptable activity to be associated with blackness.

There always has been a divide between the north and south of the US. And the trigger of that divide was around slavery. The south could not imagine that slavery could be abolished, whereas the north was more liberal. Where slavery was a shameful part of the American nation's life by northerners, southerners saw it as the primary driver of their economy and part and parcel of their lives. Full citizenship was restricted to white people (1750 law only allowed whites to have the citizenry). However, the law changed later but whiteness still accepted as citizenship socially and never otherwise. As for people of colour, no amount of wishing for them to be "white" would help as whiteness was connected to property and education not only skin colour.

Even when the revolution of 1765 came, some American revolutionists had contradicted themselves when they shouted for liberty and freedom while enslaving their fellow human beings.

Slaves did contribute to the revolution because there was a comparison drawn between the slave-master relation and Britain and its colonies relations. Hence, Thomas Jefferson, who ironically crafted the declaration of American independence, used the term slavery in his protest against the British colonists. Elsewhere Jefferson wrote that "The improvement of the blacks in body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has been observed by everyone, and proves that their inferiority is not the effect merely of their condition in life." Thus, he enhanced his argument that Blacks are different because nature made them this way.

Add to that, one of the most potent tools that used to satisfy people about new notion or idea is religion. That was more accepted in 18th century America than it is nowadays, nevertheless, it played a significant part in forming the social concept of race by asserting that it was a mirror to the god-creature relationship. Specific figures in American history argued that God had created such relationships between slave and owners, and it is only evidence of the natural order.

The slavery and race issue came to surface again in the American civil war of 1861. For example, during the revolution time, removing a man's property meant reducing him down to slave status, hence class him like blacks. That way, the existence of slaves provided a passage for lower-class whites to advance in the social hierarchy. Even union men from the north, in the civil war, viewed blacks as property. A union commander assured people during the civil war that "they will intervene in their property" when addressed southerners referring afro Americans slaves. Furthermore, union officers who commanded black soldiers, they were abusing them and achieving psychological wages this way. In contrast, white soldiers received more salaries than non-white ones.

Noteworthy, scientific racism flourished in 18th century America. It provided those who vouched for slavery with propaganda weapon by establishing a connexion between slavery and racial characterisation. They demonstrated to people that even when Blacks emancipated, they will still be inferior as that's their nature. Thomas Jefferson said it plainly when described Black's differentiation as "difference fixed in nature". Such words guaranteed subordination of the blacks and avoidance of hypocrisy. This way, the Afro Americans became a race that holds certain charterers, issues and elements. Consequently, racists are not "racists" anymore because they are referring to a component that not created by them but by nature.

Other vital figures also explained this difference. The American politician and writer John Taylor, who lived in 18th century America, said it clearly at the time, "mankind had not included negros." That's untrue of course as Biologists failed to identify material evidence that "race" biologically existed. Right after the revolution, the idea of race gained significant social ground in America. It was this time when Americans felt the need to justify how they fought for freedom, and yet they enslaved people. The best way to challenge that was to offer rhetoric that explains slaves' lives are the way they are not because of the slavery system but because of the character they have as blacks. At the end of the American Revolution, black men were forbidden from setting in juries, travelling without papers in some states, right to vote or testifying in courts.

The creation of race also can be done by planting fear in people. In the 19th century, people warned that blacks at any time could strike and kill another human. Thus "they are different, and they are bound to be in chains forever" and "slavery was a good thing not only for whites but also for blacks".

Even after the abolition of slavery, Black Americans found themselves at the center of racism. Laws were issued after slavery was abolished, banning the formation of any relationship between black men and white women. For instance, in an early 20th-century strike, a man runs to save his life and shouted: "I am white, I am white." The police did not know he was white as he was a miner covered with coal; his declaration of his hidden skin colour saved his life.

After WWII, white employment agencies were against the idea of equal job opportunities as they feared strikes from white workers. The latter will show their dissatisfaction with blacks taking their jobs.

Another example in WWII is the separation of black and white soldiers and how they slept in different bankers.

Although the country had its first black president in Barack Obama, the USA has a long way to go in abandoning the race issue and moving into full pluralist society. The action of police officers and their killing of George Floyd is a result of such a national character.

Amir Darwish