Black History Month: Black oppression in the United States
The United States, though claiming to have advanced in terms of civil rights and racial discrimination, is still stuck in the same pattern of racism and hatred, only having changed on paper.
The United States has been home to black people since the late 16th century when they were brought in aboard slave ships, so it was not too kind of a home. They were shipped in as part of the transatlantic slave trade, which took them from their homes and families, and they were not treated with the slightest bit of humanity or compassion.
An oppressed people, they struggled for their liberation for centuries, working to abolish the slavery imposed by their white oppressors, who put them in the worst conditions one could think of, not liveable in the slightest.
Black people not only lost the only home they had known, as they were transferred into toys in the hands of their oppressors, who unethically used them in unpaid labor, ranging from domestic slavery to slavery within the plantation systems, mainly the notorious cotton fields.
Many brutal punishments were on the table for the most minor of inconveniences, sometimes without one at all - just as a display of authority and even for pleasure and entertainment. All of this was legal under the constitution of the self-proclaimed land of the free.
Black people fought tooth and nail for their emancipation until the civil rights movement succeeded in achieving its conquest and even thereafter. Racism is still widespread, and discrimination may be better than it was 500 years ago, but that is in no way a standard.
You can't compare modern times to ones where black people were auctioned off, bid on as they fought to the death, whipped, raped, and had their families broken up for the sole purpose of revenue. Injustice was more rampant back then, but it still is now - through different means nonetheless, but not in an acceptable manner.
Life under slavery may not have lasted forever, but it must have felt like it did for all of its victims. Came the emancipation proclamation in 1863 after so many efforts from abolitionists who put everything on the line to ensure the freedom of their enslaved brethren, such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Leonard Grimes.
One burden was off; slavery, but another was still there, and it was heavily harming the black community within the United States, segregation. Racism was still conspicuous, and it was a tool used to propagate the white supremacist narrative used by the ruling race to violate the rights of those who were seen as a "lesser race", allowing for their treatment as second-class citizens within their own country.
Segregation was used to propagate many hate crimes and massacres, ones backed by politicians and officials against local black communities and individuals. From lynching to full-on massacres, the US government and people made life unbearable for the black population.
White massacres against black civilians
New York City Draft Massacre
On July 13, 1863, white rioters stormed Manhattan to protest against draft laws in light of the civil war, but they ended up setting fire to a colored orphanage, killing black civilians they found on the street by various, violent means, and the victims amounted to nearly 120.
Between May 1-3, 1866, white civilians and police officers stormed Memphis, Tennessee, and burned down homes, churches, and schools in the city, eventually killing 46 black civilians and injuring many more.
On September 28, 1868, a KKK-inspired group, Knights of the White Camelia, massacred hundreds of black Americans in Opelousas, Louisiana, over the promotion of equality in voter registration and education. The exact victim count is unknown, but it crossed the 200 threshold.
On September 4, 1875, a white mob killed nearly 50 black civilians in Clinton, Mississippi, who had gathered for a rally hosted for their election candidates. The violence was carried out indiscriminately and claimed the lives of many children.
On November 23, 1887, the Louisiana Militia, with help from white citizens, shot and killed peaceful, unarmed black sugar workers who were striking to demand their labor rights. The victim toll was between 30-60 unarmed black workers.
Tulsa Race Massacre
Between May 31-June 1, 1921, one of the biggest domestic massacres in US history took place in the prospering Greenwood District, a historic black community that became the victim of blind white hatred. The district was undergoing its "golden age" and its citizens were living way better than they would have lived anywhere else in the US under the segregation laws that were in place at the time.
The district was stormed by white mobs some of whose members were armed by city officials, and they wreaked havoc in a place renowned for the opportunities it provided for black people. The death toll surpassed 200 black residents and 800 total injuries as attackers burned and destroyed more than 370 square meters of the neighborhood.
'Separate but equal'
Following all the massacres and hate crimes committed against black people after their emancipation, segregation was still a heavy burden to bear, and overcoming it was a goal for the civil rights movement.
Black people were not allowed to share the same restaurants and cafes as white people. They were allowed education but could not attend the same schools and universities as their white counterparts, they could not go to the same workplaces, and if they did, they would have their own separate offices. They lived in separate neighborhoods, sat in separate places on public transport, and even had separate bathrooms.
All of this was under the auspices of the US constitution, as it sponsored these acts via the "separate but equal" doctrine that argued racial segregation was not in violation of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed "legal protection" for all peoples and races, though that was absent from reality in more ways that one.
The constructs of separation and segregation were so striking in the United States the entire American society was built upon it until the civil rights movement was finally able to achieve its goals after a decades-long struggle.
Civil rights movement
Key civil rights movement leaders paid a heavy price, i.e. with their blood, to propagate their cause of social equality. Starting in the first half of the '60s, the civil rights movement aimed to topple the status quo that allowed for the violation of their rights in various spheres.
Black Americans were able to vote under the law, but there were many obstacles put in place by racists who did not believe they should have had that right, which the south took to their hands through implementing disenfranchisement, prohibiting black people from registering to vote, and voting, meaning another one of their rights that were supposedly sponsored by the US constitution was being infringed.
The "Jim Crow laws" were the chief contributor to the infringement of the voting rights of black Americans. The laws were implemented in the late 19th century, and they sponsored the disenfranchisement and removal of political and economic gains made by black people during the Reconstruction period that succeeded the American Civil War. Many states outside the South adopted these laws though they were on the opposite side of the Civil War, but perhaps racism unites the United States.
The "Jim Crow laws" made inequality rampant on many levels; not only in terms of voting. As was said above, they sponsored the disenfranchisement of economic gains made by black people during the Reconstruction period, setting the black community far behind their white counterparts, making progress that much more difficult for them, and widening a pre-existing wealth gap.
Long story short, the civil rights movement, sparked by prominent figures and groups like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine, and the Black Panthers, ended up succeeding and achieving its goal of overcoming segregation, with then-President Lyndon Johnson passing the Rights Act and abolishing segregation after many protests, riots, and deaths.
The path to equality was paved by the blood of black activists who fought until the last breath to ensure the true freedom of their people who had to bear the brunt of racism for centuries. The Civil Rights Movement took the lives of many of its activists and initiators, many of whom were killed by the government.
Among those murdered over their activism included:
One of the first black people registered to vote in Humphreys, Tennessee, and a prominent voice in urging others to join him. He was offered protection by white officials in exchange for ending his voter registration efforts, but he rejected their advances, eventually leading to his murder over his activism.
Malcolm X was, arguably, the most prominent black American figure and activist within the United States and one of the most prominent during the civil rights movement. His cause included black empowerment and the overcoming of segregation, not to mention equality.
He was very vocal with his teaching of black empowerment, and he made his way into leadership by becoming the leader of the Nation of Islam, preaching the message of Islam within the black community, and advocating the rising of the black community among political ranks.
He called for charging the United States with human rights violations against black people in the United States at the United Nations, prompting anger from within Washington, and within a year, at 39 years of age, he was assassinated on a podium as he was preparing to give a speech, and many speculate that the FBI or the CIA were behind his assassination due to his external links and his domestic efforts.
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King is most probably the most famous black liberation leader within the United States, joining the Civil Rights Movement early on and becoming one of its leaders until his assassination.
He advocated and advanced civil rights for all people of color in the US, using peaceful means such as nonviolent protests and civil disobedience that carried the banner of voting rights, desegregation, labor rights, and socioeconomic equality. He also oversaw the Montogomery bus boycott sparked by his fellow activist Rosa Parks.
King was allegedly assassinated by an escaped fugitive, James Earl Ray, or so the FBI found, though MLK, throughout his years as a black rights advocate, was constantly harassed by the FBI and was even called "the most notorious liar in the country" by its director. He was killed a day after his final speech, "I've been to the mountaintops", while on his motel room balcony.
Fred Hampton was a black rights activist and leader of the Black Panther Party, the most prominent black advocacy political party that contributed to the housing and aid of black people in various spheres, such as healthcare and education, all over the United States, voicing support for socialism, black nationalism, and armed self-defense against police brutality.
His and his party's contributions to the black rights movement and the American black community were unprecedented, prompting concerns from within the United States government and its agencies.
Hampton, a Marxist-Leninist, worked for social change, staunchly opposed fascism and racism alike, spreading awareness within the black community to prompt activity against systemic racism and police brutality. His activism made him an enemy of the FBI, which saw him as a radical threat and used many tools to undermine his activities, such as disinformation campaigns and espionage.
He was later assassinated as part of the FBI's COINTERLPRO operation aimed at undermining domestic political organizations, which oversaw a raid on his apartment in Chicago, Ilinois, that saw heavily armed officers raiding his home at dawn. He had been asleep at the time of his killing, with a police officer killing him in his bed with two gunshots to the head.
He was only 21-years-young at the time of his death, but his legacy went on to redefine the black struggle for decades to come.
No longer separate, but not so equal
The black US population, though emancipated and granted civil rights and equality, is still suffering from chronic discrimination in its home country, having contrasting ratios with their white counterparts in the various socioeconomic aspects of life.
Labour and wages
Black workers comprise nearly 13% of the US workforce but disproportionally make 9.6% of total US wages, with the median annual wage for black workers being 30% lower than that of their white counterparts, which heavily affects the black community and weighs down their ability to make wealth and leads to wider racial wealth gaps comparable to those pre the civil rights act.
The wage gap leads black people, due to making less and high-cost housing, to live in poorer neighborhoods, sometimes "the projects", which are infested by crime and drugs due to the terrible social and economic conditions plaguing these communities.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, throughout the past two years, the unemployment rate of black men over 20 is more than double that of white men. Unemployment rates between black (7.72%) and white (4.51%) women over 20 are less severe but still vast.
This practically sets up black communities for a life that they are criticized and incarcerated for.
The way life for black people is set up is reflected in terms of imprisoned population by ethnicity, the US does not try to hide its prejudice with 1,096 black prisoners incarcerated per 100,000 prisoners while the white population only has 214 white prisoners incarcerated per 100,000 prisoners.
Black minors are just as heavily affected by systemic racism, only making up 15% of American minors; US minors comprise 35% of all juvenile arrests all over the country.
The justice system completes the circle by disproportionally imprisoning black people. How?
We've already established that more black people are incarcerated than whites, but the judicial system is the one that put them behind bars, to begin with.
Black people mostly face a harsher sentence for the same crimes as white people, as black male offenders receive sentences 19.1% longer than similarly situated white counterparts. Non-sponsored departures also contribute to these disparities, as judges get to sentence prisoners at their own discretion, bringing color to a system not meant to see it.
Black males are 21.2% less likely to receive non-government-sponsored departures and variances than white males, and upon receiving one, their sentences are 16.8% longer than those of white males.
Before reaching the justice system, prisoners naturally go through the police force, but many don't make it through, as police brutality claims countless lives, most of which, ratio-wise, are black.
Colored police brutality
Black people are nearly three times more likely to be killed at the hands of the police than white people in the United States.
Making up 12.8% of the population, black people, through data collected between 2013-2022, suffered 61 killings per one million people in the United States, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Data on nonfatal police brutality is lacking, but it surely constitutes a reflection and an augmentation of fatal police brutality, with the police force using force against suspects without any trial before a court of law, showing the extent of police brutality in the US to which no solution has been found.
Black representation in private and public positions is definitely better than it used to be a hundred years ago, which is quite easy to calculate since there was none.
Today, those who claim to advocate black equity argue that representation is in a good state in America; however, representation is not necessarily serving the black population.
Current US Vice President Kamala Harris, upon serving as deputy district attorney and district attorney in Oakland, California, was behind mass incarceration of black people despite her ethnicity.
Former US President Barack Obama, though the first-ever black president in the history of the country, failed black people by not pursuing any efforts or policies to close the racial wealth gap, and under his administration, the racial unemployment rate gap had not improved since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The black people holding political positions are mere token individuals handpicked to serve the government's goals of imperialism, not achieve the goals of black liberation movements and abolish the racist status quo.
Looking back at the past and comparing it to the present, one sees that the United States is basically just the same, except in the constitution. Though the situation may be better, hatred is rampant. Otherwise, protests would not have roamed the US with global support to demand racial equality and the protection of black lives.
Just a few days ago, in a scene similar to Fred Hampton's killing, police broke into a young black man's home at dawn and murdered him while he was on his sofa, where he was supposed to be safe, and this is a reflection of the past, showing that despite all self-proclaimed progress in the United States, the American population is still on square one, not having moved at all.