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Jack's Paper

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago
Jack Barthell

January 15, 2008

History of Southern Racism

    “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”(Moncur)  Martin Luther King said that.  In Richard Wrights autobiography, Black Boy, he shows the deep seeded hatred that comes out from white people towards black people.  He grows up in the Jim Crow south in which segregation was legal and the law turned its back on lynching if they weren’t already involved in them.  Though he is not personally attacked he is fundamentally limited in his schooling and the jobs he can work.  Racism in the south has had a huge impact on the entire country and racism is still rippling today in some spots.  The music that comes out of the region stems from the pain and suffering of generations of slaves who toiled in the field during the day then went back to their houses at night to sing to feel good but also to communicate.  The blues came from the south and mixed with country music, also from the south, to make rock and roll.  Events that happened during the civil rights movement in the south like the freedom riders and the little rock nine were displayed across the world on television.  But even with the changes made during that time, day to day racism still exist.   While it is politically incorrect to be publicly racist, many white people still have negative thoughts when they walk by a black man on the street.  Is it fear?  Is it distrust?  Some might use the excuse that black people are responsible for a majority of the crimes in the cities.  White people would do exactly the same if they were nearly as poor or needed money to buy food for their starving kids.  It is relative to the situation.  It’s like the white race is falling with their eyes closed  into the black race and flailing their arms in fear not doing any good just hitting anything in they way.  What Richard Wright was born into was not his choice but the result of 400 years of conditioning.  Slavery changed how people viewed anyone.  The civil war was a major turning point and leading up to the time of the Jim Crow south where Wright’s life took place.

    Slavery in the United states lasted from approximately 1619 – 1865.  European countries would be selling Africans to American cotton plantation.  The industry boomed and the demand for cheap labor grew.  Cotton was a southern crop.  To the owners of these crops black people were like animals you could train .  They must have realized quickly that they weren’t in fact like animals they could train and they were forced to violence to stop any idea of revolt.  Right there is a prime example off fear.  Southern whites were afraid of what black people could do if they were educated.  They would use it against white people.  Northern whites had an outsiders perspective and didn’t have so much to lose if black people became free.  So they pushed for the abolition of slavery, but for 200 years the government didn’t do anything about it.  That is still in the memories of some black youth.  A new project lead by Cathy Cohen at the University of Chicago talks to black youth about a variety of issues including the government.  48% of the young black people interviewed said that, “The government treats most immigrants better than it treats most black people in this country.”(New)  Many also believed that it is hard for a young black to get ahead because of discrimination.  This is a modern day example of what was happening during slavery except without violence and behind closed doors which black people are not allowed so it’s harder to do anything about it.  The rapper Mos Def said in one of his songs, “They think that illegal's a synonym for negro,”( while talking about he’s been confronted by white people who think he’s not in the right place.  In this case a first class airplane seat.  White people have an association of black people with everything that is wrong in their society.  Some of it is told to us by the government.  They put black people in a situation where they need to steal or sell to make money and they get in trouble and make it on the evening news where middle age white people see what’s happening and declare, with children in earshot, that black people are the problem.  It’s a cycle that is probably fading but is fading very slowly like taking two steps forward and one step back.  Black people realize and lose trust in the government.  

    What we hear these days is that the civil war was fought to abolish slavery.  That is what it was about in the end but in the beginning it was about land and the north and south coming together to form a more perfect union.  The Government declared slavery abolished in 1865 but nothing would be done to actually free them forcefully for a while.  Its like a prison and all the inmates wake up one day and see that all of their doors are unlocked and the guards are gone and the front gait is open and there is disbelief at what is happening.  They wonder if it’s a trap or if they can walk out, hands in pockets whistling, and stroll out of the gates.  That is what it must have felt like at first for the slaves.  Then they must have thought that they are free but have no protection against the potential violence that was coming.  In their minds they’re thinking why would the government leave us out to dry like that.  That could have been the first point at which they lost faith in the government.  More laws would be passed in the future that would eliminate segregation from schools but nothing was done about that in the south for a long period of time.  Now there are studies that show a reversal back towards segregation.  Gary Orfield of Harvard and the leader of Civil Rights Project gave a press release that said, “From 1991-2003, the number of black students attending majority nonwhite schools rose sharply across all regions. In the South, this percentage increased from 61% to 71%.”(Orfield)  It seems to me that political change only happens when an issue is in the news and a large deal but when things go back to normal it all goes back to the way it was.

    The Jim crow laws in the south meant that black people were “separate but equal.”  This means segregation, which means degradation, which means to confer without compensation.  Black people did not give up.  They realized that the government wasn’t going to do anything unless they took drastic measures, which they did.  What they did worked in some ways.  Racism was now something that was not shown in public.  It was something that now occurred under the breathes of people.  While people in my generation may think racism is something of the past, it is ingrained so deeply into the back of our minds that we don’t even know it anymore.  Like when someone will make fun of a “crazy” black name like Shawntay or something.  Is that name any more a strange jumble of words than Elizabeth or Jack.  But people still make fun of it.  That to me is the type of racism that occurs in my generation.

    I don’t think that racism will ever fully go away ever.  There is a scene in the book where Richard is hanging around with a group of buys talking about things.  The discussion turns to white people and one boy asks, “Man, you reckon these white folks is ever gonna change.”(Wright 80)  Another responds with, “Hell, no!  They just born that way.”(80)  That was what the mentality was then and that is what it is now.  They kids were twelve years old when they were talking about it.  Most of them didn’t even what they were meaning when they said it but it was in their heads from the moment they could understand words.  The general perception of a person or a race is difficult to change if what is thought to be one has know idea about.  They way Richard Wright viewed white people was based on all the events that took place before him even though he was not alive.  It shows in us today what has happened in the past.  Even the things we don’t know about.  Racism of the passed is still very much apart of how people act today.  I’d hate to think that the reason that Hurricane Katrina was dealt with so badly was because, as Kanye West said it, “George Bush Doesn’t care about black people.”  But that is the first thing that comes to mind.  Or that, in anticipation of a flood in the low laying parts of the city, levy’s were not constructed properly or possibly even blown up.  While that’s only speculation it somehow makes perfect sense.  Then when the wild fires happened in California and wealthy white peoples house were burning there was an immediate response.   Something’s like that just don’t add up.  Civil rights issues seem to be falling the way of all other issues we have in our country.  Somehow an issue is brought to the forefront.  It’s slapped on the front of newspapers and television stations have news stories.  Class discussions are held.  Every single person wants to get their opinions in for maybe a shot at attention or there 15 minutes.  Politician state their informed opinions and the president may even say a word or two.  Bills might even be created.  But soon people get bored of it just like they get tired of an overplayed song and the bill dies and the issue is swept under the rug until the Bush administration needs another distraction.  No one talks about it anymore and nothing is accomplished.  I really wish I knew what I could do to make a difference.  Maybe being a famous musician is the only way.  Put the messages in my songs and hope that people listen.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

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