Many of our nation’s cruelties illustrate America’s history of hate.
Today, some wonder if animosity toward or fear of “the other” explains the more than 74 million Americans who recently cast their vote for President Donald Trump.
Often criticized for his divisive policies, Trump arguably embodies what demonstrators disliked most about the nation when they stood in support of Black Lives Matter protests.
Still, Trump – even in a defeat which he appears unable to swallow – secured the second-most votes of any presidential candidate in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, Trump and his allies continue to lobby state officials to toss out votes cast in cities heavily-populated by Blacks including cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
Lessons Learned During Reconstruction
It’s a tactic employed since the days of Reconstruction: disenfranchise people of color and the poor. And Blacks have not been alone as those on the receiving end of America’s hatred.
Lest we forget, Native Americans lived in relative peace until America sought to dehumanize their people as the nation secured its expansion from east to west.
Italians and the Irish boarded ships bound for the U.S. seeking prosperity, only to fall victim to America’s evil. Similarly, those of Jewish heritage also faced – and, in many cases, still endure – the European-American’s wrath.
“The history of the United States over the past 200 years has been largely a struggle to define who might enjoy the rights and privileges of full citizenship,” said Sarah Silkey, a professor of history at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Penn.
“Each successive gain made in broadening the definition of American citizenship was quickly followed by a backlash. Jim Crow segregation, the convict lease system, redlining, the war on drugs, and other systems created to maintain white supremacy denied access to full citizenship for generations of Americans,” Silkey wrote in an email.
“The crises of 2020 exposed vast inequities of health, wealth, safety and political access to a broader cross-section of the American public. That growing public awareness of systemic inequalities has created an opportunity for the next administration to enact meaningful change,” she concluded.
So, with that day deemed as America’s annual celebration of giving thanks, many are left to ponder just what they should celebrate.
“The U.S. was built on powerful myths of equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness and the city on a shining hill but the reality was less uplifting,” observed Nora V. Demleitner, a Roy L. Steinheimer, Jr. Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington City, Va.
“Racism, racial exclusion of immigrants and the vilification of ethnic and religious groups have long been an integral part of U.S. history,” Demleitner posited.
“There has been substantial progress in the creation and enforcement of civil rights for all especially during the civil rights era, yet it has been uneven, and rising economic inequality and the impact of climate change threaten to undermine some of that progress.”
Calling the New Administration to Task
Tim Powell, a University of Chicago journalism master’s student, discards the myth of an America that holds fast to its identity as a “melting pot.”
“Consider that the colonists left England to rebel against religion, and when they arrived here, we had a colony of rebels to some degree,” Powell noted.
“The administrations can only do so much to counter the inherent unacceptance of races by a white, male American. It will be up to the next generations that will determine the acceptance of differences.”
“The best administrations will be those that do not stoke division. Look at McCarthyism as an example of the people demanding we rid America of ‘communists.’ It was not McCarthy himself but the people demanding it. Without a market, a leader of a campaign – like Trump’s immorality – the leader has no followers,” Powell said.
Powell emphasized that the 14th Amendment was meant to give slaves – only slaves – equal protection of the law.
Ironically, in nearly all relevant court cases since 1860 – Plessy v. Ferguson, San Mateo v. Southern Pacific, Citizens United and Hobby Lobby – it has rarely given Amendment protections to Blacks but instead to corporations and other entities deemed as ‘persons.’”
Photographer Michael Freeby expressed, “it’s not just the kids in cages, as if that weren’t bad enough.”
“Let us not forget ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) abducts perfectly law-abiding citizens in the middle of the night, performs cruel, unethical, [unrequested] surgeries on them and that a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths have been taking place [among those] in ICE captivity,” Freeby said.
“As a Mexican who lives close to ICE’s headquarters at the USA/Mexico border, it especially sends chills down my spine. Once people are placed in ICE captivity, they lose all rights. We are the United States of America – a country whose entire premise was based on people fleeing from elsewhere to start fresh and pursue their dreams. Picking and choosing based on skin color is not right. We are not animals – we are people,” he said.
Terrell L. Strayhorn, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Virginia Union University, where he also serves as professor of education and director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs, noted that African Americans remain the only group legally denied access to education by law.
“Teaching Blacks to read and write was prohibited by law,” he said. [Today], there are over 4,300 colleges and universities in the U.S., collectively enrolling over 20 million college students. Virtually two million are African Americans with the vast majority (two-thirds) being Black women.”
“And when African Americans enroll in college, approximately half do not graduate, accrue high amounts of educational debt, or report experiencing hostile, unwelcoming environments at predominantly white institutions.”
“A new administration, comprised of individuals who reflect the diversity of their constituents, can champion culturally-relevant initiatives, create equity and foster racial healing,” Strayhorn proposed.
As a Black and Indian American, a plan of Kamala Harris should include equality for Black women in the workplace, opined Dr. Carey Yazeed, the editor of the anthology, “Shut ’em Down: Black Women, Racism and Corporate America.”
“Malcolm X stated it best, ‘The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman – the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman,’” Yazeed stated. “This country has done little to help uplift Black women, yet we are the ones who continuously come to its rescue.”
“Although Black women are often the lowest paid in corporate America, we often outwork and outperform our peers in the workplace. When corporations talk about diversity and inclusion, Black women are usually excluded from those conversations, which is reflected in our salaries and how we are treated. Black women often walk away from corporate America traumatized by the racial injustices that they endure and are left to carry that pain around for years,” she said.
Actress and mental health advocate Samantina Zenon concluded that many whites remain disconnected, still seeing African Americans as maids or even slaves.
“History continues to rewrite itself. In every avenue, Black people consistently get mistreated,” Zenon said. “For real change to happen, the new administration needs to give more Black people a platform to be seen and heard – not just Black celebrities or politicians but [ordinary] people who face daily challenges for being Black in America.”
“Part of the narrative for [Democratic] campaigns were [while] Donald Trump divided the country and has given white supremacists a platform to be racist, they [Democrats] want to bring us back together. While that is true, the new administration needs to be held accountable for making those changes because Black people showed up for them at the polls. The new administration needs to make racism wrong again,” she said.