Effects the Great Depression on African Americans

From the economic crisis in the 1930s to now, our country has developed greatly in medicine, technology, art, military weapons, and laws. However, since then prejudices are still apparent and people’s mindsets have stayed relatively the same from those of 100 years ago and are not open-minded like the development of medicine and weapons. The Great Depression impacted African Americans immensely in comparison to the white working class and farmers.

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Middle and lower class women being paid less compared to male employees, in the same position, was common, and the wealthy being willfully ignorant of the lower classes’ pain due to living in poverty as well. Again, these unfairnesses in today’s society, are affecting citizens, and occurring daily. Although laws have been made against the maltreatment of people, in the 21st century, we continue seeing racism, sexism, and classism from various individuals.

One of the most known ways of discrimination is racism, it appears in the news, movies, and sometimes in books like the famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. There are many times where the author, Harper Lee, incorporates forms of discrimination in her novel. It is most apparent during the trial of Tom Robinson, where he was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. After Atticus gives his reasoning on why Tom is not guilty, Jem is sure they have won the case, but Reverend Sykes tells him the reality of how Maycomb and many other southern towns work. Jem was told that, “‘… I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man…’” (Lee 279).

Reverend Sykes explains from all the times a colored man has been in a trail or accused of something, the white man always wins because of the prejudice white men give. Throughout the trial, the African American community seems to know that winning this case is almost equal to impossible, but they still have hope that Atticus can do something about this ongoing prejudice. When the jury came out of the room where they discussed Tom’s sentence, they gave Judge Taylor their decision, Taylor reads them out loud,“‘Guilty… guilty… guilty… guilty…’” (Lee 282). Here Judge Taylor is revealing the Jury’s decision on whether Tom Robinson is guilty or not. Atticus was able to make the Jury doubt their own beliefs of every colored man being liars and dangerous beings. They spent 4 hours in the room contemplating whether what they thought was right, however, they remembered their hatred and blamed Robinson.

After the trial was over, Jem and Atticus had a conversation on why the juries pleaded Tom Guilty. Atticus tells Jem, about what white males have done in court, he says, “‘I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again…’” (Lee 285). Atticus is talking about how the jury had doubted their belief, but they still gave in to the peer pressure of the other white characters in the story, they claim Tom is guilty. He explains that favoritism has repeated itself in history and will continue to repeat until humankind learns that all humans are equal in the institution of a court. Scout is now being taught about what is happening in the outside world, she is learning about the controversial topics and what they mean to society and others. After Cecil tells the class what is happening to the Jews, the class starts to have questions on what Hitler is doing and if it is right or wrong. Miss Gates says that Americans,“‘…don’t believe in persecuting anybody.

Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice”’ (Lee 329). Miss Gates, Scout’s third-grade teacher, told her class that Americans do not persecute anyone anymore, yet there is still persecution of minorities. African Americans, even after slavery was abolished, were being still being harassed, except in the 1930s if they were lucky they can get a case before getting lynched. Most people in this small white community decided to turn a blind eye to the aftermath of the Tom Robinson case over the summer. These injustices affect the characters because it confuses them on what is actually happening in the town, whether if things are wrong or if this is the way things work anywhere else.

It also affected the conflicts in the story because if the Juries in the Tom Robinson case were not racist, Tom could have had a chance of winning. Racism is still occurring today, in fact, the CSCE has many articles, hearings, speeches, and reports. In an article that was published in 2018 by Erika Schlager and Dr. Mischa Thompson, they talked about the important topics activist brought up at the hearing. European activist mentioned the concerns that “police are not adequately investigating hate crimes and, in some cases, have arrested undocumented migrants when they came to police to report a hate crime… address negative perceptions of refugees following the adoption of laws imposing criminal penalties on Hungarians who assist asylum seekers… discrimination impacting Black Muslims and the need to address racial and religious bias” (CSCE). Even today, people fear those who say they will provide help. They fear being detained or denied help because of their race or religion. People who are prejudiced of race still exist today, Chairman Hasting states that‘“Across the globe we find racial disparities between those of African descent and other populations in education, employment, health, housing, justice, and other sectors. At the same time, hate crimes and racial profiling targeting black populations are increasing’” (CSCE). Just like in To Kill A Mockingbird, African Americans are treated differently, Hasting explains that those who came from African descent are being treated in a different matter compared to those of another race. This affects society today because we are all human and being treated differently because of race is unfair, everyone should be able to receive the same education and justice without being asked or looked at distinctly. This form of discrimination that is most known clouds people’s judgment and it is a prejudiced idea that people of different races receive distinct views, half the help/education, and denied rights.

Racism is still as apparent as it was in the 1930s, however, people and communities are more aware of where and when it is happening, we can now use our freedom of speech to bring awareness to these injustices. Gender discrimination or sexism plays a large role in the 1930s to today society, it mainly relates to stereotypes of women but to men as well. Harper Lee uses her main character Scout to display to the readers the unfairness between the genders. During the winter break, Scout is going through a phase, her father tells her uncle that if he ignores Scout she will stop cursing. Uncle Jack is flabbergasted, he cannot believe that Atticus would let a young girl say such things. So he gives Scout some advice,“‘… and I don’t want to hear any words like that while I’m here. Scout, you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to grow up to be a lady, don’t you’” (Lee 105).

Throughout the book, Scout is constantly asked about her future or if she wants to be a lady. Her uncle told Scout that if she wants to be a lady she should not cuss, her Aunt Alexandra and missionary circle were keen on asking what she wanted to be when she was older. They judged her on going to the court for Tom’s trail, asking her if she wanted to be a lawyer, Scout responded that she only wanted to be a lady. A woman in the 1900s was expected to wear the “proper” attire of a dress, it was frowned upon to see a lady wearing something other than a dress. Aunt Alexandra growing up with that mindset was disappointed to see that Atticus would let Scout wear breeches. “Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants” (Lee 108). Aunt Alexandra is a very traditional person, she abides more by the old school rules rather than trying to make a different future for herself and other women in the town.

She told Scout to be a lady she should not wear breeches but dresses instead and a lady should not be doing any hard work that required another attire other than dresses. When men or boys do “girly” they get bullied or said horrible things to them. Aunt Alexandra, Francis’ grandma, seems to be more open to the idea of boys cooking than Scout wearing breeches, “‘Grandma’s a wonderful cook,’ said Francis. ‘She’s gonna teach me how.’ ‘Boys don’t cook.’ I giggled…” (Lee 109). Sexism does not only relate to women but men as well, a common misconception is people can only be sexist toward women and not to men or men do not have gender roles that affect them as much as the ones directed to women. Men also have gender roles, they are expected to work and provide the family, doing things like cooking and taking care of children were seen as not appropriate. Scout criticizes Francis for learning to cook saying men/boys do not cook or have the need to learn. Scout knows that it is usually women who take care of the children in the house, but when their mother is gone, who takes care of the children? This reveals how much people say ladies are only supposed to do this, this blocks Scouts imagination of who might be taking care of the kids. “I never knew who took care of her children while Helen was away” (Lee 333). Scout is confused about who takes care of the children because usually, the wife is the one that takes care of the children.

This was a common gender role in the 1930s and even before the 1900s. Women are supposed to take care of the house, husband, and children according to what women were told to do. This affects the character because Scout is slowing caring about what the other women in the missionary circle, she tries to act like a lady but ends up getting embarrassed. How this affects the conflicts in the story, is women were view as fragile creatures, Mayella’s story seemed realistic to the other people in Maycomb. It could have been used to affect the course of the trial giving the Ewells another point into winning the case. In a study, economics, Kerwin Kofi Charles, Jonathan Guryan, and Jessica Pan, studied women who lived in a specific place then moved to another. They learned that “a woman’s lifelong earnings and how much she works are influenced by the levels of sexism in the state where she was born” (The New York Times).

They stated that women born in the south face larger earning gap than others, this is because the women were born in a more sexist place. In the image to the right, it shows how women feel in the workspace. 40% of women say they have experienced gender discrimination while working. The survey proves that there are still people who believe that women are not as capable as men. People’s mindsets are still displaying gender discrimination. This discrimination affects many people today, it can minimize a person’s ability to show what they can do. Sexism is an old idea, we are moving forward into the future, there should be newer ideas or more tolerance to match with the future. Classism, the discrimination of social class, it seems like discrimination that is not around anymore,S but many people still talk about it and it can affect the health of the people. Francis judges Scout for hanging out with Dill each summer, “‘Grandma says [Dill] hasn’t got a home–’… ‘If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business”’ (Lee 110).

In the 1930s marriage was partly about the background, they would have to come from good parents, home, and education. Dill did not have a father nor a house to stay in, he was passed from relative to relative. Because of this Dill was view as a lowly person or not equal to others. Walter Cunningham is the son of a farmer, he cannot attend school daily because of the days he has to help out at the farm. Atticus tells them that perhaps the relative of Walter had been the one to delay the jury’s answer. Scout wanted to show appreciation to Walter by playing with him and inviting him to dinner, but Aunt Alexandra interrupts saying, “‘I’ll tell you why,’ she said. ‘Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with [Walter Cunningham]’” (Lee 301).

When Aunt Alexandra calls Walter trash she does not mean he is a terrible person, but not someone of their class. The farmers, during the Great Depression, were hit the hardest compared to others, this made them become part of the lower class. This affects the characters because Atticus taught his kids there is nothing wrong with being polite but Aunt Alexandra looks down on them and tells Scout to not play with him, confusing her on what to do. In a survey, the scientists asked a part of the Dutch population, ages 16-90, if they have been criticized for their social status or feel like they are. “These studies found that people in poverty or low socioeconomic status groups feel negatively judged, degraded, isolated, devalued, put down, blamed and looked down on by others” (NCBI). The lower classes feel like if they are less than those who receive a higher income, the middle class in the 1930s would judge them for not being able to earn as much as them.

This caused the lower class to develop low-self esteem and can cause health problems. In conclusion, classism is discrimination, it was an important thing when choosing a friend or marriage, now it is not as important but it still exists and can cause mental and health problems. From the 1930s to now we continue to see the injustices of racism, sexism, and classism, existing in people’s mindsets. Racism has stayed relatively the same as nearly 100 years ago, people of color are being treated differently. The major difference from then is now we can have protested on these problems, however, differences in education, housing, and employment play still exist. Same with sexism, now we have women empowerment marches and many activist supporting new ideas while trying to break down old ideas. Classism has decreased but people are still embarrassed for earning a small amount or feel like they are being degraded and looked down on. These unfairnesses have improved slightly but they still have a tremendous effect on society today just like it did a century ago.

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