How do you Define Racism?

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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Accorrding to Britannica Racism is defined as “any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial worldview- ideology that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioral features; and that some races are innately superior to others (“Racism” Britannica). The purpose of racism has always been to divide groups by color, race, sex, religion or some other trait and to make one feel superior to another group.

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The injustice of racism has been around for hundreds of years and sadly continues to hurt our societies in different ways. History shows many different forms of racism against many different groups. I will mention just a few. The Indians were forced to resettle in 1831-1838 as part of President Andrew Jackson’s removal policy called the Trail of Tears. More than 15,000 Indians lost their lives on this journey which was due to greed (“Trail of Tears”) In 1864 the Ratification of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery. US Army massacred 300 Cheyenne Indians in Sand Creek Massacre. Who could forget Hitler’s terrible acts of racism? The Holocaust was all based on racism. Hitler programmed his people to kill all he judged to be racially inferior, especially the Jews. He also targeted the mentally ill, and the gypsies. He sent them to specially built concentration camps where they were eventually worked to death. The Holocaust took place between 1941- 1945. In Mississippi during 1955 a fourteen year old Emmett Till was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and killed by two white men for whistling at a white woman. The two white men were acquitted by a white jury. History goes on to discriminate against several groups and the government continues to fight back with laws and policies.

The racist case of Emmett Till shocked the nation in 1955. He was a fourteen year old boy who was murdered just for whistling at a white woman store owner. Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago, Illinois and died August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi while visiting his relatives. He had been warned by his mother to keep a low profile because the southerners could react violently to behavior that the northerns tolerated. Emmett’s mother warned him because she knew he was a jokester. Two white men related to store owner kidnapped Emmett and beat him. “Till’s corpse was discovered in the river. His face was unrecognizable as a result of the assault, and positive identification was possible only because Till was wearing a monogrammed ring that had belonged to his father.” (“Emmett Till” Britannica). His mother decided to have an open casket so the tens of thousands who attended could see the brutal attack. These images became a turning point for the civil rights movement. Till’s killers, Bryant and Milam were acquitted of all charges by an all white, all male jury.

The US Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the most important law on civil rights because it intended to end discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin. President John F Kennedy proposed this act in 1963 but it was a highly controversial issue and he was not able to “secure passage of bill in congress” (Civil Rights Act Britannica). President Lyndon B Johnson proposed a stronger version that passed and he signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964. White groups fought back with protests and some racial violence. “The constitutionality of the act was immediately challenged and was upheld by the Supreme Court in the test case Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964). The act gave federal law enforcement agencies the power to prevent racial discrimination in employment, voting, and the use of public facilities.” (Civil Rights Act Britannica). This was a sweeping act in history.

For decades large portions of the U.S. had racially segregated schools, made legal by Plessy v. Ferguson 1896. In the early 1950s the NAACP lawyers represented black schoolchildren and their families who were not allowed to attend white schools. One of the most famous lawsuits was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The purpose of this lawsuit was to get rid of the segregation in education systems and to stop the separate but equal doctrine. Mr. Brown was upset because his child could not go to a white school which was nearby. The court looked at segregation and said even if the teachers, supplies, facilities, are all equally as good, separation itself was unequal. Brown helped to overturn the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that allowed racial segregation. “May 17,1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously 9-0 that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person within their jurisdictions” (“Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka” Britannica). This lawsuit got rid of racial segregation in the education systems and helped to inspire the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka is one of the most important rulings in our legal history.

A huge respected historical figure in the civil rights movement is Martin Luther King because he paved the way for so many others with his peaceful ways. “His leadership was fundamental to that movement’s success in ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the United States.” (“Martin Luther King, Jr” Britannica) He was a Baptist minister, social activist, writer, and a great leader. He came from a good home and followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps in becoming a minister. He studied hard and earned good grades. King was involved in many peaceful protest such as the Montgomery busing protest, protesting segregation at a lunch counter in Atlanta department store, march on Washington which is his most famous, Birmingham campaign which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, march in Selma to mention a few. King is best known as a peaceful demonstrator but he saw lots of hatred and violence and was jailed lots of times for what he did. His family was put in danger too. Throughout all of his life, King held on to his values and stayed true to nonviolence as a way to resolve conflict. I think that’s why he has a national holiday named after him.

Sadly I think most people feel some small degree of racism still exist today is some forms. Discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin still gets attention these days but no where as much as it use to. However, in some areas, men still get paid higher paychecks for doing the same jobs as women. In the military, women are not allowed to compete with men for some jobs. Discrimination against certain religions still goes on today. If people wear their religious clothing out in public, people stare and wonder what they are going to do. People also discriminate against drug addicts thinking they can never change and always hold it over their heads. Sadly there are many forms of discrimination still around today.

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How Do You Define Racism?. (2020, Feb 14). Retrieved from