Our System Is Racist (A Brief History Of Systemic Racism In America)

Jason Kishineff
Dec 22, 2018 · 9 min read

Pictured above are some Japanese children, who were rounded up during World War II, and were on their way to an “internment camp” also known as a concentration camp. True, these camps weren’t quite the death camps of the Nazis- there were no gas chambers for the intent of mass murder, but a greater symbol of the paranoid xenophobia that is built into the very system that runs this country you will never find. The United States locked these people up because of their race. These people had done nothing wrong. Three fourths of those locked up were Nisei- children born in the United States to Japanese parents, and therefore American citizens. [1]

But World War II wasn’t the beginning of racism in America, nor were the Japanese the first targets of paranoid racial discrimination. When Columbus first arrived (in the Bahamas), he wrote in his log: “(The natives) are so naive and so free in their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with everyone….” but Columbus wasn’t looking for locations for a new beach resort, he was looking for gold. After a great deal of searching for gold, in 1495, he was desperate to send back something with financial value. He rounded up about 1,500 slaves, sending the best back to Europe and keeping many for his men, especially young girls. Another excerpt from his log reads: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”[2]

Thus Columbus was responsible for the first slavery in North America. But Columbus also brought disease, in the form of viruses and bacteria the Arawak Indians had never been exposed to, and his soldiers murdered a huge number of Arawaks. Historian Bartolome de las Casas writes that the Spaniards grew so conceited that they “road the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. “In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.”[1]

Of course Native Americans remained targets for slaughtering and the piracy of their lands throughout American history. Pipelines, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Pipeline are well-known examples of this, but there also exist lesser known struggles, such as with the Jordan Cove LNG Pipeline in Oregon, which will send liquefied natural gas under several waterways, including the pristine Klamath River and Coos Bay. Not to mention the border fence put up in the 1990’s, to keep Native Americans from south of the border out, or Trump’s wall. A month ago, there was much fearmongering about tens of thousands of asylum seekers, and then further waves of asylum seekers, each consisting of tens of thousands. Some were even tear gassed.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The median household income of single-race American Indian and Alaska Native households was $36,252 in 2013. This compares with $52,176 for the nation as a whole. The percent of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives that were in poverty in 2013 was 29.2%, the highest rate of any race group.”[3] In that same year, the median income of a black household was $37,232[4], the median income of a Latino household was $41,831[5] and that of a white household was $62,162.[6]

When white settlers built towns and formed colonies, when they sat down and created a form of government, all of the people in those discussions were white males. If you were a woman, or had a different colored skin, you couldn’t have the same set of rights, no matter what you did, and you weren’t invited to the discussion. All of the wealth was held by white males and so was all of the decision making power. So white males created a system that would benefit them. Remember: 100% of the wealthy were male and white. If you were black or Native American, at that time, you weren’t even considered a person. Even if you were a white woman, you still couldn’t do many things a man was allowed to, like vote or hold public office. So that system they designed has done what it was always intended to do- to keep wealth and power in the hands of that one group.

Blacks and Native Americans are not the only group that has been systemically targeted by the ugliest forms of racism. Racism toward the Chinese, in the United States, goes largely neglected in history classes. In 1858 California passed “An Act to Prevent the Further Immigration of Chinese or Mongolians to This State”[7], which was immediately challenged and ruled unconstitutional. In 1860, California levied a Fishing tax on Chinese activities in fishing, San Francisco denied admission of Chinese children to general public schools and Chinese were officially denied admission to San Francisco City Hospital.

So we know that this country started off degrading and dehumanizing Native American, black and Chinese people. We also know that our country allowed slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crowe Laws and lynchings. These were all, at one time, integral parts of the system. But slavery continued, or should I say continues, even after the 13th amendment, which outlaws slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”[8] It’s true that today’s corporate prison system, that utilizes cheap prison labor for its profits does not have the harsh reputation, to some, that chain gangs bore in the 1920’s and 30’s, but treatment of prisoners in our jails can be quite brutal [9] and often times prisoners are overloaded with charges for their uniform and other basic necessities, so that they are forced to work to pay off their debts.

In many inner cities, an environment of extreme poverty is allowed to pervade the experience of primarily neighborhoods with a large number of non-white residents, so that as a child gets older, the child is faced with a bleak future, and must choose from a life of crime, the military or to avoid both and be a potential victim of crime. Many argue that this poverty exists to enable the school to military or the school to prison pipelines. In this way, the poor provide either cheap labor or fodder for America’s military endeavors, which usually also center around profits.

Once, it was possible to work and save, eventually to buy a house and start saving for your children’s college funds, but wages for the last 30+ years, adjusted for inflation, have remained stagnant, while the cost of living has skyrocketed and CEO’s salaries have increased exponentially. It’s far easier for young people to rely on help from their families when their families have the resources to spare, but white families have had an advantage from the very start, as we have shown. Even during the first half of the last century, when suburbs were created, they were advertising to white households. Black people weren’t allowed to purchase these homes[10]. And real estate is the best way for people to increase their wealth, so while all those white households in suburbia had their houses going up in value, other people remained in the pit of poverty. It’s true that no such rules exist today about buying property in the suburbs, but if one doesn’t have the money, or the good credit, they aren’t going to be sold a house.

The Civil Rights Movement happened because of vast inequality, lynchings, segregation, police violence and more. Did our system suddenly become non-racist when the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law? On the contrary, in 1971, Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs”, the long-term effects of which can be seen by many as seriously harmful to the community, but could he have really planned that effect? Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.” Then he went on, “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” [11]

In 1972, Nixon ignored the recommendation of a committee that he, himself, created and appointed to decriminalize the possession and distribution of cannabis.[12] But this continues to go on, even after Nixon. In the early 1980’s, the CIA was smuggling crack cocaine from the Nicaraguan Contras, into Los Angeles and probably other black neighborhoods.[13] In 1983, the first corporate prison company was created, Corrections Corporation of America.[14] In 1994, Bill Clinton created the “three strikes law”, which has been responsible for a huge increase in the United States prison population, even according to his own words.[15]

Of course, after Bill Clinton’s presidency was the presidency of George W. Bush followed by the administration of Barack Obama, each of which finished their term as the president who deported the most immigrants.[16] Our current president seems poised to break even their records. I’ve talked a little about some of the root causes for a larger number of immigrants, from places like Central America, in a couple of my articles, so I don’t want to get too into that here, but let’s just say that the U.S. had a huge hand in creating the increase in immigration.

In addition to racism against blacks and Latinos and native Americans, today we also have a racism against Arabs, although somewhere along the line this group has been rebranded by their religion. Now known as Muslims, instead of Arabs, it is easy now for conservatives to say that “it isn’t racist” to ban Muslims from entering the country, etc. In 1990, George H.W. Bush turned on his former ally, Saddam Hussein [17]. George Bush spoke about a “New World Order” and the world being “freer from the threat of terror”. Saddam Hussein had previously been an ally to the United States, when they fought a war against Iran, but America needed a new enemy, if we were to continue the permanent war economy that we had maintained since the Truman administration and the beginning of the cold war.

Under his son, George W. Bush, this “New World Order, freer from the threat of terror” took on the form of a massive “war on terror”, in reaction to jet airplanes flying into the World Trade Center, in New York, and the Pentagon building. Although almost all of the attackers were Saudis (one was Egyptian, one Lebanese and two were from the United Arab Emirates) the U.S. decided to invade Iraq, over a false report of weapons of mass destruction, and Afghanistan, to find Osama bin Laden, whom the government blamed for orchestrating the attack. Despite finding and executing bin Laden and despite the determination that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, as reported, those wars continue. Out of this war on terror, in the United States and in Europe, came an enormous increase in racism towards Arabs. A 2015 report by RT said that “…since September 11, 2001, anti-Muslim hate crimes have consistently stayed anywhere from 100 to 150 in number per year. In 2001, that number reached nearly 500” [18].

In the interest of completeness, I’ll mention that the Obama administration, instead of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also attacked Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Pakistan. Although systemic racism against Arabs had already been indoctrinated into the system, it bears stating that Barack Obama continued and aided this process. There are signs that our current president wants to end these engagements, but it remains to be seen whether the military industrial complex can stop him from doing so. If the U.S. ends military involvement in Arab countries, racism toward this group may simmer down a bit, but even if these conflicts end, we will doubtless find other targets, such as Venezuela, Iran or North Korea. Who will be the next group to be dehumanized by the U.S. establishment and media? Persians? Socialists? Only time will tell, but one thing you can bet on is that whatever anger, among the American people, is manufactured, it will enrich those who are already rich and powerful.

-Jason Kishineff

[1] - A People’s History Of The United States, Howard Zinn, p.416

[2] -https://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-kasum/columbus-day-a-bad-idea_b_742708.html

[3] -https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2014/cb14-ff26.html

[4] -https://www.statista.com/statistics/203295/median-income-of-black-households-in-the-us/

[5] -https://www.statista.com/statistics/203301/median-income-of-hispanic-households-in-the-us/

[6] -https://www.statista.com/statistics/203277/median-income-of-white-households-in-the-us/

[7] - http://teachingresources.atlas.illinois.edu/chinese_exp/resources/resource_2_4.pdf

[8]https://www.history.com/news/13th-amendment-slavery-loophole-jim-crow-prisons

[9] -https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jessica-s-henry/when-prison-guards-kill-i_b_5897486.html

[10] -https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory2americanyawp/chapter/primary-source-media-the-affluent-society/

[11] -https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html

[12] -http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war

[13] -https://oig.justice.gov/special/9712/ch01p1.htm

[14] -https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/history-of-americas-private-prison-industry-timeline/

[15] -https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/28/bill-clinton-calls-for-end-mass-incarceration

[16] -https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2010/07/26/128772646/deportations-higher-under-obama-than-bush

[17] -https://www.politico.com/story/2009/09/president-bush-responds-to-iraqi-invasion-of-kuwait-sept-11-1990-026997

[18] -https://www.rt.com/usa/231839-muslim-hate-crime-religion/

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