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Matt Abrams

Professor Duncan

English Composition 2


On the History of Racism in the United States

African-Americans were not always Americans. In fact, it would take over two hundred

years from the first arrival of Africans into what is now the United States to the time that they

would all become legal citizens of the United States with the outlawing of slavery. Of course,

there had been black citizens before their emancipation, but just as well they were not equally

citizens after their emancipation either. Since this time, African-Americans have been subject to

legal and social discrimination unparalleled in American history. Though civil rights movements

of the past and present have fought against this discrimination, the social and economical aspects

still persist. Justin Arnold is a 19 year-old African-American student at the University of

Pennsylvania, and a friend of mine since our days in elementary school. Despite growing up in a

well-to-do town, and being well above the average household income, Justin has not been

excluded from the racism that so many endure. To understand what exactly those effects are, it is

important to first take a look at how racism originated in the United States. Unfortunately it is

commonplace for the average person to be aware of these issues without understanding or

attempting to learn about why they exist, or how they impact the country. Justin was willing to

share his stories of growing up in order to further this education.

The first known coming of Africans to the United States, or simply the colonies at that

time, was in 1619. About 20 Africans were taken aboard a ship, and brought back to Jamestown,

Virginia. There, they would be exploited for their labor, anad start an economical revolution

rooted in the enslavement of a people for the gain of another (Editors "Black History Timeline"

2009). Though schools are now starting to teach this as an atrocity, for a long time, this was

simply a fact of how things had to be. On this matter, I asked Justin what he was able to recall of

learning of slavery in school, both in terms of fact and attitude:

As a kid, learning about African American history and in particular slavery, I always

found it to be troubling. Obviously it was not the first time I had heard about the issues

that blacks faced, but learning about it from a textbook or teacher sort of brought the

issue to light and made it seem more real. As far as details and biases, I never really felt

as though the issue was talked about enough as being intertwined with White or

American history in general. For instance, I can recall many times as a kid learning about

the atrocities of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. But much less so the residual effects of these

problems and how much slavery actually affected the foundation of our country.

The United States education system is primary white in staff, well over 70%, and yet the student

body is only roughly half white, with that percentage still declining (Epstein). The implication of

this fact is that minds without the experience of racism or discrimination are unaware of

unsympathetic to the struggles of African-Americans, and as such have no intentions to change

the way in which the beginnings of the issue arose.

Slavery persisted from that year 1619 up until the passing of the 13th amendment in

1865, which abolished the practice altogether. During this time, it is often taught that there were
bloody rebellions by slaves themselves, of which only one was effective, Nat Turner’s rebellion

of 1831 (Editors "Black History Timeline" 2009). However, in teaching, both Justin and myself

were taught of this and other similar rebellions as bloody conflicts that led to the deaths of many

innocent whites, and only mentioning briefly the importance of the revolts in the progress toward

abolition. Asking Justin why he thought things might have been taught this way, and how he felt

about it personally, he answered:

Nat Turner’s rebellion was something that I don’t remember learning about until middle

school at the earliest. To be honest, I do not think slave rebellions were talked about

enough for me to even make a statement about any one in particular. But I can imagine

that different school districts teach about slave uprisings in different ways. I would also

like to think that in other districts, teachers are explaining these issues from the

standpoint of freedom and not focusing on the blood and violence.

Africans during this time were “proven” to be biologically inferior to whites, and this became the

justification for the subjugation of the black race over the next hundred and fifty years. This was

propagated by the rich, elite whites who wanted to ensure that desegregation and

enfranchisement would not exist for the blacks, which could jeopardize their wealth and safety.

This created intersectionality for the African-Americans at that time, as almost all were poor as

well. However, this has led to an interesting result in the current American view of

African-Americans; wealth creates a white-washed image of a black individual. Since Justin

himself grew up fairly comfortably, I asked him if he was often viewed as not truly black by his

I think that growing up the way I did definitely changed others’ perceptions of me. My

parents did a good job of exposing me to other black people who had done well for

themselves and a lot of the African American friends outside of my hometown are

because of this. As far as being accepted by other black people, I never felt particularly

excluded, intentionally anyway. But often times, I found that maybe I just didn’t fit in

with other black people who had greater financial struggles. The same situation is also

true for the way white people viewed me. I think they saw me as being more “white” that

other black people. Since I’ve been in college, however, I have had the opportunity to

meet other black people who have much more privilege that I ever had. I have also been

exposed to others who clearly had worse situations. Mostly, I think that colorism is g a

growing issue in the black community. And I think that colorism, couple with excluding

other blacks who maybe had more money than you, is leading to a greater divide within

the black community .

Society has created a mold for African-Americans that they do not like, yet they are displeased

when those molds are not filled.

The next great event in the history of African-Americans is the civil rights movement of

the 20th century. Spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and many

more, the movement was the biggest protest in history. The precursors to this movement were

prominent black figures of their time: Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and

W.E.B Du Bois. The former was a bestselling author, and a source of inspiration for technical

education blacks. The penultimate was the force behind the expansion of peanuts as a cash crop
in the Southern United States. The latter was critical of the ideology of these two, as they limited

the potential of African-Americans in his mind, and instead he stressed the need for

higher-education for blacks. However, to many students, only Carver is a familiar name, and his

fame is due to his use of peanuts, rather than what he did for the black community. During the

Harlem Renaissance, which saw the movement of blacks into urban centers across the country,

many blacks became prominent figures once more, with many more recognizable names this

time. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and many more are names that are still known to this

day, to people of all races. Unfortunately, they too had their fame undermined by white

interpretation and supremacy; they often performed for white audiences, or under the direction of

white managers and producers. Whites began to view even that which they enjoyed as basic and

uncivilized. On this subject, Justin’s opinions actually shed light on perhaps a growth toward

better education of black history:

In school I can remember being taught about lots of former black influencers on

American culture. In particular, in music we learned about Little Richard and how

African Americans contributed to the birth of music genres like country and rock and

roll. In this context, they were always discussed in a positive light and I specifically

remember learning about that in my seventh grade music class because it was something

that surprised me to learn about. In addition to this, the many other black pioneers in arts

and activism, Maya Angelou, and of course Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I think

the dichotomy of these two activists was exaggerated when we learned about civil rights.
Today, blacks have become much more integrated into society. Legal discrimination no

longer exists, and to many, there is no difference between their black and white friends.

However, problems still exist. Asking Justin, he states:

I think the issues that plague African Americans the most in this country are probably

just inability to sufficient resources. This isn’t a thing a lot of politicians speak about on a

normal basis, but in reality I think that lots of black people (Obviously not all) are in a

situation where there’s inadequate school systems, crime, poor healthcare options. And I

think that because of this, it’s a lack of opportunity that continues to plague African

Americans. Especially in terms of education, I don’t have specific statistics in mind but

looking at SAT scores or looking at literacy rates, one is able to see that there exists a

huge racial disparity. I think if we tackle these issues first, eventually the police brutality,

wage issues, and incarceration issues will slowly dwindle. It’s hard for me to imagine a

society where discrimination doesn’t exist, but i think that the lack of resources isn’t

talked about enough by people. I also know of another issue, lots of times people will

bring up the stat that something along the lines of 70% of black children are born outside

of marriage, and also the stat about the absence of black fathers. I think these issues are

real and serious, but often times it can be misinterpreted by white people to blame blacks

for everything (also it contributes to the stereotype of blacks being inherently true lazy)

and I think that people should be willing to have a discussion about why we see such

huge racial disparities in wealth, education, quality of life, etc. rather than just blaming

black people for everything.

In the public mind, welfare is free money for lazy blacks. This promotes anti-welfare platforms

(Neubeck) and gives African-Americans a smaller voice in the political environment.

Financially, blacks have been at a disadvantage historically. African-American households own

only a fraction of the wealth of their white counterparts (Hanks, Soloman, Weller, 2018).

Without access to the same resources, stereotypes of “lesserness” perpetuate. As urban centers

and areas of lower income have higher rates of crime, the lack of financial equality also creates

images of a crime-ridden race.

Taking a look at this picture, it may not be immediately clear what the men have in

common. In fact, all are convicted criminals. These photos are those chosen by media outlets to

cover the stories of their crimes; what may be clear however, is the difference in how the

African-Americans are portrayed versus the white men. The aforementioned notion of a

crime-ridden race is a positive feedback loop of displaying the men as a guilty party, and

continuing the image.

In media, politics, economics and socially, the African-American race has been

constantly on the lowest rung of the ladder. It’s effects are as deep reaching as the feeling of

inadequacy by a child. Justin shared the impact of being black growing up:

I think growing up as a kid, I always sort of struggled with being black and what that

means in this country. People have stereotypes of what a black person is supposed to look

like, sound like, and act like. And I think that this has changed me because I always felt

like I needed to prove myself beyond these stereotypes, that maybe others don’t have to.

As far as specific examples of racism that I’ve felt directly, I actually have very few. ...

An example occurred when I was even younger, while having a conversation about

colleges and our future plans, a friend of mine’s mom insinuated that I would simply get

into any college I wanted to just because I was black. As somebody too young to

understand what she was even referring to, I was just simply confused. But after talking

to my mother that day, I understood. This is the racism I think is seen most often today. It

doesn’t necessarily have to be someone believing they are somehow better than you

because of their whiteness. It can be expressions of being slighted, or envy, or disgust.

The highlighted areas of life in which African-Americans struggle are the areas in which change

can be found. The statistics of educational role models for minorities are a clear statement that

creating more jobs for African-Americans can teach equality to an entire generation. Allowing

the continuation of welfare and other programs can give the race a chance of economic equality.

These solutions do not need to be permanent as many fear; by instating them for a time, as the

problems become less pronounced, they will fix themselves at an accelerated rate. Children like
Justin can grow up with a sense of belonging, and those who grow up less fortunately than him

will need not fear for their survival. These are steps not toward an assisted black race, but toward

a unified human race.

Works Cited

Epstein, Kitty Kelly. "The whitening of the American teaching force: A problem of recruitment

or a problem of racism?." ​Social Justice​ 32.3 (101 (2005): 89-102.

Editors, History.com. “Black History Timeline.” ​History.com​, A&E Television Networks, 14

Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones.

Hanks, Angela, et al. “Systematic Inequality.” ​Center for American Progress,​ 2018,


Neubeck, Kenneth J. “Welfare Racism.” 2002, doi:10.4324/9780203906644.