Arby has been a professional writer and researcher for over 10 years, and her areas of interest are shamefully diverse.
Contradiction, Justification, and the Birth of a Nation
When the United States' Constitution was drafted, perhaps the most poignant and pertinent portion of it was the line that reads: “…all men are created equal.” These words are the very basis of what is generally understood to be the philosophy of the United States.
Except, there was a problem with the statement. Many rights and privileges were not actually extended to all men or people. In fact, only white men could own land, vote, or hold political office. How could the government justify what appeared to be a great contradiction between what was supposed to be and what actually was?
At that point in history, legally supported inequality was justified by scientists. Research was conducted to yield conclusions that served to “explain” why non-whites were excluded from the rights that were supposed to belong to everyone. Scholars posited that, through cranial measurements and other similar forms of research, it could be deduced that people with skin tones other than white were both physically and mentally inferior.
So, “all men” is a statement that could not apply to people of color (PoC) because they were not considered to be valid in the same ways as white men. Based on this so-called research, it seemed that white domination and the inferiority of all other people was a scientific or evolutionary inevitability. By this doctrine, white people were merely expressing the inherent traits of dominance, intelligence, and strength that had been given to them by God.
The Dred Scott ruling of 1857 also served to refute any claim of hypocrisy in the constitution by declaring that people of African ancestry could never become U.S. citizens. Therefore, they did not have to be treated with equality because they didn’t “count” anyway.
The first World’s Fair assisted in further perpetuating this idea of white superiority with its "evolutionary progress" display. The exhibit compared various cultures and societies around the world by placing them in order of advancement. Those cultures in which people had dark skin were placed at the beginning and white people were placed at the end, suggesting that white cultures were superior from an evolutionary standpoint.
Throughout the 1800s, immigrants from several different countries flowed into the United States. How would these new and differing people fit into the framework of white superiority that had been established? Many baseless and unsubstantiated scientific claims were created to respond to the increasing variety of immigrants, and to answer such questions.
A biologist named Charles Davenport claimed that as the blood of U.S. citizens mixed with the blood of immigrants, Americans would gradually become darker, smaller, and more prone to undesirable behaviors and criminal activities. Around the same time, a group known as the American Breeder’s Association made similar claims. According to the ABA, non-white races had inherent genetic tendencies toward criminal behavior.
After the Civil War, Black people were given citizenship eligibility, but they still were not allowed to vote, and they were not afforded the same rights as white people. In order to enjoy the full array of the rights and rewards that come with citizenship, one needed to be white. The line between who was white and who was not became less clear as people of all shades continued to arrive in the U.S., so courts began to hand down more specific rulings to differentiate who did and didn’t qualify as white.
In 1923, an Indian man by the name of Thind brought before the Supreme Court the very same “scientific evidence” that had classified whites as superior to prove that Indians were included in the Caucasian race. The court then moved the goalpost by ruling that whiteness could not actually be determined through science, but was a subjective thing that the “common man” could see. They claimed that while he may indeed be Caucasian, Thind was not white.
The repercussions of this verdict included the stripping of citizenship from Asian people who had already been naturalized. By law, people of Asian descent could not be Americans. These people were forced to bear the label of “foreigner,” no matter where they were born, what they accomplished, or how they behaved.
Fueling the Fires of Division and Inequality
What happened after World War II further cemented the idea of separation and inequality. Thousands of soldiers returned home to President Roosevelt’s Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (which was casually known as the "G.I. Bill"). The bill provided, among other things, easily accessible mortgage loans for servicemen.
Entire towns were constructed in speculation of the returning soldiers taking advantage of the bill. Many of the people who served in the war were Black Americans who rightfully expected to enjoy the benefits of the new legislation; however; they all but ran into a brick wall.
Not only were homes in these neighborhoods sold exclusively to whites, but it was highly unlikely that a Black person could even obtain a loan in the first place. Of course, the lack of access and denial of benefits to Black people was considered to be a basic aspect of running a business. At the time, national home appraisal guidelines stated that allowing Black people to reside in white neighborhoods would decrease the property values.
During this time, the government spent $120 billion on new housing, of which only about 2% went to non-whites. Homeownership became just another aspect of “whiteness.” Black people, however, did qualify for housing in urban projects, a.k.a “vertical ghettos.” If a Black family did manage to procure a home in a white neighborhood, the typical reaction of their new white neighbors was to relocate, which eventually opened up space for more Black families, which actually brought down property values in the area.
It is not hard to see where the “there goes the neighborhood” attitude that white people held towards PoC originated. It certainly wasn't due to some inherent deficit in the character or behavior of PoC. It was orchestrated by the powers-that-be. It was deliberate, and it was systematic.
Once combined, the bunk science, the prejudiced policies and laws, and the intentional exclusion fed into the creation of an environment where “we” are separate from “them,” and depending upon which group you belong to, your experience living in this country will vary greatly.
It is not surprising to hear an elderly white person speak of PoC in a negative manner as if it is just common knowledge that “those people” all behave in a certain way. These ideas were purposely planted and cultivated so that the illusion of true democracy could be sustained, and so white people wouldn't have to think too hard about racism. This also enabled white people to assuage any guilt for benefiting from a rigged system.
Author Ruth Wren, in “Everywhere I Go I’m White: Facing the Responsibility of White Privilege,” shares an excerpt from an article by Gary R. Howard that pierces the heart with its truth. He says, “…whites have had the power and the privilege to write our own versions of history… and…have institutionalized our ignorance in the name of education.” If you are a white American and that doesn't hit you in some kind of way, read it over again and again until it does.
- What Is White Privilege, Really? | Teaching Tolerance
Recognizing white privilege begins with truly understanding the term itself.
- The History of Racism in America | History | Smithsonian Magazine
These articles, videos, podcasts and websites from the Smithsonian chronicle the history of anti-black violence and inequality in the United States
- George Floyd and America’s Long History of Racial Injustice | Ford Foundation
It’s long past time to address the deep, systemic, and structural inequalities faced by black and brown people.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Arby Bourne
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 27, 2018:
Thanks, Howard. I find myself hopeful one day, cynical the next. I appreciate your comment very much.
Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on August 24, 2018:
Excellent analysis, Arby. Slavery was America's "original sin" and it has always effected us from the beginning of the colonies up to the present. Racism has always been with us though it usually is repressed for periods than explodes as it is doing. Will we ever be cured of this disease? My hopeful side says eventually but I do have my doubts. It will take many years of true dialogue to achieve it. maybe our children will achieve it.
The Logician from now on on August 23, 2018:
And thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts about what you wrote. I can relate to the fact you feel like nothing you say will satisfy me because I have the same sense, that nothing I say will satisfy you. I feel like you are going with this tactic that well this is how I feel and no facts to the contrary are worth acknowledging.
I would encourage you to base your opinions a little more on fact than emotion and rethink the title of this hubpage especially in reference to the history of humanity in the world.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 23, 2018:
T, I have a sense that nothing I say here will satisfy you. I feel like you are going with this "gotcha!" tactic to somehow "catch" me not acknowledging a particular thing in history or not understanding that "men" is generally used to mean "humanity" (I am aware). I shared an essay that I wrote on a particular topic, with particular parameters (it was actually a college assignment). I understand that you take issue with my thoughts and the way I have worded them. My apologies for not being as clear as I perhaps should have. I would encourage you to write your own essay on why folks like me have it all wrong. You seem to have many thoughts on the matter. I say that without any sarcasm, and with all sincerity. Thanks again for your comments.
The Logician from now on on August 23, 2018:
Another thing, you reference the declaration's statement of "all men are created equal"
you are permitted your interpretation of that statement but in doing so i think it would only be fair to mention there is solid evidence that conflicts with your interpretation of it so readers could decide for themselves who is right.
The concept that all men are created equal was a key to European Enlightenment philosophy. Most people have interpreted "all men" to mean humanity and you have conflated rights and privileges with being created equal. One can argue that Jefferson and the other authors of the Declaration meant to exclude women and children and blacks but within the context of the times it is clear that "all men" was a euphemism for "humanity," and thus those people, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, who used the Declaration of Independence to demand equality for African Americans and women seized the historical as well as the moral high ground.
The Logician from now on on August 22, 2018:
With respect, If you look at what you said from a readers point of view that is not what you actually said.
“The main thing I disagree with in your comment is that white people are oppressed or have experienced anything akin to what POC in our country have experienced as a group.”
I would accept that you might have meant to say “anything in this country akin the POC experience but what you actually said isn’t that, at least not clearly.
Be that as it may, what really bothers me is hearing how white cops kill blacks when the truth is there is no comparison whatsoever of that rare occurrence to black on black murder and violence daily nationwide. It’s like whites are to blame for black slavery while you never hear mention of the fact that the Africans enslaved their own population and then sold them to the slave traders who weren’t about to risk their lives hunting black Africans down in the jungles. Just who are the real barbarians in this story ... well for sure it wasn’t one or the other but both.
Speaking of this country only a fraction of the enslaved Africans brought to the New World came to British North America, perhaps as little as 5% of the total. The vast majority of slaves were sent to the Caribbean sugar colonies, Brazil, or Spanish America. And I misspoke when I said Americans brought the slaves here, actually the slave traders in west Africa where the American slaves came from were Muslim. The buyers weren’t European but middle eastern.
There is a flip side to your scenario of the POC experience in this country which is never mentioned in the haste to blame everything on white supremacy and that is the fact that where would the the descendants of slavery here in the US be if it weren’t for the northern white morality, the multitude of lives whites sacrificed to free the slaves, the benefits of living in the greatest country on earth despite its flaws as compared to the life they’d have had as descendants of slaves in tribal West Africa? You tell me, why is there never any mention of that?
The bottom line is that people are confusing white supremacy with the sinful nature of all humanity which can be pure evil no matter what the race. The black African tribes that enslaved their neighbors and sold them to slave traders, was that “Black Supremacy” ? According to your reasoning it had to be.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 22, 2018:
T, with respect, I said "in our country." Thank you for your comment.
The Logician from now on on August 22, 2018:
White people haven't experienced anything akin to what POC in our country have experienced as a group?
Hmmm. Last I checked the 6 million Jews torture and extinguished in brutal concentration camps were white, 20 million Russians killed by Stalin, I think you could say they were white. Or is it because they were white their experience doesn't count. From what I've read, aand please correct me if I am wrong, it was the black African tribes who enslaved rival tribes and sold them to Americans who would transport them to America. Without their cooperation would whites have been able to trade in slaves?
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 22, 2018:
Thanks for reading and for your thoughts, AB. Ken, I could not agree more that it's nice to have discourse about touchy subjects without devolving into incivility. Cheers!
bradmaster - my apologies, I can't always get here to respond to comments right away. The main thing I disagree with in your comment is that white people are oppressed or have experienced anything akin to what POC in our country have experienced as a group. Thanks again for taking time to engage in conversation about this article!
Brad on August 22, 2018:
I guess you don't disagree.
Ken Burgess from Florida on August 21, 2018:
All you say is true in your article, I was not really making an effort to dispute that, merely trying to broaden the perspective and viewpoint.
What happened in America was not some terrible crime that did not occur elsewhere in the world, it occurred everywhere else in the world, and in most parts of the world still exists today.
For example South Africa in the span of my lifetime went from Apartheid to its current government voting through motion to seize land from white farmers without compensation.
'We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land'
South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said he would speed up the transfer of land from white to black owners after his inauguration, by force if necessary.
The message of your article exposes 'white supremacy' in America, as if it exists in a bubble, as if this is a crime of 'whites' only. It is a crime of every dominant/majority 'race' against other races, religions, and tribes throughout human history.
It is white people, and western civilization, that have come as far as any other to trying to eradicate racism, along with many other injustices. If one truly looks at the rest of the world and how cultures operate, how other societies and 'races' operate, this becomes clear.
Thank you for allowing me to respond, and offer a counter argument, it is nice to be able to have a discussion on such a volatile topic without being attacked or denigrated.
A B Williams from Central Florida on August 21, 2018:
I was about to respond in a similar manner to Ken, as far as slavery having little to do with race and much to do with power and wealth. I'd only add to what has been sufficiently covered here, if you wade into the area of supremacy or specifically, white supremacy, (here in the U.S.) you need not look any further than the Democratic Party.
I went to see 'Death of a Nation' over the weekend, I recommend all see this movie, it is eye-opening....to say the least!
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 21, 2018:
I am aware of the things you mentioned. However, this is an essay focused on one particular topic: systemic racism in the United States - and only particular aspects of it, at that. I enjoyed reading your comment, and agree that all of those things are important parts of history that should be studied.
However, I don't believe those issues are necessarily relevant to the point I was trying to make via this essay. It's kind of like when you say "we should help the refugees" and someone says "yeah, but what about veterans?!" Caring about or speaking up about one injustice or atrocity doesn't mean you are ignorant to or care less about others. It's not a contest. :)
I do respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree with your assertion that white supremacy was not a factor here.
All that said, thank you so much for taking time to read and comment thoughtfully and civilly. I appreciate it very much.
Brad on August 21, 2018:
Where in my comments do you disagree the most?
Ken Burgess from Florida on August 21, 2018:
Racism came into existence in large part to make slavery a more acceptable and palatable concept, especially to the more well educated and reasoned middle and upper classes that came into existence as civilization moved toward the industrial age.
While whites suffered from something nearly as bad in America and throughout Europe known as Indentured Servitude, which was nothing less than being the property of another, just as slavery, with no more rights than a slave in most instances.
Indentured servitude was an oftentimes brutal labor system in which people paid for their passage to the New World by servitude for a fixed term of years. It was widely employed until the 18th century in the British colonies in North America and elsewhere. I leave you to do more research on the topic, it is just as ghastly as slavery IMO.
of course slavery had little to do with race, and much to do with power and wealth. Blacks in Africa that sold other blacks into slavery, there were black owners of black slaves in America, all the while throughout America's history racism and laws in support or against it waxed and waned.
As the world became Industrialized, machines and assembly lines replaced slavery and servitude. Still racism lingered on. Just as slavery lingers on today.
Arabs in countries like Libya still force blacks into slavery, still castrate them. This is as much a product of racism as anything that occurred in America, it is not something that was created in this country, nor does it exist merely in this country... where-ever cultures and races clash such concepts, practices and laws come into being just as religions clash, and political systems clash.
In summary, there was no 'white supremacy' there was perhaps a Protestant supremacy, or a Power and Wealth supremacy which was pretty harsh on Irish Catholics, brutal on Native Americans, and exploited the Chinese as well as anyone.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 20, 2018:
While I don't agree with all of your assertions, I genuinely appreciate you taking time to really read the article and formulate a thoughtful comment. Your comment reminds me that the pendulum always swings. We tend to go from one extreme to another before we can rest in a place that's more balanced.
Brad on August 20, 2018:
The Declaration of Independence is not really a part of the US constitution, but it was the reason that the founder justified their treason against their country of England.
So is it a "legal document"?
No--it makes for fantastic rhetorical flourishes however.
The Declaration of Independence is spiritual and inspirational, while the constitution is practical and enforceable.
There is no way for "All men to be equal". First, the statement fails even in the constitution. Because, the constitution didn't include women, and they counted black men as 3/5 of the man.
The founders weren't for slavery, but because of all that had to be done in such a short time, they agreed that it was better to live with it.
So, "Men" actually means men, and not mankind which would have included women. All men were not equal because clearly black men were not equal.
Also because of slavery even the concept of equality was not there.
It took the 13th amendment to set the black slaves free, but that still didn't make them equal.
The 15th amendment gave Black men the right to vote, but not women of any color. That makes the phrase, "All Men Are Created Equal" sexist at the least.
The 19th amendment 50 years later would give the women the right to vote.
But none of this gave equality, not even the 14th amendment. Why, because it still took the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote. Also, the 14th amendment didn't stop the miscegenation laws of marriage.
To your statement of Race not being genetic or biological, I agree because science lacks the crispness of classification to differentiate race.
As for Racism today, there is no foundation in the word or in its use. The real fact is that people don't like everyone. They will look to a difference or attribute and identify by it or they will rail against it.
Let us use the biggest example of that Barrack Obama. Technically, the man, will assume man under these day of gender confusion, came from a Black father, and a White mother. So technically he wasn't neither white or black. Yet, they called him the first black president. And that probably came from our history, when a drop of black blood made the person a black person.
One then can drill down on this conundrum to say that genetics and biology resolve simply into the attribute of color. If you look black, you must be black. And that is reality through the years.
The point is that the attributes that are visual in nature are the attributes that become the points of racism with color being the most predominant trait. The term racism has devolved to any citing that puts a difference so racism becomes interchangeable with sexism, genderism and others.
To address your conclusion, I would say that race is used to wield power over others, but today the social re-engineering by the left has turned the power backwards. Now Whites are the target, and ironically it is mainly the whites on the left doing it.
So flipping power from white to black or non white misses the issue of equality. At no point did the reversal attain equality which should have been the goal. The result was to change who are the bigots. Before it was the Whites, but now it is the Blacks or non whites.
Equality should have been the goal, or the prize, but Power replaced it.
just a thought!