Racism and Its Effect on Society
Throughout world history, governments have violated and ignored the human and civil rights of their citizens. In some instances, they demonstrated this disregard through customs, etiquette, and racial caste systems that denied human dignity and respect. In most cases, in addition to these customs, segregation rules and laws were established.
Governments have also endorsed the extermination (ethnic cleansing) of entire classes or races of people. Racism is devastating to a country and its culture. Racism causes tremendous moral, cultural, and economic suffering to a country. When the seeds of hatred and ethnocentrism are planted and fostered in society, it negatively affects every area of life.
Jim Crow set the tone in America.
In a relevant example, white supremacy in America extends over centuries, and even the abolition of slavery could not end racism. Instead, it permeated throughout society in other ways in a racial caste system known as Jim Crow.
More than a set of laws, it was a way of life that kept people of color from exercising their rights as full citizens. Jim Crow sent a message that whites were superior to other races, particularly the black race, in all ways, including behavior, intelligence, morality, and social status. The laws were so pervasive that they regulated every aspect of life, including socialization, sexual relations, marriage, housing education, entertainment, use of public facilities, and voting rights.
Those that took a stand against white supremacy risked threats, intimidation, violence, and murder. Legalized racism from federal and state governments continued in the United States until the late 1960s. Yet, even in the 21st century, legislators continue to pass racially discriminatory laws as evidenced by the 200+ segregation cases the Department of Justice is currently pursuing.
"Segregationist policy taxes all citizens not only on a financial level but on a civil, mental, and emotional level with reduced property values, a strain on community relations, tension and violence, depression and anxiety, the desperation of being deprived of the most basic of needs, the threat of arrest and conviction, and the confusion of changing law in rapid succession. The cost of ignorance and abuse is way too high; and Americans simply cannot afford the bill anymore." (Lugo, 2014.)
When Racism is Allowed to Thrive
Racism does not allow for a collective contribution of its citizens, which is a critical component of a country’s development and success. If a class of people is not allowed to be educated, they cannot make important contributions to society in technological, economical, and medical arenas. The denial of quality education to certain groups of people only serves to obstruct the economic progress of a nation.
If a class of people is not allowed to participate culturally, we fail to understand and appreciate our differences and similarities. We become increasingly ethnocentric. We fail to develop socially, unable to get along with our fellow man. No matter how hard a society might try to separate classes or races, the bottom line is that, eventually, we will, at least on some occasions, share the same space. Therefore, it is imperative that we are accepting, not merely tolerant, of others. The connotation for tolerance is that one must acknowledge the other, whereas acceptance encourages complete participation and fellowship.
Racism destroys our morality. No matter what a person’s culture or religious belief, racism is based on hypocrisy. To illustrate this point, the Christians have a commandment, issued by Jesus, to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Most religions have similar philosophies governing their social morality. Yet, there is the hypocrisy in going out into the night to burn crosses or participating in hate crimes. Racism is powerful enough to undermine their Golden Rule and turn it upside down.
Many times we, as societies and individuals, think that racism will dissipate on its own; so, we ignore it, repeatedly. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., made a profound statement in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
"When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people, you will understand why we find it difficult to wait (for change)."
His message is so clear that racism is most damaging to the children in the society in which they live.
The pathology is dehumanization. The cure is humanism.
Share your opinion
What method is most effective in reducing racism and discrimination?
Racism in the 21st Century: 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes
- AP poll: U.S. majority have prejudice against blacks
Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds.
What the Future Holds
"The issues of slavery, segregation, and discrimination cannot be viewed within their own individual time capsules. To gain proper perspective, these issues must be viewed collectively as devastating to our culture and threatening to democracy." (Lugo, 2014.)
I do not claim to have the ultimate answer to or a cure for racism. Evidently, neither does the world around me since racism raises its ugly head more times than one can count and in more ways than one can imagine. Even one act is intolerable for us. One cannot regulate thought or feeling through legislation. Only certain actions can be regulated, like the assurance of voting rights, the dismantling of racist policies, and punishment for those who perpetuate violent attacks and commit civil rights violations.
It may be bold to say that sometimes legislation serves to hide racism. People will find a way to practice it. For example, an employer could still feasibly say one person is more qualified than another but could be, in reality, favoring one race over another. Laws cannot force people to allow their children to play with the children of a race they may feel is inferior. Laws cannot stop people from cursing and shouting racial slurs at one another.
It is my sincere hope that one day, little by little, humanity will learn from the many tragedies that have been perpetuated in the name of racism. The rise of multicultural education is a great way to start. We need to understand the psychological, historical, and individualistic dynamics of racism first and then encourage others to take a stand against it publicly.
It serves no purpose to claim to believe in something and not have the courage to practice it. It serves no purpose to limit anti-racism to one’s refusal to participate in racist acts because it shows a lack of responsibility and ownership in one’s community.
We must be bold and persistent. We must take a stand and make a commitment to ourselves, our children, and our society to oppose racism when we see it and to seek for ways to eliminate it. The human community cannot afford to lose one more member to the evils of racism.
Associated Press. "AP poll: U.S. majority have prejudice against blacks." USA Today. Oct. 27, 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2012/10/27/poll-black-prejudice-america/1662067/.
George, Charles. Life Under the Jim Crow Laws. San Diego. Lucent. 2000.
Letter from Birmingham Jail. (n.d). The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
Lugo, Liza. How Do Hurricane Katrina's Winds Blow?: Racism in 21st Century New Orleans. ABC-CLIO. 2014.
© 2012 Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD