Rising political tensions, a strengthening right-wing, and Donald Trump. Racism is as big of a topic as it’s always been. What we often like to ignore though is that racism never decreased nor that it’s at its peak now. Previous US Presidents cleverly used underlying racism and racist notions to collect votes and carve a way to hell for most of the black population in the US for the past decades.
When talking about African-American stereotypes, several things are often heard, not only from the right-wing but from ordinary citizens that would never claim to be racist. Not always out in the open, of course, but spoken between the lines and thought behind closed doors. There is high unemployment “because they are lazy”, there are kids without fathers “because that’s how irresponsible they are”, there are high crime rates, drug use and no-go areas “because they are outright dangerous and shady individuals”. We have heard those things to varying degrees, and some may even go so far as to back up their claims with statistics to prove that African-Americans are this or that.
What these arguments ignore though, is that while there are always statistics to back up whatever you want them to back up, the cause of these issues and the inequality that the black community faces are entirely made by white Presidents on the back of disguised semi-racist voters that love their stereotypes simple and the solutions clean-cut.
The Racist Stigmatization of African-Americans
Author Ibram X Kendi, in this book “Stamped from the Beginning”, identifies several racist camps in the US throughout the past decades, paving the way for the increased acceptability of white supremacy and racist tensions to this day. There were the “Segregationists” claiming black people were to blame for their situation, such as inequality and poverty. The “Assimilationists” claimed that while blacks were partly to blame, so was racial discrimination. Later on, we would also face the popular notion of being color-blind to any kind of racism or inequality that may exist.
All these notions still operate very much on racist ideas and stereotypes. Former Presidents such as Nixon and Ford used these ideas to appeal to racism in their voters without explicitly naming the issue at hand or even mentioning race. Simply by promising law and order or a crackdown on crime in any way. Of course, nobody was saying African-Americans were the cause of unrests or crime, but that’s what everyone heard.
However, the turning point came in the late 70s with then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, explicitly connecting black people with crime in his campaign. Ibram X Kendi points out how Reagan used the case of Linda Taylor, who received $8,000 through welfare fraud, as an example, claiming she actually received $150,000 tax-free. A crass exaggeration, but functional in using racial sentiment and the longing for security for his gains.
Inequality is evident at every turn of US history. Racial disparity didn’t just end with the civil rights movement in ’65, leaving many black families and households confined to poverty or low-income jobs if at all. Reagan worsened the economic situation of those low-income households, many of which were African-American, by cutting back government funding and programs designed to support those in lower income or even poverty. Instead, he focused on tax cuts for the rich and military funding (sound familiar?). He also officially started “The War on Drugs” in 1982, even though it was not a priority topic at the time with drug crimes actually on the decline.
The results were devastating for black families throughout the nation. According to “Stamped from the Beginning”, the average income for black families fell 5,2% and the War on Drugs further increased issues. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, signed by Reagan in ’86, saw possession of as little as 5g of Crack punished with at least five years incarceration, while the threshold possession of Cocaine was 500g. Crack was a cheap drug used by low-income individuals, cocaine was the drug of choice for predominantly white rich Americans. This went along with the publicly enforced image of criminals on crack being a sincere security concern, pushing the racial divide further apart.
The Black Population Reaps what White Men Sow
In 1996, most of Crack users were white or Latino. And when we say most, we mean almost 70% of them. Yet over 80% of the court cases in the same year involved black people. That’s not a coincidence, that’s racist policy that perpetuates throughout US history. Over time, crime rates and incarceration rates were at odds, making the prison inmate numbers explode since the 80s. Most of them, to this day, are African-American, although drug use is not a matter of race. We like to point out that many black families indeed have to live without fathers, yet often enough we are the ones incarcerating them before pointing the finger.
Crime isn’t racially motivated either, it’s all about wealth and social status. The National Longitudinal Youth Survey concludes that in the 70s and 80s more black males were involved in violent crimes than white males. This is one of the statistics right-wing politicians would use to drive their point home and to further stoke racism. However, if we look at the data from a different angle, like employment rate, the statistics will simply show that it’s a matter of employment, not of race.
Racism is a Homemade Issue
African-Americans always faced prejudice and racism in the United States, it’d be foolish to say otherwise. A huge number of low-income households, absent fathers, and crime rates are not caused by the color of their skin in the sense that it’s somehow “in their nature” as many racists would like to see it. It’s because policymakers in the US have always had a hand to deepen the hole they were in, to sneakily fuel racial divide by inequal policies ignoring the actual situation of the country. Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States hasn’t changed all too much in that regard either. As long as policies and laws keep people in a vicious cycle of mandatory minimum sentencing, confusing and overly harsh drug laws, prejudice and neglect, this is unlikely to change.
Donald Trump and today’s times are not new by any means, they are just the symptom of a much larger and ongoing issue.
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