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The racial policy of the United States has long historical roots, beginning with the oppression of the Indigenous population of America—their persecution, massacres, and the creation of reservations. After that, people from the African continent began to be brought as slaves; slavery was abolished by law only in 1883. Nowadays, laws regarding racial discrimination in the United States prohibit inequality, but in fact, they merely state racial differences. In addition, the problem remains in the minds of the people. Certain similarities may be detected between the experience of African-Americans and the challenges that confront Muslim-Americans today. This paper focuses on a range of historical events to reveal the parallels between them.
The Civil Rights Movement and 20th Century Discrimination
US presidents over the course of the country’s history have tried to address discrimination. One point of emphasis on Hoover’s policies as fair social policy. In 1929, the president held a series of meetings with large industrialists and forced them to promise not to reduce the wages of African-American employees (Horwitz). In 1932, the Great Depression reached its apogee: 12 million unemployed, a twofold decline in industrial production, and thousands of bankrupt companies and failing banks (Horwitz). Companies and banks that the president had tried to save with state infusions declared bankruptcy after a time of painful agony. It was not possible to keep wages at the same level. The unprecedented increase in public spending forced the Hoover administration to sharply raise taxes.
Roosevelt and his “New Deal” reform marked the emergence of the modern social state and the radical renewal of the social doctrine of liberalism. The core of these changes consisted of curbing the destructive market element and selfishness of narrow-group proprietary interests in the name of social stability and justice. It is noteworthy that the government refused to include provisions that might be inconsistent with the principle of equality of rights for white and colored workers in matters of employment. However, these discriminatory measures were excluded only in the codes concerning large enterprises, transport, and mining industries (Foner 718). The ability to discriminate against colored workers in small or private enterprises remained intact.
President Truman’s domestic policy was aimed at alleviating the socio-economic and racial contradictions in American society. In 1945, he addressed the Congress, proposing a number of measures to increase payment, Social Security, exclusion of discrimination in hiring on racial or religious grounds, and housing construction (Foner 887). The so-called “Economic Bill of Rights” was rejected by Congress as too expensive. The only exception was the employment law of 1946, which placed the government in charge of ensuring full employment.
Eisenhower’s presidency was also marked by racism. Under the influence of McCarthyism, the attacks on progressive forces that became a characteristic feature of the postwar domestic policy of American monopoly capital, fascist, racist, and other reactionary organizations grew steadily as militarism increased in the United States. All of these elements fiercely defended racism, seeking to inhibit the liberation movement with the help of terror, even to the point of the physical destruction of the most active fighters against racism. In the country, there was a bloody tradition of suppressing black people—the so-called lynch court. Moreover, in 1956, a block of States’ Rights Democratic Party representatives managed to obstruct the bill to prohibit the lynching of blacks.
Martin Luther King, the outstanding leader of the Civil Rights Movement, bitterly stated in 1963 that African-Americans lived on a “lonely island of poverty” in the “ocean of material prosperity” and felt themselves to be outlaws on their land (Patterson 78). The political leaders of the bourgeoisie were compelled to admit the truth of this statement, and President Kennedy noted that a Negro child born in the United States had half the chance of getting a profession, but was twice as likely to become unemployed. Racial segregation and discrimination affected not only black workers but also their families. For example, a black farmer received half as much income as a white one. An African-American with higher education received an average of almost 1.5 times less annually compared to a white specialist of the same qualification. The sphere of activity of doctors, teachers, lawyers, and other representatives of the black intelligentsia was still limited by the borders of the black ghetto and black clientele.
African-Americans continued to live in the midst of the most brutal police terror, persecution, and mockery, equally noted in all states. Congress was forced to deal with the crimes of the local police in relation to the African-American population of the country. However, not only were the local governments and the police of individual states to blame for cruelties and lawlessness but the federal government itself directly or indirectly contributed to the persistence of racial discrimination and subsequent segregation (Foner 969). Racial discrimination flourished in federal institutions as well as hospitals, schools, transportation, and housing facilities built with treasury funds. Private firms that grossly violated the constitutional rights of black citizens of the United States received millions of dollars in contracts on an annual basis from the federal government.
All of the above circumstances show that the general democratic endeavor faced by African-Americans was the need to fight against racial oppression in all spheres of public life. The black population no longer wanted and could not tolerate the state of affairs while not only the internal but also the international environment contributed to the rise of the struggle for liberation. Among the most important factors in this regard, above all, one may note the victorious national liberation movements in Africa and Asia, as well as in socialist countries. The Black Panther Party, an African-American organization that aims to promote the civil rights of the black population, may be noted as one example of the struggle against discrimination.
Discrimination in the 21st Century
The new millennium was marked by the inauguration of a new US president—George Bush. The growing criticism of his social policy was associated with the rejection of a broad list of international obligations, for example, the refusal of the United States to participate in the UN conference against racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia (“Full text: George Bush’s Address on the Start of War”).
Juxtaposing the issues regarding African-American discrimination with American Muslims, it is possible to note that the latter are just as patriotic and as integrated into American society as any other ethnicity in the United States. According to the estimates of the Pew Research Center, there were about 3.3 million Muslims in 2015 composing approximately 1 percent of the country’s total population (Lipka). Judging by the fact that the leader of the organization of black Muslims, “Nation of Islam” Farrakhan, held the so-called “Million Man March” in 1995, protesting against US social policy, no significant changes had occurred. The election of Barack Obama as US president did not solve the problem, it only aggravated it.
Nowadays, the United States continues to experience social upheaval related to discrimination against the black population of the country. A new form of racism—police racism—is once again putting people on the streets, demanding the expansion of civil rights, reforming the justice system, and eliminating social and economic inequalities. In 2015, a meeting in Washington was attended by several thousand people on the 20th anniversary of the “Million Man March.” The Black Lives Matter movement can also be noted. The reason for the mass action was not only the persistence of social problems but also the growth of police violence against African-Americans over the past year. During the presidency of Obama, the American police transformed into a severe machine, in fact, a criminalized structure, the representatives of which are likely to receive a license for violence in advance. Shooting unarmed people, including children and adolescents, and beating pregnant women, not to mention more cruel actions—all became the norm of life in the United States. Violence against the weak and indifference to the suffering of people were the reasons for the abuse of power by law enforcement officers.
Since September 11, 2001, and attacks in many European countries, discrimination and hostility toward Muslims have become commonplace. The so-called “Arab Spring” and ISIL presented the Islamic world amid scenes of violence and bloodshed and became a platform for all sorts of dangerous actions. Another example involves the hundreds of North Dakota residents who opposed the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline leading from North Dakota to Illinois. Among the protesters were representatives of the Indian reservation Standing Rock, who argued that the construction affects their sacred burial grounds. In response, policemen were forced to use water cannons against a group of demonstrators gathered at a bridge over the Missouri River near the Indian settlement of Cannonball.
Before and after the most recent presidential election, President Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States as well as importuning mosques to resolve the problem. However, earlier in his speech, the president argued that “we will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet” (Trump). The president limited the entry into the country of citizens from countries with a predominantly Muslim population such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Sudan for 90 days.
The executive order issued by President Trump imposing restrictions on entry into the country for citizens of several Muslim countries not only caused protests inside the United States but also provoked a reaction in the international arena. Thousands of Americans took part in demonstrations in several airports in the country. World media and politicians condemned the order, claiming that it is directed against Muslims and discriminates against them as terrorism has no nationality, and discrimination is not the answer. As many countries believe, accepting refugees is a duty based on solidarity. However, Trump answered that this is a false interpretation as his orders will help to protect the country’s borders and more effectively combat the terrorist threat.
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Thus, the presented events show that discrimination in the United States remains a rather complicated issue. Even though certain laws and regulations are accepted by the government, unequal treatment lives in the minds of people and in the system itself. There is a definite transition of discrimination toward African-Americans to Muslim-Americans despite their different backgrounds and timeframe.
“Full text: George Bush’s Address on the Start of War.” The Guardian, 2003, Web.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. W.W. Norton, 2014.
Lipka, Michael. “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and Around the World”. Pew Research Center, 2017, Web.
Patterson, Thomas E. We the People: An Introduction to American Government. 9th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Horwitz, Steven. “Hoover’s Economic Policies.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Web.
Trump, Donald J. “President Donald J. Trump’s Address to A Joint Session of Congress.” CNN, 2017, Web.