Racial inequality in the United States is still a contentious issue. The demographic population of the US may be a possible explanation for this social ill because as commentator Ben Wattenberg importunes, the United States has become the “world’s first multinational society” (Lee, 2012, p. 2).
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Today, most nations across the world look up to the United States in awe of its immigration status in view of the relevant laws and policies. The US has comfortably managed to accommodate all races from Blacks to White to Asians and Hispanics within its borders. However, racial inequality remains the greatest vulnerability suffered by the United States’ democracy. Despite being the orchestrator of the Universal Bill of Rights, the US suffers gravely from a systemic cancer of racial imparity.
This malevolence dates back to the ages of slavery, during which the role of the united states cannot be underestimated as it had the largest number of slaves within a localized geographical location (the South). Moreover, even after the ban of slavery in the US, it was notoriuious for continued infringement of human rights by discrimination even after the abolishment of slavery after the Civil War (Vorenberg, 2001, p.104).
Nevertheless, since the 1960s, the United States has come a long way in the abolishment of discrimination and bias based on diversities. There have been three key legislations, viz. The Omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Free Housing Act of 1968 that assisted in the fight against racial iniquality by legislating the desired socio-political, economic, and cultural outcome of a free United States.
After the Civil War, Americans were under the impression that the social ills leading to the civil strife that culminated in the war would come to an immediate end.
However, the continuation of these social atrocities until as late as 1998 was proof that it would take more than just a few new laws and declaration to rid people of the racial bias that had been so deeply entrenched in their minds and lives. The history of slavery dates back to the early seventeenth Century when a Dutch ship arrived in the New World loaded with African slaves (Buell, 2004).
At one point, there was a severe shortage of labor to run the plantations and these human machines were perceived as the only way out. They were strong, resilient, and clearly built for hard labor and harsh living conditions, which suited their maters’ needs. Consequently, slave trade soon became a lucrative business and ships continued to arrive with armies of Africans who at first had been sold off by their own communities into slavery as outcasts, but as the demand grew, the slave dealers began to kidnap slaves for trade.
This went on for more than three centuries and so by the time slavery was being abolished in the early 20th century, whites had become accustomed to treating African Americans with contempt. There was a time in history when it was not conceivable that an African could read.
The white masters did not believe that slaves had the intelligence to grasp any knowledge. With this kind of background, it is in fact commendable that the world has come so far as to accept black people in almost equal standing. In The United States, Blacks are actually ranking above Hispanics and some Asians in terms of development (Sowell, 2013). However, the issue of racial inequality still survives and policy makers are running out of ideas on what laws to install to get rid of racial inequality for the last time.
However, if history is an indicator, legislation alone shall not solve this problem. Immediately after the Civil War, policy makers came up with the Omnibus Civil Rights Act, of 1964. This Act is the mother of all antidiscrimination legislations and it covered racial, ethnic, and even sexual discrimination (Lee, 2012). Title VIII is an addendum to the Act and it tackles discrimination at the workplace, religious discrimination, and sexual harassment at the workplace.
It also made segregation illegal and empowered the Attorney General to institute suits against institutions and agencies such as schools and employers who discriminated against their students and employees respectively, based on race among other variables. The second Act was the Voting Rights Act 1965. This Act established federal regulation over matters that were hitherto reserved for state and local jurisdiction only, such as political issues to do with voting and minorities’ rights.
In 2006 when it was most recently amended, the Republicans in the House sought to abrogate the federal oversight capacity of the Judicial Department to no avail. The third Act was the Federal Housing Act of 1968 “that prohibited racial discrimination in the sale and renting of housing” (Bonilla-Silva, 2006, p.94). It covers all houses including those that are individually owned and occupied.
Unfortunately, these legislations did not successfully eliminate racial inequality because although the law required compliance in certain institutional settings, it could not act as a watchdog in every social aspect of racism. For instance, it could not prevent racist comments between individual citizens.
This shortcoming in the law’s capacity to address the issue of racial inequality adequately culminated in several instances of hate crimes that were egregious violations of human rights policies and in the case of James Byrd Jr., it cost his life (Petersen, 2011).
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In 1998, at Jasper County in Texas, three white men, viz. Lawrence Russell Brewer, John William King, Shawn Berry killed James Byrd in a shocking act that was described by one prosecutor as psychopathic racism. These three men were out on a drinking spree when they saw a black James Byrd walking down the street.
They offered him a ride and a beer then began to ridicule him with racist sentiments (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005). At first, he ignored the barbs, but eventually a fight ensued, which culminated in his throat being slit, black paint being smeared on his face and finally, being chained by his feet to the back of their truck and dragged for three or so miles until he died after getting decapitated.
Soon afterwards, investigations began and since it was such an egregious act of racial violence, the Federal Bureau of Investigations coupled up with the Justice Department and the state to nub the perpetrators. Eventually, the three men were arrested, prosecuted, and the jury found them guilty of murder (Welch, 2007).
King and Brewer were given the death penalty as the jury ruled unanimously that they should be put to death, while Berry got a life sentence. One of the questions asked of the jury in such instances is whether it believes that the perpetrator shall kill again if not put to death first.
Racial inequality continues to be a contentious issue in the US democracy and statistics indicate a consistent pattern since from as early as 1968 up to date. If a hierarchy were to be applied, whites would be on top, followed by blacks in some instances, and the other races respectively. Worryingly, the newer races in the US economy are already surpassing or threatening to surpass the African American population in matters of poverty and employment (Lee, 2012, p. 7).
However, the solution perhaps lies in education as educated individuals, irrespective of race, seem to live in a respectable standard, but this is also not a foolproof remedy because there is still a gap between equally educated counterparts among the races. Consequently, more time is required for further unification of races in addition to all the preventive legislations and policies aimed at eradicating racial inequality as well as education. As time lapses, people’s attitudes seem to improve by abandoning long-held idiosyncrasies.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2006). Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Buell, T. (2004). Slavery in America: A Primary Source History of the Intolerable Practice of Slavery. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2005). Hate Crime Statistics 2004. Web.
Lee, C. (2012, May). Racial Inequality: America’s Achilles’ Heel- Full Chapter You are here Today’s American: How Free? Web.
Petersen, J. (2011). Murder, the Media, and the Politics of Public Feelings: Remembering Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Sowell, T. (2013). Intellectuals and Race. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Vorenberg, M. (2001). Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Welch, K. (2007). Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23(3), 276-288.