Police brutality has been the focus of attention in the news since my previous column.
Except for a scattering of informed interviewees, I’ve heard little from the news dealing with the “other” root causes of black people’s protests beyond police brutality and economic inequality.
Let us look at some of our nation’s history which is rarely discussed.
Slavery in the South did not end with the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War. The plantation owners, other former slave holders and Southern whites in general, simply passed Black Codes, local laws and ordinances which limited and restricted the freedoms of the recently “liberated” black slaves.
By 1870, only 39,000 African Americans owned small plots of land, while 4 million others did not.
At war’s end, President Andrew Johnson ordered all ex-slaves to either sign labor contracts with their former owners, known as sharecropping, or be evicted.
Even rights in Constitutional Amendments were circumvented by various state and local laws and ordinances. The white population “ruled the roost” no matter what.
For example, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constituition (1870) gave ex-slaves the right to vote, but Southern states’ poll taxes acted as a voting deterrent until they were finally prohibited 94 years later in 1964.
“Separate but (so-called) equal” schools in the South translated into underfunded black schools.
Since the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, “except as punishment for a crime,” the way was then open for the use of state prisons as a way for Southern businesses to continue operating as before.
Ex-slaves who violated local “Black Codes” soon became part of the local prison farm system.
Cotton and sugar crops in the United States today are still being harvested primarily by poorly educated black prisoners.
Texas, with the largest prison population in the United States, over 140,000, 44% of whom are black, has the most profitable money-making system, valued in 2014 at $89 million.
From the labors of Texas prisoners, meat, vegetables, soap, cotton, clothing, etc., roll out each year for companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Intel, Domino. Walmart, Imperial Sugar and many more, with each company receiving a federal tax credit as well.
In many people’s minds, this system of labor is a modern extension of what was once referred to as “plantation slavery.”
One area in our society where you would least expect racism to be a factor would be in our armed forces, but it does exist, in various forms.
Of the 1.3 million men and women in the U.S. military, 43% are black. But the officers at the very top ranks are almost all white and male.
There are 41 senior commanders in all the armed forces, but only two are black.
Historically, the reason given for black officers not being promoted to the very top ranks is their lack of experience in combat roles.
Traditionally, black officers have opted to rise in support positions such as supply or law rather than combat, primarily because they are preparing for a career in civilian life where having combat experience has little value.
Black enlisted airmen have disparity in their criminal justice system as well.
A 2016 U.S. Air Force survey revealed that black airmen are punished for violations in its criminal justice system at higher rates than others and receive harsher punishments than whites for similar violations.
No suggestions or changes have been made since. This disparity is also now “under study”… again.
Many other areas of disparity cry out for change, but what will each of us do about it?
There are good books on the subject of how white people can help to bring about positive change, such as “Uprooting Racism” by Paul Kivel.
As caring Jews, we must each find a way to reach out to bring about the positive changes needed in the lives of our black brothers and sisters. If any group knows discrimination, we Jews do!