The United States is a racist country, it always has been. Over time, a bunch of laws have been passed in attempts to rectify that truth, but they always fail. The reason they fail is that they are not meant to provide an equal and lasting footing for black people because they are simply window dressing: unenforceable edicts that few white people ever follow. It’s kind of like trying to paint lipstick on a pig that simply wants to look and feel better after waddling through a pig sty for more than two-hundred-and-forty-years. But it is still a pig.
The first attempt, officially known as ‘The Reconstruction’, was implemented under President Lincoln in 1863 during the Civil War. For Lincoln, it was a well-meaning attempt to bring the South back into the Union and abolish slavery. It lasted roughly thirteen years, until 1877, a period in which slaves supposedly were granted full citizenship and the right to vote through the Congressional passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments. But the elephant in the room here is the fact that this is the era in which the Ku Klux Klan was born, so any thought that actual laws helping black people would ever be taken seriously is moot to begin with.
Of course, both Amendments were never actually worth the paper they were written on, widely ignored in the anti-slavery North, but especially so in the South where all manner of barriers were constructed to suppress and ignore the new laws. In fact, black people endured another one-hundred years of oppression and apartheid under the infamous and cruel Jim Crow statues, which were mostly southern edicts that found great joy in such things as public hangings of black folks. These were de facto sporting events during which white families bought the kids and picnic baskets to the town square for a fun evening of lynching. From 1882 to 1968 there were almost five-thousand hangings of Reconstructed black people in the United States, in spite of the passing of a slew of laws.
A variety of publications have described the horror of lynch mobs in 1882 after the collapse of the first Reconstruction in 1877: “…black victims would be seized and subjected to every imaginable manner of physical torment, with the torture usually ending with being hung from a tree and set on fire…be dismembered and mob members would take pieces of their flesh and bone as souvenirs…the mobs were aided and abetted by law enforcement (indeed, they often were the same people). Officers would routinely leave a black inmate’s jail cell unguarded after rumors of a lynching began to circulate to allow for a mob to kill them before any trial or legal defense could take place.” This behavior would seem to be illegal, according to the laws.
Fast forward to the early 1960’s when television, in its infancy at the time, broadcast nationwide images of powerful firehoses and vicious German Shepard dogs being used by police on children and young black protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, who were trying to desegregate public spaces and lunch counters. The nightly news covered the bloody events, night after night, and temporarily captured the consciousness white liberals, thereby forcing national politicians to act.
The Second Reconstruction quickly began as President Lyndon Johnson rushed through the passage of what was advertised as new legislation, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was intended to end segregation in education, public facilities, jobs, and housing. And then in 1965, Congress passed a voting rights act designed to halt the use of racist poll taxes and literacy tests.
Both were essentially the same laws from the first Reconstruction one hundred years earlier; but the action was highly-regarded as landmark legislation, having the effect of giving black folks a degree of hope, and hoodwinking liberal whites into believing great racial progress was being achieved. There was hope for fair voting because the law required the Federal government to regulate the vote in seven southern states, which had been consistent abusers of voting rights. But history would record that it really achieved extraordinarily little for race relations in the macro scheme of things.
The truth is that from 1866–1964 there were nine different Civil Rights Acts passed through The United States Congress, but over the decades they were rarely enforced, although white people were impressed with the country’s ‘progress’. In a poll conducted by CBS News in 2014, fifty years after the signing of the civil rights legislation, Whites (82 percent) were more likely than African Americans (29 percent) to think real progress had been realized.
The third and most recent attempt at some form of reconciliation concerning the race problem in this country came about in 2008 with the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. And as such, Obama was in a difficult spot when it came to race. While he pushed through thousands of new regulations during his eight years in office, none were race-specific; he was a president for all the people, and at times he was criticized for being so.
But while in office, Obama worked to provide economic and educational opportunities, improved healthcare coverage, and worked to ensure that the criminal justice system was applied fairly to all citizens. During his administration, African Americans made some strides in many of these areas along with all Americans, but aside from healthcare, Obama’s most-significant achievement for black people was hope; he gave black people hope that one day whites would learn to accept black people as human beings, who strive for the same things as whites.
In his best-selling book, We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: [“…as Obama’s motorcade was leaving the White House for the last time] I had never seen so many white people cheer on a black man who was neither an athlete or an entertainer… and it seemed they loved him for this…and I thought they might love me too, and my wife, and my child…and love us all in the manner that the God they so fervently cited had commanded”.
Then, before the love could flow, before the illusion of the so-called post-racial society could hope to develop, white people elected a demon for president. And the one thing black folks knew about Donald Trump, a dyed in the wool bigot, is that he never intended to push through any laws; in fact, black people were not surprised as he has spent the last four years rolling back every law he could. He bought racial division and hate to the United Sates and has turned back black lives to the Civil War years; thus, the plethora of civil rights enactments over one-hundred and sixty years are deemed meaningless.
But recently, Congress passed another bill that the president signed into law. It is now illegal to hang black people, the new law says. What it does not address is the outrageous police brutality and murder of unarmed black and brown people all around the country, which may as well be considered the equivalent of public lynching, just like in 1882.
So, while we already have enough laws, we do not have enough righteous white people who follow the laws.
“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” — — Montesquieu