OP-ED: Racial discrimination alive and well in America

Sandra Thompson
More than 1,000 participate in the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Those who do not learn (or learn from) history are doomed to repeat it." 

Now is the time to overcome and dismantle systemic racism, instead of denying it.

Now is the time to register to vote by Oct. 19, request your mail-in ballot today, and vote on or by Nov. 3 for candidates who will stand against systemic racism, racial profiling, and inequity in criminal justice, economics, education, health and housing.

If you do not understand systemic racism, who created it, and who keeps it going, then learn. Encourage education on the history of Black people in America as American history. Education and exposure increase empathy and understanding bringing us, Americans, together.

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Systemic racism in America has a 400-year history of using power and position to create and enforce policies, rules and laws that keep Black people dependent, controlled and impoverished, often to maintain the perception of White supremacy and economic advantages.

In 1619, American colonies valued enslaved labor from Africa over European indentured servants. Enslavers made the enslaved completely dependent through a system of restrictive codes. These codes prohibited learning to read and write. They controlled and restricted the enslaved’s behavior and movement. The obedient who controlled others were rewarded. The rebellious were brutalized as warnings to others. These policies and beliefs echo today contributing to unempathetic reactions to and justifications of brutality against Black people. 

York NAACP President Sandra Thompson speaks during Juneteenth Celebration at Campus Park next to Voni Grimes Gym in York City, Friday, June 19, 2020.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

In 1857, Dred Scott held enslaved people were not American citizens and had no equal rights. This decision contributed to the 1861-1865 Civil War when some southern states seceded to form the Confederate States of America and waved a flag against the United States of America.

In 1863, as a war strategy depriving the South of manpower, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the enslaved in rebellious southern states. In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, except as punishment for crimes. In 1868, the 14th Amendment recognized equal rights of citizenship, overruling the Dred Scott decision. In 1870, the 15th Amendment recognized Black men’s right to vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment recognized women’s right to vote. 

However, Black people’s right to vote was impaired and attacked through poll taxes, literacy tests, the "grandfather clause,” fraud and intimidation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to prevent these policies. In 2013, Shelby v. Holder removed enforcement powers from the Voting Rights Act. Today, rules and laws still exist suppressing voting registration and voting rights.

Historically, where Black people could live and work were controlled. The 1865 Black Codes became Jim Crow laws continuing through 1968, segregating schools, residential areas, public parks, theaters, pools, cemeteries, asylums and prisons. In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson justified separate, but equal, to maintain segregation.    

Black people were kept impoverished and in low-paying jobs by sharecropping agreements, crop liens, lifetime labor and Debt Peonage.

White supremacy organizations, like the KKK, grew and terrorized Black people into submission. Black people were required to vacate all White Sundown towns before dark. Lynching was prevalent for those who violated Jim Crow.

Despite the 13th Amendment, there was “convict leasing,” a system of forced penal labor in southern states overwhelmingly targeting Black men. Around 1971, our government brought drugs into the inner city, declared war against drugs, created the 1994 Crime Bill, mandatory minimum sentencing, unequal penalties for crack versus powder cocaine, Three Strikes’ laws, Stop and Frisk and racial profiling policies. All contributed to mass incarceration predominantly affecting Black men, Black families, and the Black community. The negative impact continues.

Black people are marginalized through the lack of quality education. Black people continue to fight for equal access to quality education despite the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education overruling separate but equal. Governments deny adequate funding to predominantly Black schools. Schools punish the behavior of Black children more harshly than White children, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.

The history of housing discrimination against Black people continues to impact affordable housing today. Around 1933, the government sponsored a system of segregation, creating color-coded maps identifying safe areas to lend. Areas with Black people were red lined deeming them unsafe to appraisers and insurers. In 1950-60s, banks granted loans to provide housing to White middle-class and lower-middle-class families, leaving out Black people. Today, predominantly Black homes are undervalued, and Black people fight to obtain loans.

Now is the time to cheer racial equity, teach the truth, and free ourselves from the past’s impact.

Black people still fight for the ability to maintain life, liberty and to pursue happiness through opportunities provided to all other Americans. Black people still exclaim to America, as Langston Hughes wrote in 1926, “I too, am America”.

York NAACP invites officials, like Congressman Scott Perry, and candidates for discussion on systemic racism, its origination and maintenance, and how they can dismantle it.   

— Sandra Thompson is president of the York NAACP.