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What is Racism?

By Jay Elemm

April 16th, 2018

Racism. It has plagued our society for longer than we can remember. As defined by the American Dictionary, Racism is: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. But where did it come from and why does it exist? Racism can be easily defined, but it’s a bit more challenging to explain it.


Is it simply based on the color of one’s skin or ethnicity?


Is it a superiority complex?


Is it fear of the unknown?


It turns out that it’s a little bit of everything. In order to pinpoint the origin of racism in America one must go back to the early days of the English colonies. In 1619 twenty Africans were brought to the English colony of Jamestown, VA. They were brought with the purpose of being indentured servants and to serve the English colonists.


As more indentured servants were brought to the colonies, the British began to put them to work on building the infrastructure of the colonies. In 1640, the Virginia courts sentenced John Punch to a lifetime of slavery, marking the earliest legal sanctioning of slavery in the newly established English territories.


The shift from indentured servants to African slaves was prompted by a dwindling class of former servants who had worked through the terms of their indentures and thus became competitors to their former masters. These newly freed servants were rarely able to support themselves comfortably, and the tobacco industry was increasingly dominated by large planters.


This caused domestic unrest culminating in Bacon's Rebellion. Eventually, chattel slavery became the norm in regions dominated by plantations.


So what does this journey through the history books tell us? The origin of slavery, and ultimately racism, was all about money, power, and control. As slavery came to an end in 1865 many of the beliefs of racial inferiority never went away. Unfortunately, they were handed down generation after generation, and many children grew up knowing nothing else.


Fast forward 153 years after the abolition of slavery, and this evil and distorted outlook on society still exists. Racism as it exists today is a generational issue. Nobody is born racist. They simply learn it through the behaviors of those that they observed growing up.


In an interview with Sounds Vision, a high ranking Klu Klux Klan member said that “African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities are uncivilized and parasites to society.” 


Wow! Certainly he wasn’t born with that outlook on society. Just like many others who share this perception, this individual was inducted into the KKK at the early age of just 14 years old. It was a family tradition.


This case, and many others around the nation, validate that racism is truly a generational curse on our society that continues to be handed down. But what is the origin of this exclusive way of thinking?


When slavery was abolished there were many that refused to live among African Americans. As a result of their disapproval, ex-slaves were slowly pushed out to live among themselves and away from the white population.


Their living conditions were subpar to say the least, and they received little to no support from the United States government. As society progressed, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This was no mistake or oversight. The system was working exactly how it was designed to. It was a system that was composed to keep the wealthy white population in control of the nation.


As more non-white immigrants flocked to the Untied States they were placed in the same bucket as African Americans, and labeled as inferior to the white population. A majority of them also found themselves living in poverty and their families suffered the same fate, generation after generation.


So why do those who subscribe to a racist school of thought feel that they are superior? Because it’s what they have been taught by those around them. Additionally, seeing so many ‘minorities’ living in poverty fueled their warped perception that they are superior. It leads to statements such as “look at the way they live”, “they're not like us”, etc.


So what do we do now and what’s the solution? There truly isn’t a silver bullet to cure this generational plague known as RACISM. It goes without saying that we have made some progress. These days there are many successful non-white Americans across the country. But we have a long way to go.


Until a few years ago racist factions, such as the KKK, were subjected to meeting in the shadows. Over the course of the past few years they have experienced a jolt that has led to their resurgence. So how do we combat this? We do it head on, and we do it with love.


If we are truly going to break the generational curse of racism we must break the socioeconomic cycle that has plagued non-white Americans for over a century. We as a society must look in the mirror and accept that our economic system needs reform. It's more than just about equality, it's about equity.


We must provide those living in poverty the tools necessary to be successful. Not just food stamps or financial government assistance. But rather educational tools that will allow them to live fruitful and sustainable lives. By creating an equitable environment for every American we can begin to chip away at the problem.


But it doesn’t end there. What do you say to your friends and family members about others behind closed doors? What do they say to you? How do you fight implicitly bias thoughts that come to mind? It all starts with you. Racism is not a disease, it’s a plague. But one step at a time we can continue to drive social progress in hopes of eradicating this dangerous and destructive frame of mind. 

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