Racial discrimination in the United States has been a widely discussed topic since last year’s presidential election. America is seen as a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and races. There still remain some forms of racial biases in the United States though it is one of the liberal societies in the world. Sometimes, the presence and interactions of different ethnic groups lead to discriminatory practices. American constitution and most of the federal laws are designed to prevent unequal treatment but racial discrimination and biases still exist in our daily life. Lack of evidence and subtlety of manifestation make it very difficult to solve and address the issue of racial discrimination. There are many forms of discriminatory treatments such as direct and indirect racial discrimination, molestation; intimidation and victimization. The practice of biased treatment can seriously disrupt the delicate balance of our social harmony. Discrimination gradually weakens the underlying values and principles upon which our society stands and flourishes. We have to fight to abolish the curse of race-based discrimination from our country. The notion of prejudice resides in our minds; so, we must broaden our hearts and minds to embrace and recognize the difference in our colors, religions, castes, and races.
It can be defined as racial discrimination when a person is unequally treated due to his/her race or ethnic origin. According to the Collins English Dictionary (Collinsdictionary.com, 2017), racial discrimination is “discrimination, unfair treatment or bias against someone or a group of people on the basis of their race[.]” The practice of racial discrimination in America dates back to the colonial era. Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Transcript of Civil Rights Act, 1964) has prohibited discriminatory treatment based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
Slavery, the most odious form of discrimination was a driving force of American economy during the colonial era. The tradition of slavery was continued even after the independence of the United States. The thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution (13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery, 1864) finally abolished slavery on American soil. It was a major stepping stone towards an egalitarian society based on the principle of human equality. Nonetheless, Jim Crow laws (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017) enforced racial segregation and introduced the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” in the Southeastern United States. According to the doctrine, all the races were equal but their residences, schools, public transports, and other facilities were specified and separated. These laws badly damaged the principle of equality and facilitated discrimination within different races, especially between white European origin Americans and black African-Americans.
Racial discrimination in the United States is common and it can happen anywhere. People are more likely to face racism in public transport, educational institutions, workplace, public spaces, sport-related events, neighborhood, or shopping centers. Race-based discrimination at work is common in the United States. Most of the discrimination is indirect or passive. Indirect discrimination is hard to identify. Thus, it remains unnoticed almost all of the time. For example, after an interview employers may decide not to hire a person because of his/her race or ethnicity but they will not disclose the true cause behind their decision of not hiring. If someone accuses them of racial discrimination, they will deny the truth and offer different arguments in favor of their decision. Uncomfortable and hostile environments at a workplace create unnecessary psychological pressure and reduce productivity. African Americans, Muslims, and some Asians are common victims of racial intolerance. A paper of American Civil Liberties Union (Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], 2009) argues, “Although fewer de jure forms of discrimination remain in existence, de facto racial disparities continue to plague the United States and curtail the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by millions of people who belong to racial and ethnic minorities.” In light of the above statement, it can be said that the state treats everyone almost equally. Congress has passed several laws to protect and ensure the rights of minorities. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Transcript of Civil Rights Act, 1964) provides some protection against racial discrimination at a workplace. However, laws are not enough to prevent all forms of discrimination at work. The exercise of tolerance and a sense of increasing awareness within the American public can improve the situation.
The term “institutional racism” was coined in the 1960s by civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998). Institutional racism is different from common racial discrimination. Individual racism affects a small number of people but institutional racism is designed to discriminate against a whole community, ethnicity or race. The Macpherson Report (The Macpherson Report, 2009) defines institutional racism as “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.” Racism of this kind is more serious and it can badly damage the well-being of an entire group of people. For example, institutional racism happens when a business firm refuses to hire any person because of his/her race or ethnicity.
The education sector of America is not free of racism either. In education, the practice of racial discrimination in the United States is as old as the history of the country itself. Boys and girls from minority groups still face discrimination. According to a NEWSWEEK (Black, 2017) report, “Thirty-seven percent of our public schools are basically one-race schools—nearly all white or all minority. In New York, two out of three black students attend a school that is 90 to 100 percent minority.” It is clear from the above reference that most of the white students and students from ethnic minorities attend separate schools. Racial segregation is still rooted in our educational system. However, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has barred discriminatory treatment in Education. Institutions or programs which receive federal assistance must comply with the law. According to the Title VI (Transcript of Civil Rights Act, 1964), “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Majority of the schools, colleges, and universities in the United States accept financial assistance from the federal government; so, the law is applicable to most of the educational institutions.
African Americans in the United States face widespread discrimination across a range of issues. Nearly, 50% African Americans have been discriminated by police and another 56% people have been discriminated when applying for jobs (National Public Radio [NPR], 2017). The practice of discrimination has far-reaching implications for the victims, minority groups as well as for the whole nation. It negatively impacts the mental health of a victim. The individual who faces frequent discrimination loses confidence and suffers from inferiority complex. If a person repeatedly faces discriminatory behaviors, he will start to hate the entire white community. The feeling of inferiority induces insecurity and aggressive behavior. Consequently, the mental growth and health are thwarted because of the victim’s exposure to racial discrimination. Discrimination at work and hiring are mainly responsible for the higher rate of unemployment within the minority groups living in the United States. As stated by the Economist (The Economist, 2017), “[t]he unemployment rate for blacks sits at 7.1%, compared with 3.8% for whites.” If discrimination is not the sole cause, it is one of the major causes behind the higher unemployment rate within the black community.
It is difficult to believe, but racial discrimination in the United States is still very much alive. If we want to fulfill the American dream, we must ensure equal rights and dignity of all the people living in our land. America is a great country. America values, culture, society, and economy are still beacons of hope and opportunity for the whole humanity. It sacrificed an enormous amount of blood and treasure in the Second World War to save the world from the evil of Nazism, fascism, tyranny, and oppression. The United States again played a key role in defeating the curse and tyranny of communism. Now, we live in a free world. American people deserve every credit for it. We, the people of the United States can fight anything. We fought against big enemies in the past. We can fight and defeat the evil of racism now as well. We can build a prosperous and peaceful society for all of us and for the future generations by upholding the principle of equality and eliminating all forms of discrimination from our society.
Mazharul Islam studied at York College / The City University of New York (CUNY).