Updated: Jan 3, 2021
We have all heard that minorities and people of color often play by a different set of (unspoken) rules compared to their white counterparts. As I dug deeper into this notion, I could not help but make this conclusion – the history of America is very consistent. The constant has always been limiting the social and economic trajectory of black and brown communities. The best way to describe these actions is “Legalized Discrimination”. Two words that should never intersect and unfortunately many have seen or experienced firsthand these negative effects. My research will showcase examples of how the government has handicapped the mobility for minorities through the legal system.
Slavery was first established in Virginia in 1619. In 1865, President Lincoln signed into law the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. However, those in power added this clause into the amendment – “…except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” This is the first example that confirms my stance of the government limiting the rights and equality for people of color, seeing as the United States government purposely created this loophole. In summary, if a Black American was convicted of a crime, they are stripped of their rights and freedom. What were some of these crimes in the late 1800’s you ask: it was a crime if blacks walked beside a railroad, it was a crime if blacks spoke loudly in a crowd of white people, it was a crime if Blacks sold products from their own farm at nighttime. 1
Soon after slavery was “eliminated” in the country, Jim Crow was quickly established. The landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 established “Separate but Equal” through the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of racial segregation. Thus, my second example of the government’s consistent actions that crippled any advancement in equality for blacks and minorities.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was signed into law which gave women the right to vote. Except this law excluded women of color. How is that possible? The amendment did not eliminate state laws that operated to keep Black America from the polls via poll taxes and literacy tests nor did it address violence or lynching. 2
Fast forward, segregation is finally made illegal in 1954. While it was illegal to discriminate based on race or the color of your skin, unfortunately it was not heavily enforced. This meant the protection of rights for blacks and minorities were hollow at best. This was the period when we saw Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X fight for equal rights – not special or more rights, just equal. One can imagine the disappointment and frustration during this period for equality, as just when it seemed there was light at the end of the tunnel, it was extinguished. But continued protests including Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus in 1955, and the violent march from Selma to Montgomery where the late John Lewis almost lost his life for this just cause, were catalysts. The hard work and courage of all these brave leaders brought The Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, and sex. Therefore, these human rights we enjoy today should never be taken for granted. It is important to remember when we recap the Civil Rights Movement and segregation, we are talking about modern U.S. history! We either are or know someone in their 60s (or older) who experienced this era and hardship firsthand.
Yes, we have made progress, progress that we should be proud of. But let us be brutally honest with one another. The fight for real equality is still waging. Corporate America continues to struggle with true commitment for equality and representation of black and brown talent at all levels. Diversity & Inclusion is an appetizer for most organizations, certainly not the main course.
The US population is the most diverse it has ever been (year 2020) – i.e., less white (currently the population is 60% white v. 40% diverse/multicultural).3 This statistic has been referenced a lot as an “accomplishment” but really, what has changed? Of the Fortune 500 CEOs, minorities make up less than 5%.4 Congress is 82% White. Mayors in this country are 88% White.5 Would you be shocked if I told you in 2020, we have yet to see a Black Female Governor? What message is being projected?
The noise and chaos we see and feel has a name – it is “systematic racism”. Under the umbrella of systemic racism, there are several hurdles that minorities and people of color must overcome including dominate culture, white privilege, and unconscious biases just to name a few. For almost 250 years, this system has allowed those on top to remain on top no matter the situation. It is hard to influence change if you are not given the platform or the voice to create strategy that disrupts the climate in which the system breathes.
To my white friends and colleagues, I speak on these issues to educate and illustrate the struggle you do not see, feel, nor absorb. I shine this light to share the likelihood that your life both personally and professionally was not made harder because of the color of your skin. As a brown skinned Latino man, I recognize I have rights and opportunities in this country for which I am grateful. However, a truth I have always known, felt, and experienced is that your rights and opportunities are greater than mine. "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."6
1 - www.history.com | 2 – times.com/ black-women-right-to-vote | 3 – inquirer.com news/demographic-diverse-white-non-white-pew- | 4 - fortune.com | 5 – White fragility: Robin DeAngelo | 6 – James Baldwin