Author: Adriel Martinez
Race and impact on society
Race in the past and in the present has impacted society in many ways that have been viewed in a positive and negative ways. Ever since the end of the American Civil War and into the era of the Civil Rights Movement, harsh regulations such as the Jim Crow Laws segregated whites and people of “color”, mainly blacks, and an image of general dislike and negativity was pointed at them. The book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and the film 13th illustrate how race has shaped and impacted society in the past and present.
Ever since the beginning of the Reconstruction Era(After the Civil War), Southern States governments created laws that would restrict and imprison black men, their offenses would not match their sentences, often receiving lengthy sentences of hard labor. The film 13th, shows how the 13th amendment had it’s loopholes, it states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. “Except as a punishment for crime” made it possible for southern governments to impose their makeshift regulations to imprison black people. The film also mentions another film Birth of a Nation (1915), increasingly fueled the hatred toward Blacks and saw the rebirth of the Klu Klux Klan. This with the introduction of the Jim Crow Laws in the 1870s saw an increase in racism and incarceration of Blacks.
In the book Americanah, Ifemelu depicts how race has impacted her life and view in society when living in America. When she is dating Curt, it is hard for her adjust to how racially driven America is, she states “I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.” and “But the minute you step outside, race matters”(Chapter 31,Adichie). Although Ifemelu does not perceive herself as a black woman, the society around will and follow her as she by her day-to-day life. With the inclusion of Curt in her life, race has a big part in their relationship and their interactions with society. In different parts of the book, both Ifemelu and her Aunt Uju have encountered times where they had to abandon their cultural roots in order to succeed in America, first Aunt Uju had to unbraid her hair because “If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional.”, she supports this by also saying that “You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”( Chapter 11, Adichie). Aunt Uju is explaining the social differences between America and Nigeria, justifying how it is not professional acceptable to have braids.The latter quote explains how sacrifices must be made for the better good and life. Later in the book, Ifemelu would face the same problem, having to relax her hair so she can be prepared and have a good image for an upcoming job interview. These two quotes show how race has impacted society in the modern-day because both characters had to adjust in society because of their racial and cultural normalities.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, gives an insight of how the Jim Crow Laws gave birth to racial discrimination in America, not only back in the 20th century, but also today. The book mentions that slavery was not a regular in society until a certain point, “Initially blacks brought to this country were not all enslaved; many were treated as indentured servants”(Birth of Slavery, Alexander 17). This quote is talking about the time of colonization, where slaves were not as needed as they would in the future. At this time, it would have a huge effect on society because under the system of indentured servitude “whites and blacks struggled against a common enemy”(Birth of Slavery, Alexander 17). Once slavery was established because of an increased need for farming and labor arose and by the 1770s the system of bond labor had turn into “a racial caste system predicated on slavery”(Birth of Slavery, Alexander 19). Race during this time shaped society in a way that marked Blacks as well as Native Americans as a “uncivilized lesser race”. This later structured when America as a country is born, “the original Constitution was based largely on the effort to preserve a racial caste system -Slavery”(Birth of Slavery, Alexander 19). These quotes further develop how society will negatively perceive them to be just property and to the extent that slaves are “defined as three-fifths of a man”. This shapes society in a way that would view blacks racially and treat them discriminatory for nearly two centuries.
Although the global society has come a long way from the slavery of the past, in many instances society is continually shaped by the pastimes of the brutal slavery that tore America apart during the Civil War. Race today is still a heavily discussed topic and issue that divides the nation today with many events were minorities today are unfairly mistreated because of their race or skin color. Many of these issues we have today are the result of the social and racial inequality of the past and only time will tell when these issues will be confronted and overcome.