The Inner Workings of the "White Code"
Credit: Kent Allen Halliburton, Founder of Refuse to Cooperate
"The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in the American society." - John Lewis
"You don't fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity." - Bobby Seale
"Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril." - Woodrow Wilson
"Here's the reality. The image of a white Jesus has been used to justify enslavement, conquest, colonialism, the genocide of indigenous peoples. There are literally millions of human beings whose lives have been snuffed out by people who conquered under the banner of a white god." - Tim Wise
Slaves did not accept their fate without protest. Many instances of rebellion were known to Americans, even in colonial times. These rebellions were not confined to the South. In fact, one of the earliest examples of a slave uprising was in 1712 in Manhattan. As African Americans in the colonies grew greater and greater in number, there was a justifiable paranoia on the part of the white settlers that a violent rebellion could occur in one's own neighborhood. It was this fear of rebellion that led each colony to pass a series of laws restricting slaves' behaviors. These laws were known as Slaved Codes. The earliest slave codes date back to the 1640s in Virginia. They were passed by the House of Burgesses to separate the fates of white indentured servants and black slaves and to help strengthen the white race's hold on the continent.
Although each colony had differing ideas about the rights of slaves, there were some common threads in slave codes across areas where slavery was common. Legally considered property, slaves were not allowed to own property of their own. They were not allowed to assemble without the presence of a white person, and slaves that lived off the plantation were subject to special curfews.
In the courts, a slave accused of any crime against a white person was doomed. No testimony could be made by a slave against a white person; therefore, the slave's side of the story could never be told in a court of law. Of course, slaves were conspicuously absent from juries as well.
Slave codes had ruinous effects on African American society. It was illegal to teach a slave to read or write. Religious motives sometimes prevailed, however, as many devout white Christians educated slaves to enable the reading of the Bible. These same Christians did not recognize marriage between slaves in their laws, however. This made it easier for them to justify the breakup of families by selling individual members off to another owner.
As time passed and the numbers of African Americans in the New World increased, so did the fears of their white captors. With each new rebellion, the slave codes became ever more strict, further abridging the already limited rights and privileges this oppressed people might hope to enjoy. Perhaps, the most famous slave revolt was that of Nat Turner. He was taught to read by his first owner, Samuel Turner, and became a slave preacher. He also began receiving visions which convinced him that he was receiving messages from God. He interpreted these messages as meaning that he needed to free his people from their condition. On August 21, 1831, after some years of preparation, he commenced a rebellion in South Hampton, Virginia that would strike fear into the hearts of whites across the whole of the South. Though his rebellion was put down just two days later, and he was put to death just as quickly, new laws were passed throughout the South that made it to where even free African Americans could not gather in public masses, usually meaning church services, unless they were accompanied by a white person. New laws were also passed restricting the establishing of schools for free African Americans.
In the United States, the Black Codes were laws passed by Democrat controlled southern states in 1865 and 1866, after the Civil War. These laws had the intent and the effect of restricting African Americans' freedom, and of compelling them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt. Black Codes were part of a larger pattern of southern whites trying to suppress the new freedom of emancipated African American slaves, the freedmen. Black Codes were also enacted by northern states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and New York prior to the Civil War to ban free blacks from residing in those states.
From the colonial period, colonies and states had passed laws that discriminated against free blacks. In the South, these were generally included in slave codes; the goal was to reduce the influence of free blacks, particularly after slave rebellions, because of their potential influence on slaves. Restrictions included prohibiting them from voting, although North Carolina allowed this before 1831, bearing arms, gathering in groups for worship and learning to read and write. A major purpose of these laws was to preserve slavery.
In the first two years after the Civil War, white dominated southern legislatures passed Black Codes modeled after the earlier slave codes. They were particularly concerned with controlling movement and labor, as slavery had given way to a free labor system. Although freedmen had been emancipated, their lives were greatly restricted by the Black Codes.
Jim Crow Laws
Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern United States. Enacted by white Democrat dominated state legislatures in the late 19th century after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforced until 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in the states of the former Confederate States of America, starting in 1896 with a Separate But Equal status for African Americans in railroad cars. Public education had essentially been segregated since its establishment in most of the south after the Civil War. This principle was extended to public facilities and transportation, including segregated cars on interstate trains and, later, buses. Facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior and underfunded compared to those which were then available to European Americans; sometimes they did not exist at all. This body of law institutionalized a number of economic, educational, and social disadvantages. De jure segregation existed mainly in the southern states, while northern segregation was generally de facto, patterns of housing segregation enforced by private covenants, bank lending practices, and job discrimination, including discriminatory labor union practices. Jim Crow was a pejorative expression meaning Negro.
Jim Crow laws, sometimes, as in Florida, part of state constitutions, mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. military was already segregated. President Woodrow Wilson, a southerner, initiated segregation of federal workplaces at the request of southern cabinet members in 1913.
These Jim Crow laws revived principles of the 1865 and 1866 Black Codes, which had previously restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African Americans. Segregation of public, state-sponsored, schools was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. In some states it took years to implement this decision. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but years of action and court challenges have been needed to unravel the many means of institutional discrimination.
In the United States, habitual offender laws, commonly referred to as Three-Strikes Laws, were first implemented on March 7, 1994 and are part of the United States Justice Department's Anti-Violence Strategy. These laws require a person guilty of committing both a severe violent felony and two other previous convictions to serve a mandatory life sentence in prison. The purpose of the laws is to drastically increase the punishment of those convicted of more than two serious crimes.
Twenty-eight states have some form of a Three-Strikes Law. A person accused under such laws is referred to in a few states, notably Connecticut and Kansas, as a "persistent offender," while Missouri uses the unique term "prior and persistent offender." In most jurisdictions, only crimes at the felony level qualify as serious offenses; however, misdemeanor offenses can qualify for application of the Three-Strikes Law in California, whose harsh application of the laws have been the subject of controversy at times.
The Three-Strikes Law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of a felony who have been previously convicted of two or more violent crimes or serious felonies, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a life sentence.
A study entitled , "I'd rather be Hanged for a Sheep than a Lamb: The Unintended Consequences of 'Three-Strikes' Laws," released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Three-Strikes Laws discourages criminals from committing misdemeanors in fear of getting sentenced to life in prison. Although this deters crime and contributes to lower crime rates, the laws also have the possibility to push previously convicted criminals to commit more serious offenses. The study's author argues that this is so because under such laws, felons realize that they could face a long jail sentence for their next crime, and therefore they have little to lose by committing serious crimes rather than minor offenses. Through these findings, the study weighs both the pros and cons for the law.
What is rarely discussed, however, is who is most often the victim of these Three-Strikes Laws. These laws usually are only applied to the poor, as the rich do not commit such crimes or they have good enough lawyers, so they can get out of trouble a whole lot easier than can the poor. This means that the poor get hit by these laws the most. Further, these laws were written specifically to target certain sections of the poor population, mainly minorities. Thus, it is African Americans, Latin Americans, and others that are the ones who are the most likely to be unable to afford to defend themselves against the laws. If the law's purpose was to lock up minorities, so as to weaken their ability to fight for change in the outside world, it has succeeded. Roughly two-thirds of the American prison population is made up of minorities.
In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander; however, that word can also refer to the process. The term gerrymandering has negative connotations. Two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering: "cracking," i.e. diluting the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts and "packing," or concentrating the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.
In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African American or other racial minorities, known as "majority-minority districts." Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents. Further, gerrymandering has been used as a political tactic in American politics since the first voter districts were drawn, and now, just as then, they are being used to purposefully dilute the voting power of minorities and to keep the white ruling elite in power.
Voter ID Laws
Voter ID laws in the United States are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote. At the federal level, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires voter ID for all new voters in federal elections who registered by mail and who did not provide a driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number that was matched against government records. Though state laws requiring some sort of identification at voting polls go back to 1950, no state required a voter to produce a government issued photo ID as a condition for voting before the 2006 election. Indiana, in 2006, became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, a law that was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court. As of September 2016, 33 states have enacted some form of voter ID requirement. Lawsuits have been filed against many of the voter ID requirements on the basis that they are discriminatory with an intent to reduce voting by traditionally Democratic constituencies. Parts of voter ID laws in several states have been overturned by courts.
On June 25, 2013, the US Supreme Court declared, by a 5 to 4 decision, in Shelby v. Holder that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. Previously, states with a history of proven voter discrimination were required to obtain preclearance from a federal court before making changes to their voting laws. Section 4 of the Act contained the formula for determining which states or political subdivisions were covered by Section 5. The majority opinion argued that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions required federal oversight or preclearance had not been updated to reflect current social conditions, including a decline in institutionalized discrimination and direct voter suppression. Since this ruling, several states, to include Texas, have passed stricter Voter ID laws targeting minority communities with the express and highly effective intent of restricting their ability to affect outcomes in local, state, and federal elections. The end goal, of course, is to ensure that the white ruling elite remains in power.
White privilege is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. Academic perspectives such as critical race theory and whiteness studies use the concept of White Privilege to analyze how racism and racialized societies affect the lives of white or white skinned people versus those of non white skinned people.
White Privilege is the outcome of the near four hundred years of race laws that have just been reviewed. White people in the United States assume a certain protected status, whether they know it or not, wherever they go. They are less likely to be attacked or robbed, they are most definitely less likely to be harassed by the police, and interestingly enough, when they do commit a crime, they are more likely to be able to get away with it.
It also manifests itself in how a white person is treated once they have committed a crime. In the case of the Colorado theater shooting, the gunman killed twelve people and wounded several more. The police took him alive. In another instance in Florida, one man stabbed and killed two people to death, and the police waited for fifteen minutes while he stabbed another victim and then began to consume the victim's face before finally taking him alive. There is then, or course, the Columbia, SC shooting. A white man went into a black church shot twelve people, killed nine of them, and specifically targeted a state official. The local police were called, but he had time to run, find his car, and make his way to North Carolina before he was caught. So, of course, he was taken alive; but even worse, on the way back, the officers that caught him took him to Burger King because he was hungry.
Turn the tables and the story is completely different. A young African American teenager was walking through a quite suburb and was shot dead for not responding to a white neighborhood watchman's calls. As it turns out, he had his walkman playing in his hears and could not hear the watchman. What happened to the white watchman for using excessive force? Nothing. In another instance, a black kid selling bootleg cigarettes, a misdemeanor offense, was shot dead at the hands of a white police officer. The white officer is still on duty even though he clearly used excessive force. There is, of course, the shooting death of Michael Brown. Had Brown been a white teen, the officer, Wilson, would not have fired twelve shots at him to make sure he was dead. It is likely that he would never have even drawn is weapon. The list could go on.
In public, white people that have bought into white privilege have ways of communicating each other. It could be the wink of an eye, the nod of a head, the shake of their hat, or any number of similar movements that lets other white people around them know that they too are engaged with the program. It could also just be a brazen racist remark that lets their comrades know who they are and what they are about. This is their way of letting them know that if something goes down, they have a comrade in arms to back them up, they have a witness to corroborate their version of the story, or if things get too rough, they have someone to help them get out of the trouble they have caused.
In my thirty-five years, my pail skin has gotten me caught up in situations like this on more than one occasion, whether it be a slight nod here, a quite look there, or a gentle shake of the hand. As a child, I did not know what it meant, as a teenager, it made me uncomfortable; as an adult, it enrages me. It makes my physically ill. This is especially the case since I now know the fullness of my own heritage. My father was mixed African American and white, which means, so am I. I am grateful for that fact, and it makes me proud, so when the following event occurred, one can imagine that I was not in the mood to put up the trash this guy was spewing.
It was about five years ago when I was still delivering pizza and finishing up my first Master's degree. I was running low on gas because I had forgotten to fill up my tank before work, and I was starting to get a little hungry. So, I stopped at a Valero gas station to fill up my gas tank, to get a snack, and to get some Gatorade to go with the snack. I parked at the pump and walked inside. There were people everywhere. I ducked and weaved around my fellow patrons as I picked out my items, and then I got into one of two fairly lengthy lines. The wait was going to be few minutes, at least. At first, everyone was waiting patiently. That was, of course, until Jimbillybob Joecurtiskylescott McGregor-Martin-Jones started bellowing in as loud a voice as he could that these "Hajjis," in reference to the tellers behind the counter, should really get their stuff together and speed things up.
It was at that moment that he eyeballed me and winked like I was supposed to agree with his filth. I did not take it for a second. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "If you don't mind, we civilized souls here are just trying to wait here in peace, so could you please keep you bellowing to yourself? It's stinking up the air." He looked at me disgusted but was quite for the remainder of his tenure in line, and for that moment, at least, reason won the day. As has been shown recently, however, with the rise of Donald Trump and his right wing fringe, these types are getting bolder and bolder and spending less and less time caring about reason. This only means that those of us that care for what is right and good in this world have to be that much more steadfast in defense of our liberties and those of our fellow Americans.
One of the things that needs to be done for sure is that white people need to wake up from the near four hundred year slumber that they and their ancestors have been in. They have been caught sleeping in a system that places whites in an illegitimate position of power over the people that originally inhabited this land, Native Americans. They have also been caught sleeping in a system that puts them in an illegitimate position of power over a group of people who were brought here against their will, African Americans. There are also other groups of people included in this paradigm by other circumstances like Chinese Americans and Mexicans Americans. None of these people have a real choice in how this country is run. The country is run by white people. This is known as a "Settler Democracy," and that is essentially, no democracy at all. Solve this root problem, and much of what of troubles the United States domestically will drift way. Ignore it, and we may lose everything.
If this problem is not solved; which many believe to be impossible given the circumstances, then the only other options are Self-Determination, or De-Colonization. The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference. De-colonization refers to the complete removal of the domination of non-indigenous forces within the geographical space and different institutions of the colonized, but it also refers to the de-colonizing of the mind from the colonizers' ideas that made the colonized feel inferior. It may involve either nonviolent revolution or national liberation wars by pro independence groups.
Such a set of solutions will leave what was once the United States of America broken up into a series of smaller successor states, and while there will be many people that will mourn the death of the United States, there will be even more people celebrating the end of the multiple forms of discrimination that existed under American "Settler" democracy. White people will likely still be the most confused by the situation long after it is over, but circumstances will show them over time that their behavior and the behavior of their ancestors was absolute rubbish and the central cause of the problem all along. They will be forced to adapt to new power structures that will show them how it truly feels to be judged based on the color of their skin, and they will wonder how they could have ever been so foolish before the "Great Change," or whatever the revolution will be called. With that in mind, hopefully, they will raise future generations of children who will grow up with a deep respect for all of humankind in all of its diversity, holding to the philosophy, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations."
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