Racism - History
The synonymy of Blackness with criminality is not a new phenomenon in America. Documented historical accounts have shown how myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies led to discriminatory policies and court rulings that fueled racial violence in a post-Reconstruction era and has culminated in the exponential increase of Black male incarceration today.
Thomas Jefferson noted in his essays, "Notes on the State of Virginia" that slaves were "at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. ... Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them....
" ... it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid: and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.... never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration ; never seen even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites, with accurate ears for tune and time...
"... the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. "
David Pilgrim noted in 2012 that: "Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was [sic] humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
In the “Heart of Dixie” tradition was infinitely more precious than truth - eulogistic and rosy, savored with the atmosphere of Southern novels and romances: wistaria and live oaks, and soft voices and faithful old “mammies” and courteous squires and benign old colonels and mint juleps and charming belles and white-columned plantation houses. If this were not quite true to fact, it would at least be true to tradition.
After emancipation, some wealthy Whites were fearful of the political power newly freed Black people might acquire via voting, and some poor Whites saw Blacks as competition in the labor force. Thus the Jim Crow era began, condolidated by the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson which stated, “separate but equal is constitutional.” This fear was marked by a shift from Black people being viewed as submissive servants to savages and brutes.
Charles H. Smith wrote in 1893, " It was believed by Northern philanthropists and by many Southern statesmen and law-makers that education would change and better the status of the negro and not only make him fit to be a citizen, but elevate him morally and socially... All negroes are Methodists or Baptists, and all are elected to salvation and are on the way to glory. Not one has any fear of being lost, not even the vilest brute under the gallows....
"A little education is all that the negro needs. The excess has proved his ruin. Let him learn the rudiments, to read and to write and to cipher, and be made to mix that knowledge with some useful labor. As it is, negroes are advanced to higher mathematics and composition, and they become the “dudes” and the vagabonds of the town. They dress finely at somebody else's expense, and both males and females have become lazy and insolent. They have ceased to show proper respect to the white people...
"The contrast between the negro's good nature and his bad nature is perhaps more marked than the same contrast in any other race. When a desire to indulge his bad passions comes over him, he seems to be utterly devoid of prudence or of conscience. The end he aims at will justify the means, whether it be arson or burglary or theft or murder or outrage upon a child. The consequences of his crime do not disturb him, and he can eat as heartily and sleep as soundly with blood upon his hands as without. A bad negro is the most horrible human creature upon the earth, the most brutal and merciless.
"To most negroes, neither jails nor chain-gangs have any great terrors, for in both they can eat and sleep, and the records show eight per cent of the convicts serving a second term. Even the better class, whether they be preachers or teachers, are never made cowards by conscience, nor do they suffer the stings of remorse. Before the War, the marriage-relation among the negroes was kept almost inviolate. When it was broken, it was broken by the white man. The result was the mulattoes, whom the slave-woman was proud to claim, and she felt no dishonor. Since the day when Abraham took his servant Hagar for his concubine, the inferior race has always aspired to such association with the superior. But since the War, this relation between the races has practically ceased. The negro woman is no longer Hagar, and Ishmael has ceased to be. The rule is reversed. The negro man aspires to the white woman, and if he cannot get her he will take her child...."
The film Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, showed Black men as savages trying to attack White women. Their brutality was met with the heroic and honorable Ku Klux Klan. Blackness become closely associated with criminalization. The criminalization of Blackness allowed for White supremacy.
After the Great War, there was no Mississippi law which permitted an employer to hold a Negro in peonage, to punish an employee with a whipping, or to exploit him. These things were done not by sanction of the code, but by the law of custom, and they were not interfered with by the legal authorities any more than a sheriff would interfere with a man who beat his dog or spanked his child or went after a strayed mule.
Today, implicit biases and stereotypes influence the way educators approach disciplining their students and according to the Kirwin Institute, “students who displayed a ‘black walking style’ were perceived by their teachers as lower in academic achievement, highly aggressive and more likely to be in need of special education services.” The media disproportionately portrays minority youths as being criminals that the school system has to fear. Jennifer Castillo’s research on this subject found that in the media “teen super-predators were urban African-American and Latinos, and they were described as ‘relentlessly violent.’”
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