Why It Actually Is All About Race: A History Lesson

There has been a recurring, idiotic question that has been asked over the years. “Why does everything always have to be about race?” I thought the answer was obvious to everyone, but clearly many people did not do their own research outside of their high school U.S. History classes. 

America was founded on the very social construct of race, therefore EVERYTHING is directly correlated to race. Most people do not seem to understand how the history of this social construct still impacts minorities today, especially the Black community. So, without doing research, they question why everything has to be about race. Luckily I have done extensive research so I can answer this question; racial connotations from 200 years ago have not up and left American society. 

Thomas Jefferson was the first to voice the idea of race and superiority in 1776 when he penned, “all men are created equal.” By declaring this, he insinuated that people of the African diaspora were not men and alienated them out of the human race. Since those of the African diaspora were not free, they could not be seen as equal and could not be seen as men. The only way for white people to justify slavery was by dehumanizing them and that is exactly what they did. As time went on, blackness and slavery went hand in hand and the racial divide became natural. 

Though amendments were passed to abolish slavery and grant civil and legal rights to Black Americans, the belief that Black people were less than never went away. 76 years after Jefferson detached people of the African diaspora from the human race, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. In the novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe portrayed the Black child, Topsy, as a good hearted but misbehaved child while conversely representing the white child, Eva, as angelic. Stowe made it clear that Topsy misbehaved because slavery had traumatized her. However, white people took this portrayal and ran with it. In their minstrel shows of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the white women who portrayed Topsy represented her as “adult-like” and made sure to laugh when they were beaten. They even encouraged the audience to laugh along. While these shows entertained white people, they desensitized Black children and eradicated their innocence. Thus, Black children were deemed more mischievous than their white peers. These connotations have tainted the image of Black people and have resulted in disparities between white people and Black people in the United States.

While looking at the disproportionate rates of incarceration, we see that Black people are incarcerated slightly over 5 times the rate of white people. But why? The narrative that Black people are more dangerous and mischievous has been spun from connotations created centuries ago that have flown through the generations. 

This narrative and the eradication of Black innocence has caused many Black lives to be lost at the hands of law enforcement. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in November of 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. The initial caller informed dispatch that there was someone, most likely a juvenile, in the park playing with a gun that they presumed to be a toy. Dispatch sent officers to the park without telling them that crucial piece of information- that he was most likely a juvenile. As the police cruiser pulled in front of Tamir, he pulled out his toy gun in an inferred attempt to show officers it was a toy and/or hand it over. We cannot say for sure because the trainee officer got out of the cruiser and shot Tamir in seconds. Tamir’s appearance was emphasized throughout the case, as he was 5-foot-7 and around 175 lbs. However, the excuse that a Black child looked older has been frequently used to justify the undue actions taken by some police officers. White people tend to see Black children and think they are larger and scarier than they would think of a white child. This is a direct result of mid 1800s connotations regarding innocence and Black children and Black people in general. 

The issues of mass incarceration and police brutality are just a couple examples of how history from two centuries ago has impacted contemporary America. America was built upon racial injustice and connotations which explain the disparities between white and Black people today. Everything will continue to be about race unless old connotations regarding race vanish from our society, which is very unlikely.   

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Nathan Odige