American Segregation Started Long Before the Civil War

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-09-14 14:08Z by Steven

American Segregation Started Long Before the Civil War

What It Means to Be American: A National Conversation Hosted by The Smithsonian’s and Zócalo Public Square

Nicholas Guyatt, University Lecturer in American History
Cambridge University

How the Founders’ Revolutionary Ideology Laid the Groundwork

Segregation remains an intractable force in American life, more than 60 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed racial separation in America’s schools. The Government Accountability Office recently estimated that more than 20 million students of color attend public schools that are racially or socioeconomically isolated. This figure has increased in recent decades, despite a raft of federal and state initiatives.

Major cities like New York and Chicago struggle with high levels of residential segregation, especially at the neighborhood level. The entrenched correlation between race and poverty is partly to blame, but segregation catches even affluent people of color. A recent study found that, while only 9 percent of white Americans earning $100,000 or more lived in poor areas, 37 percent of African-Americans on the same income level lived in poorer neighborhoods.

If we want to understand why racial segregation still exists in America, we should start by understanding its origins…

…And then there was the prospect of racial amalgamation, which scrambled the moral compasses of even the most progressive whites. Of all the European empires in the New World, British North America was the most squeamish on the question of amalgamation. But while the science and religion of the European Enlightenment suggested no barrier to intermarriage, even white Americans who embraced “all men are created equal” struggled with the practical application of that phrase. The preacher David Rice, who tried valiantly to outlaw slavery in the Kentucky constitutional convention of 1792, admitted that his own prejudices against intermarriage were hard to shake; but he was determined, he told his fellow delegates, not to allow irrational feelings to “influence my judgment, nor affect my conscience.”

Alas, many others who spoke in the abstract against slavery failed to follow Rice’s example; or, like Thomas Jefferson, they compartmentalized their private and public lives. It’s now widely accepted that in the 1790s and 1800s, Jefferson secretly fathered six children with Sally Hemings, a multi-racial slave in his household, while insisting in public on his “great aversion” to “the mixture of color.”

It soon became apparent that the realization of “all men are created equal” required more than an abstract recognition of black or Native humanity; it required the surrender of what we now call white privilege. When even the most liberal whites struggled to meet this challenge, they developed an alternative plan that might deliver the United States from the guilt of slavery and oppression without obliging white people to live alongside people of color: perhaps blacks and Indians could be persuaded to move elsewhere…

Read the entire article here.

Nicholas Guyatt teaches American history at the University of Cambridge in England. He is the author of Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books).

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From Okinawa to Hawaii and Back Again

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-08-31 17:42Z by Steven

From Okinawa to Hawaii and Back Again

What It Means to Be American: Hosted by The Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square

Laua Kina, Vincent de Paul Professor of Art, Media, & Design
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois

Kibei Nisei, 30 x 45 inches Oil on canvas (2012)

A Painter Follows the Currents of Her Family History

I am a hapa, yonsei Uchinanchu (a mixed-race, 4th-generation Okinawan-American) who was born in Riverside, California, in 1973 and raised in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. My mom’s roots stem from Spanish-Basque migrants in California and white southerners in Tennessee. My father is Okinawan from Hawaii. Because I don’t look quite white, people frequently ask, “What are you?” From an early age, even though Hawaii and Japan were enigmas to me, I have had to explain my relationship to these “exotic” places.

Growing up, we lived by my mother’s family and visited her parents weekly at their road-side motel near a Puget Sound ferry landing, but I knew little about my father’s childhood, an ocean away, on a Piihonua sugarcane plantation near Hilo. I got a glimpse on occasional vacations to visit family on the Big Island of Hawaii or my aunties in Los Angeles. The only other traces were evident in the Spam in our sushi, the fact that we called instant ramen noodles saimin, and in the echoes of Pidgin English in Dad’s accent that refused to be erased.

I am a painter, and at the heart of my paintings is the journey I’ve been on to understand how these different currents have formed my American experience. I’ve followed their flow back in time to the canefields of Territorial Hawaii and early 20th-century Okinawa, Japan…

Read the entire article here.

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