By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, August 24:There is no denying that the United States has come a long way from the era of slavery and rank racism since the Civil War was fought on the issue of Black slavery and slavery was legally abolished in 1863.
In the past few years, the US has seen an African American, Barack Obama, being elected as the country’s President twice. Two Blacks, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, have been Secretary of State. Colin Powell had also risen to the highest office in the US armed forces becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). Today, Kamala Harris, who is half Black and half South Asian, is the running mate of the Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden.
But lower down the social, political and economic order, racial discrimination, especially against Blacks, still exists and appears entrenched. In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Black law scholar Michelle Alexander of Ohio University writes that many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of Black Americans in the war on drugs. Although “Jim Crow” laws are now off the statute books, millions of Blacks area trapped by institutionalized racism and a criminal justice system that has branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
“Young Black males are shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they’re released, they’re relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and public benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you’ve been branded a felon.”
Jim Crow Laws
Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in Southern United States. These laws were enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by White Southern Democrat-dominated State legislatures to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by Blacks during the Reconstruction period. The Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965.
In a paper published by the Center for American Progress last year, Danyelle Solomon, Connor Maxwell, and Abril Castro point out how government-sanctioned occupational segregation, exploitation, and neglect have exacerbated racial inequality in the US. They argue that “eliminating current disparities among Americans will require intentional public policy efforts to dismantle systematic inequality, combat discrimination in the workplace, and expand access to opportunity for all Americans.”
Forced To Stay Put in South
After the abolition of slavery in 1863, federal officials encouraged freed Blacks slaves to stay on in the racist South and enter into contracts with their previous owners and do the same work which they did as slaves. Then came the Jim Crow laws, which codified the role of Blacks in the Southern economy and society. “Black Codes” fined Blacks if they worked in any occupation other than farming or domestic servitude. If they broke these laws or abandoned their jobs after signing a labor contract, they could be arrested. Lawmakers also sought to prevent Blacks from migrating in search of safety and economic opportunity, by making punishable. recruitment of Blacks from the South.
However in mid-20th century, rampant lynching, and Ku Klux Klan White terror, led thousands of Blacks to flee to the North. But even in the North, Black workers are till date overrepresented in low-wage service jobs. Blacks or other people of color are 36% of the US workforce, but they constitute 58% of miscellaneous agricultural workers; 70% of maids and housekeeping cleaners; and 74% of baggage porters.
During the Great Depression in the early 1930s, there was a New Deal to help poor Americans. But lawmakers reserved most of these benefits for White workers. The New Deal excluded Black workers by excluding many domestic, agricultural, and service jobs. “This policy decision trapped families in poverty and tacitly endorsed the continued exploitation of workers of Color,” the authors say.
Making Tips Main Source of Income
Tipping for services has allowed American restaurants and railway companies to maximize profits by refusing to pay Black employees. Over time, many of the service vocations such as serving food, cutting hair, carrying baggage, and driving vehicles became subject to tipping. “Today, restaurant servers, bellhops, food delivery drivers, valets and parking attendants, and nail salon workers are among the many occupations paid primarily through tips,” Solomons and his co-authors point out.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, excluded domestic and agricultural workers from its purview. Many jobs in which the workers are mostly colored, remain excluded from Wagner Act protections It permitted labor unions to discriminate against workers of Color in other industries, such as manufacturing.
Today, the median US wage is US$ 18.58 per hour. However, in service occupations with high percentages of Black workers—including baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges; barbers; and taxi drivers—the median wage is just $12.91, $13.44, and $12.49, respectively.
Under-funding Of Regulatory Agencies
The underfunding and limited scope of the anti-discrimination agencies perpetuate inequality, the authors point out. In the 1960s, Black activists secured landmark civil rights legislation which created new federal agencies charged with holding people and institutions accountable for engaging in discrimination. Federal laws were followed by state-level statutes designed to protect people of color from discrimination in the workplace.
However, lawmakers never fully funded these agencies. They also provided exemptions, allowing many employers to continue to discriminate with impunity. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), set up in 1965, is charged with enforcing federal laws which make it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Every year, the EEOC receives hundreds of thousands of calls and inquiries, but it lacks the funding and staff necessary to fully ensure that bad employers are held accountable.
“None of the 10 states with the highest percentage of Black residents provide these agencies with annual funding of more than 70 cents per resident per year. By comparison, in 2015, each of these 10 states had state and local policing expenditures of more than US$ 230 per resident per year—at least 328 times more than what each state spends on enforcing anti-discrimination laws!,” the report points out.
Lawmakers have also limited the scope of anti-discrimination enforcement by establishing a minimum employee threshold for covered companies. For instance, only companies with 15 or more employees are covered by the EEOC’s racial discrimination laws. More than two-thirds of states, including those with the highest percentages of Black residents, have minimum employee thresholds for employment discrimination laws to take effect. These thresholds jeopardize the economic well-being of people of color who work for smaller employers, such as domestic workers, service workers, and some agricultural workers.
The report says that over the past 40 years, Black workers have consistently endured an unemployment rate approximately twice that of their White counterparts. Black households have also experienced 25% to 45% lower median incomes than their White counterparts. And these disparities persist regardless of educational attainment and household structure.
According to the latest available official figures, the median income for African-American households in 2018 was US$ 41,361, compared with US $70,642 for White, non-Hispanic households. The poverty rate for Blacks was almost 21% compared to about 8% non-Hispanic Whites.
According to Huffpos.com African Americans, who are 13.3% of the US population, are 27% of the poor and 42% welfare recipients. White America controls 90% of the wealth in the country. Black America controls a mere 2.6%.