Thursday, April 30, 2009

Discrimination, the Basis for Denial of Basic Rights of Minority Groups

Throughout the history of civilization, different groups of people have had the need to migrate to new locations in search of better resources. For ancient men that could mean finding a place where they could hunt and work the land to produce the means to satisfy their basic needs.While this phenomenon could be prompted by harsh conditions of their natural environment, other antagonistic forces like war and religious and ideological differences have been a major factor for those migratory motions to occur. [1 Univ. of Calgary]
Even though these migratory movements happen for a legit cause from the prospective of the individual or groups who migrate, they are historically faced with hostility by native inhabitants. Natives may see the newcomer as a potential threat to their freedoms.

Despite societal advancements throughout the centuries, humans carry a trait of resisting what is different and can be dominated by fear that a newcomer may influence their environment in a negative light and deplete their resources. [2 Doherty].

Because this country has a long history of being very ethnically diverse, discrimination has been a reason for tension and overtime prejudice has become the basis for the denial of basic rights for minority groups. [3 Helpme]

The United States of America is a nation made up of immigrants. People from every corner of the globe have continuously landed here in search of freedom and certain opportunities to improve their life standards. Most people came here willingly; however, some were forcibly drawn into slavery, such as Africans and Native Americans.

The 1920’s marked the boiling point in which discrimination was openly expressed and subsequently caused a lot of tension. Minority groups suffered most at the hands of those concerned with preserving the long established White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (W.A.S.P.) values that were an integral part of American life at the time. [3 Helpme]

African Americans were the most discriminated group through the act of segregation; however, other ethnic groups suffered with such policies as well. People from these groups were separated from whites in most public places, including restaurants, trains, parks, theaters and even cemeteries. [3Helpme]

African and Native Americans were the ones who suffered the most hardship due to discrimination. African’s came here as slaves for southern plantation owners and Native American’s was stripped from their own habitat and relocated to secluded reservation areas in result of the greedy white man driven westward in search of wealth.

African American’s lived in moments of hope after the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th amendment which freed them from the hands of the southern masters. Unfortunately, the political power and social protection condition envisioned by the black people never materialized and the cycle of discrimination and fear continued.

Criminal organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia conspired to maintain an environment of oppression and fear among black people for years. Those organized groups targeted the few who started to succeed in the climb of the social ladder in an attempt to discourage others from following the same path.

Black people were forced to keep to their “rightful place” meaning the very bottom of the social ladder and stripped from any basic rights, just like the Native Americans. Blacks were subjected to segregation and kept from the political scene by not being allowed to vote. Many civil rights advocates were threatened and in many instances ended up being lynched.

The civil rights bill was passed by congress in 1866 under which discrimination against black people was made illegal by the constitution. That was a starting point for blacks to pursue other rights as citizens.[4 Everything2]

The Gilded Age and westward expansion was marked by a lot of corrupt politics, exploitive businesses, social inequalities and Indian genocide.[5 American History Notes]. Millions of indigenous people were massacred and others driven away by settlers who moved west in search of gold and other opportunities.

Eventually, the remaining groups surrendered and were confined to reservations which they considered prisons. Stripped from their basic rights and dignity, their only hope was to one day be able to go back to where they came from and live the kind of life they once had before the white man came into the scene. [6 Foner, p.30]

During a speech made to dignitaries including President Rutherford Hayes, Chief Joseph, the leader of Nez Perce Indians tried to convince the authorities to grant his people freedom by allowing them to go back to where they came from.

”…When I think of our condition of my heart is heavy. I see my men of my race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, or shot down as animals”,…”we only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men…Let me be a free man” [7 Foner p.33].

One difficulty in granting Chief Joseph’s request is that freedom from the Native American standpoint conflicted tremendously with white man interests and Chief Joseph died without ever seeing his people set free from the conditions in which he considered the same as those of a prison. [6 Foner p.30]

One ethnic group which experienced harsh acts of discrimination is Asian Americans. They did not take full advantage of the expansion of rights resulting from the Civil War and Reconstruction according to Frederick Douglass, an Equal Rights Activist who advocated for the Asian American population. “ There are clouds, wind, smoke and dust and noise, over head and around and there will always be; but no genuine thunder, with destructive bolt, menaces from any quarter of the sky…I want a home here not only for the negro, the mullato or the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours”, said Douglass in his 1869 speech in which he challenged the social observers and politicians by condemning anti-Asian discrimination acts and advocated for the acceptance of Chinese immigrants into the mainstream American life. [8 Foner, p.20] [9 Black Past]

In 1882 Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the United States temporarily by the Chinese Exclusion Act, a United States Federal Law. [10 Foner, p.68]That caused a big reaction among Chinese advocates. Some critics of the law considered it as nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination. [11 Wikipedia] Saum Song Bo, a Chinese-American writer contrasted the treatment his group was receiving with the celebration of liberty which took place after the United Stated received the Statue of Liberty from the French as a gift to the American People. [10 Foner, p.68]

“Liberty is holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationality enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from insults, abuses, assaults, wrongs, and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?” [10 Foner, p.69], said Bo in a tone of protest against the government’s measure.

It is understandable the frustration the Chinese-American felt with regard to the government’s decision to stop Chinese immigration. On the other hand, the government was concerned with the growing numbers of Chinese immigrants gathering in the cities as the gold rush was over. Many of them were forced to move to the urban areas of West Coast cities and compete with locals for job opportunities which were already scarce even before the Chinese workers started to arrive.

During the twentieth century, the United States was the epicenter of immigration as millions of people from Europe, Asia and Latin America landed here in search of opportunities. Among these newcomers there were approximately one million Mexicans who crossed the border with the vision that they would find the solution to their problems in the United States. [12 Foner, p.82]

No matter what the driving force was which led to the phenomenon of migration, it seams that economics have always been a key factor to motivate people. Economics has led masses of people to come to America. The majority of the people who came here in search of opportunities could hardly anticipate the dimension of obstacles they would face in order to make their dreams come true. Immigrants have always been the subject of prejudice and faced difficult times while attempting to participate in the mainstream of American life regardless of background.

Racial prejudice has always existed and it will never go away as long as distinct groups occupy a common geographic space. Prejudice rests in a prejudgment based on ethnical background, color of skin, religion, without any knowledge of any relevant information about the person’s character and behavior. In article 97, Frederick Douglas, an advocate for Asian-American rights points out in his “Composite Nation” speech that, “…In any struggle the good things of this world they (White Americans) need to have no fear. They have no need to doubt that they will get their full share. But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men”. [8 Foner p.24].

Many government laws have been created to discourage the public display of discriminatory acts. Still there is a tendency for certain races to look down on other cultures and position themselves as superior. There is a tendency, however, that an educated mind is less likely to underestimate the abilities of a person to attain success in life based purely on his physical make up or where he came from.

It took many generations for most people in this country to reach the consensus that all races of the world have equal possibilities for achieving the highest level in intellectual, social, economic, cultural and political development provided they are presented with the right opportunities. Racial differences are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors and they have to be respected. History has proven that exclusion is wrong and it represents a setback for any society.

During the period of this country’s formation and development prejudice was quite a common occurrence, especially in the 1920’s. Minority groups suffered tremendously from prejudice especially from those who wanted to preserve the old and traditional WASP values. Eventually laws were made to attenuate this grave problem and slowly minority groups started finding their place in this society.

Although discrimination still exists to this day, people are more discrete and likely to come to terms when faced with conflict related to social and racial differences. This is, in part, because the laws of this country protect individuals from any discrimination acts.

Citizens are given equal opportunity to flourish as human beings and participate in the country’s business provided that the individual does not take illegal shortcuts in order to accomplish his goals.

The United Stated is a highly diversified nation formed by people from many different cultures. The opportunities that immigrants find here are unmatched by any other nation. As I look back in history and reflect on the conditions of early immigrants and ethnic groups, I have to recognize that despite all of the controversies and difficulties, this was and still is the land of opportunity for millions of people who have taken the risk and made America their home. [13 Foner, p.132]


Work Cited


[1Univ. of Calgary], University of Calgary, “Early Migration to the Americas”, www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/migrations/

[2Doherty], James H. Doherty, “The Historical Roots of Discrimination”,
http://www.humanrights-germany.org/print/issues/eng/ethn/page03.htm

[3Helpme],"Racial Discrimination in America During the 1920's." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Apr 2009.

[4Everything2], “African American and Native American discrimination from 1864 to 1954”,
http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1463139,

[5American History Notes], “The Gilded Age”,
http://www.stegen.k12.mo.us/tchrpges/sghs/mruch/WestwardExpansionandtheGi ldedAge.htm

[6 Foner, p.30], Chief Joseph, “An Indian’s View of Indian Affairs” (1879) America’s Gilded Age, 1870-1890, Eric Foner, Article 99, p.30

[7Foner, p. 33], Chief Joseph, “An Indian’s View of Indian Affairs” (1879), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 99, p.33

[8 Foner, p.20], Frederick Douglas, “The Composite Nation” (1869); Voices of Freedom, Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 97, p.20

[9 Black Past], BlackPast.org,
http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1869-frederick-douglass-describes-composite-nation
[10 Foner, p.68], Saum Song Bo, Chinese-American Protest, from American Missionary (1885), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 108, p.68

[11 Wikipedia], Chinese Exclusion Act,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Exclusion_Act

[12 Foner, p.82], Manuel Gamio, “Manuel Gamio on a Mexican-American Family and American Freedom (ca.1926); Voices of Freedom, Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 112, p.82

[13Foner, p.132], Randolph Bourne, “Trans-National America” (1916), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 123, p.132

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