Race has been a crucial issue in American society since the settlement of the American colonies. Though the understanding of the concept of “race” has been changing over time, the African-Americans experience can be an example of how other racial minorities were treated after the Civil War in early twentieth century America regarding social, economical, political, and other factors of the phenomena.
In spite of the Union’s triumph in the constitutional law, racism was hardly eradicated from real life. After the Civil War In the 19th century, the abolitionist movement struggled insisting that genuine freedom meant equality. The society formally supported these principles in the Reconstruction era, but this experiment in interracial democracy continued only for some years. By the early 20th century, another system of racial subordination had been formed in the South, which effectively nullified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The radicalism of Reconstruction helps to explain why its vision of racial equality turned out to be unfulfilled and beginning with Mississippi in 1890, southern states amended their laws to disenfranchise the black population. Southern whites whose identity had been formed during slavery period did not create their new system of supremacy alone. The nullification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments proceeded with the acquiescence of the North. The ideals of freedom as a universal entitlement had been repudiated by 1900. The 1890s were notable for the widespread racial segregation in the South. It existed in Reconstruction schools and many other institutions de facto, and in the 1890s the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, gave its approval to state laws requiring separate facilities for blacks and whites. This step was followed by laws mandating segregation in every aspect of life: from schools to hospitals, waiting rooms, drinking fountains, taxies etc. Theodore Roosevelt’s belief in Anglo-Saxon racial destiny led to his Progressive Party convention of 1912, which contested black delegates from the South. Woodrow Wilson’s administration imposed full racial segregation in Washington and considerable numbers of black federal employees were redundant.
Those blacks, who dared to challenge the system or refused to accept the insults, faced not only political and legal power, but the real threat of violence. State authorities tried to prevent lynching and seldom punished or sentenced the participants due to the strong influence of local public opinion on the courts. According to the Tuskegee Institute figures, between the years 1882 and 1951, 4,730 people were lynched in the United States: 3,437 Negro and 1,293 white. There are several background factors and underlying causes for the prevalence of lynching in rural areas by lower class whites: poverty, economic and social fear of the Negro, low level of education, and the isolation, the general boredom of rural and small town life. The lynching of Negroes can only be justified on no other ground than that the law as formulated and administered has proved inadequate to deal with the situation that there has been governmental inefficiency.
In the 1930s, racial violence began to emerge in which white mob assaults were aimed against Black communities, invading neighborhoods, beating and killing people, and destroying property. Race riots happened in both the North and South, but were more characteristic of the North where most of the dead were blacks. It was primarily an urban phenomenon, while lynching was primarily a rural phenomenon. Although lynching was slightly reduced by the turn of the century, race riots were on the increase. Large-scale violence became almost epidemic, as increasing numbers of blacks migrated to Northern cities, especially during and just after World War I. The North was concerned with the migration and the displacement of some whites by blacks in jobs and residences, which escalated social tensions while the South was concerned about the possible demands of returning Negro soldiers, who were unwilling to quietly slip back into second class citizenship. Race riots were caused by a great number of social, political, and economic factors. Among the following general patterns in the major twentieth century race riots are: some extraordinary social condition that prevailed at the time of the riot (prewar social changes, wartime mobility, post-war adjustment, or economic depression), the police force that often sided with the attackers, either by actually participating in or by failing to quell the attack.
Racism has also often been one of the factors that formed America’s diplomacy and foreign policy initiatives. Theodore Roosevelt supported the Social Darwinist interpretations of “survival of the fittest, “white man’s burden” to civilize backward people. As America began to move into the world at the turn of the twentieth century, tendencies for racial superiority were clear. Its evidence can be found in the American presence and racial hostility of combat soldiers in the Philippines, as well as the war with Spain in 1898. The pacification and occupation of Central America, the Caribbean islands in the early decades of the twentieth century also reflect the perception of racial superiority. The occupation of Haiti in 1915-1934 was a result of various moral and strategic concerns along with racism. It was claimed that immigration weakened the American society by allowing “inferior” races to outnumber the Europeans fitted for national and worldwide hegemony. Chinese were the first Asians to immigrate to the United States in significant numbers: by 1880, with their community numbering seventy-five thousand they comprised 10 percent of California’s population. Fear that Chinese Americans might vote was one reason behind congressional passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; a significant precedent was set for the political and social marginalization of all Asian groups. Only in 1952, the last legal restrictions against Asian citizenship were eliminated.
Different societies define race in various ways. In some countries such as South Africa, the Russian Federation, and Rwanda, ethnic categories form the basis for exclusionary policies. In other European nations such as France, Germany, and Spain, there are ideas that ethnic categories can be rejected in order to promote the national unity. The world visions of race in different countries influenced each other and promoted the development of civilized societies. In the USA, the idea of race implies groups like Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants, who are no longer considered separate “races”, as they have been assimilated into the broad category of white Americans. Nowadays, the Hispanic, Asian-American, and other populations are growing rapidly. Thus, the bipolar understanding of race in America as a matter of black and white can be considered out of date.
On the dawn of the twentieth century, America’s triumphant appearance on the world stage as an imperial power in the Spanish-American War connected nationalism to notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority. Having demonstrated their vision of liberty and self-government on the North American continent, they spread these values and institutions to other people throughout the world. Racism continued to be expressed in American national and foreign policy through the 1920s and 1930s until the World War II due to the abovementioned political, economic, and social factors.