The worst type of discrimination is always the kind that is being directed at you. Trying to answer the question as to which minority group suffers most from discrimination is like trying to decide whether childbirth or passing a kidney stone is the most painful. The answer depends whether you are in labor or in the throes of passing a stone. That is why it is difficult to determine which racial or ethnic group suffers the most harm from the exclusionary and judgmental practices born of discrimination. It is difficult to be a competent judge when deciding who is suffering the most pain, but we can consider some very real facts.
According to the Sentencing Project’s 2007 report, there are 2.2 million people in prison in the U.S. and 41 percent of them are black. The Bureau of Justice Statistics predicts that if current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. Hispanics comprised 20 percent of the state and federal prison population, a rise of 43 percent since 1990. As a result of these trends, one of every six Hispanic males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. While the disparity is obvious in both groups, Hispanic men are still only half as likely to be incarcerated as black men.
According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, in 2009 12.3 percent of white people lived below the poverty line compared to 25.8 percent of African-Americans, 12.5 percent of Asian Americans and 25.3 percent of Hispanic Americans. Again, African Americans edged out the other groups proving they are the most deprived population currently living in our country.
The FBI reports that in 2010 there were 3,949 victims of racially motivated hate crimes. A closer examination of this data showed that 70.0 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias, 17.7 percent were victims of an anti-white bias, 5.1 percent were victims of an anti-Asian/Pacific Islander bias, and 1.2 percent were victims of an anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native bias.
In 1999, Alabama became the last state to repeal an anti-miscegenation law that banned black and white people from marrying. Oddly, the black/white pairing is the only one that was thought to be so egregious that it had to be made illegal under the laws of most southern states.
There is endless evidence that the African American community is more disadvantaged than any other. The rate of unemployment, high school dropouts, unwed mothers, crime, and substance abuse are all higher in the black community than in any other. Sadly, there is a plethora of evidence to bear out the contention that racism against African-Americans remains more virulent, pervasive, and damaging than against any other group.
The question lingers however, as to why this is the case. Perhaps it is because African Americans are the only group that has ever been enslaved on American soil. Although undocumented Hispanics have been referred to as America’s “new Negroes” due to their willingness to work at rates below minimum wage, the savagery associated with slavery has not been visited upon the new workers. Somehow, because they volunteer to work for little they must seem less repugnant to racists than those who were forced to work for free.
In 100 Years of Lynchings (1988), Ralph Ginzburg informs us that it was not until 1952 that the practice of lynching blacks was halted. From the time the first slave ship arrived on the Virginia shore in 1662 to the mid twentieth century it was thought to be perfectly okay to torture and kill black people without being punished for it. This is not a legacy that can simply be switched off once the laws are changed. The notion that somehow this history is justified still lives today in the hearts and minds of some.
In a speech given May 27, 1961 Robert Kennedy predicted that so much progress was being made in the area of civil rights that, “There’s no question that in the next 30 or 40 years a Negro can achieve the position of President of the United States.” Although Kennedy’s prediction was close to correct, he likely did not anticipate how much discrimination would still be leveled at a black President.
The book The Persistence of the Color Line (2011) by Randall Kennedy details the nature of the radical opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency. From the depiction of Obama as a Reverend Wright militant, to the “why can’t they all be more like him” lament, Kennedy explains the fear that Obama inspires. Once black folks have a legitimate leader they may decide to rise up and take revenge for historical wrongs.
The most difficult question to be answered when comparing racism against blacks to all other groups is this. Do blacks deserve to take the brunt of more discrimination than other groups? Of course not, you proclaim! That answer comes to you quickly because you are not an entrenched racist. If your father was quick to find fault with dark skinned people, and you believe his teachings have served you well, you might choose to think that the plight of the African American community is due to their own failings. You can point to the very same facts that blacks owe to racism such as high incarceration and poverty rates, to proclaim that there is an inherent flaw in the people.
America has more to feel guilty about when considering the historical and contemporary treatment of black people than for any other miscarriage of justice in our country’s history. Americans dislike experiencing the discomfort of guilty feelings. They would do most anything to make them go away. In the case of discrimination towards blacks, they can either quit discriminating or rationalize the behavior as deserved.
So which of these strategies is the easiest to employ?