Inequality Throughout the History of the United States
When one looks at history, they tend to see a world full of people, places, and attitudes, completely different and separate from the ones they currently experience. They see a place full of closed-minded, insensitive, naive individuals and nations, all caught up in the current that was their inevitable landing in their place in history. This separation, though understandable, blinds people to the fact that they share a lot with the people and civilizations that came before them; which, in some cases, is more than would be liked.
It is said that history tends to repeat itself; and though this saying should not be taken literally, it does, in fact, repeat in similar ways. Sometimes it does it with the exact people, places, and attitudes that everyone would hope to be far in the past and removed from their “modern” and “sophisticated” ideologies. History and the present have given us a variety of examples of how the human race (in this case the US specifically), has a tendency to repeat the remnants of its past oppressions of different people groups on the basis of race, class, and gender.
From slavery to Jim Crow, from indentured servantude to exploitation of the migrant worker, from “common law” to women’s sufferage pushback; all examples of history attemting to repeat or maintain the mistakes of the past. But despite the suffering given to these people, they rose up against the people that were oppressing them.
The transition from slavery to Jim Crow was not one that was unforseen.
It was not a surprise that the people who had maintained such a huge amount of power, would not let it go so easily. Emancipation was the first step to freeing a group of people who had been for so long oppressed and taken advantage of. The Emancipation Proclamation freed 3.1 out of the 4 million slaves that were currently living in the United States. (“Emancipation Proclamation”, History.com). Though it was a big win for the slaves on their road to equality and freedom, it was a big loss to those who profited off of slave labor. It seems almost as if the plantation owners and people in power used their anger and renewed hatred to further the pain and suffering of their former slaves, almost as if they hadn’t hurt or oppressed them enough. Jim Crow laws, though implemented 12 years after the Civil War, when slavery was supossed to have been abolished, kept people of color in a type of social slavery. Instead of being bound by ropes and chains, they were bound and restrained by a set of laws and social standards that infiltrated and controlled every aspect of their lives. “The system was psychological and physical at the same time. The slaves were taught discipline, were impressed again and again with the idea of their own inferiority to ‘know their place,’ to see blackness as a sign of subordination, to be awed by the power of the master, to merge their interest with the master’s, destroying their own individual needs.” (Zinn, 34). In the current sphere of things, there are movements like Black Lives Matter, that work to “build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”(“Black Lives Matter | About “, blacklivesmatter.com). It’s movements like these that show that African American people all throughout history, from the black runaways that ran with white indentured servants in the 1600s (Zinn, 37)., to abolitionists in the 1800s, to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, have been fighting for equality and a chance to live in harmony in this country which seems so intent on pushing them down.
Parallels between indentured servitude and the current exploitation of illegal immigrant farm workers is startling. Poor, immigrant, workers have been taken advantage of throughout American history. In the 1600s, indentured servants were “treated as badly as black slaves” (Zinn,37). People who hired these indentured servants were able to use their power and the people’s status as indentured servants to take advantage of them and work them as hard as they wanted to. This later, and slightly more recently, manifested itself in the form of the mistreatment of migrant workers in fields in California’s agriculture industry before and throughout the 1960-70s during the time of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. “ Grape pickers in 1965 were making an average of $.90/hour, plus ten cents per “lug” (basket) picked. State laws regarding working standards were simply ignored by growers.”(“The Rise of the UFW – UFW”, Inga Kim). But that is when migrant farm workers successfully came together and protested, unionized and improved their situation. But, the kind of exploitation we see nowadays is not far from the type that was present throughout the aforementioned timeframe. “Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable. The big agribusinesses that hire these immigrants will tell you that they need an unfettered supply of cheap foreign labor, because they cannot find Americans willing to do these jobs[…]hours of backbreaking work in terrible and often dangerous conditions, subsistence wages with little or no time off, […]it’s hard to see why anyone with other options would subject themselves to a life that is barely a step above slavery.” (“Field work’s dirty secret: agribusiness exploitation of undocumented labor | Sadhbh Walshe | Opinion | The Guardian “,Sadhbh Walshe). Despite the many reforms that have occurred throughout recent history involving farm workers and their rights, there are still people being taken advantage of. These people, especially those that are undocumented have virtually no power aginst the people they are working for and are forced to live with and be complacent to their conditions. Agribusiness has routinely jumped through legislative loopholes and has continued to maintain these terrible labor practices for decades. But organization like the National Farm Worker Ministry and the United Farm Workers are pushing to change the laws that are fueling this injustice.
Women have made strides in their fight against injustice. As early as 1777, laws were passed that prohibited women from voting in all of the current United States. In addition to this, in the late 1760s, the US had formatted their laws having to do with women similarly to English “common law” which according to the Blackstone Commentaries, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law? The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.”(“Detailed Timeline”, National Women’s History Alliance). This and many other early American laws, brought the value, autonomy, and financial independence down to practically nothing; preventing them from upward mobility without the help or reliance of a man. Even Abigail Adams wrote, ‘[…]remember the ladies, and be more generous to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands.[…]all men would be tyrants if they could.[..] we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound to obey the laws in which we have no voice of representation.” (Zinn, 110) .Given historical patterns its seems that all of these laws and legislations put in place against women were put there to keep women “in their place”, not giving them the rights they deserve as human beings and citizens of a country. It wasn’t until 1920 that women gained national suffrage, 144 years after the country had been founded. Men and women who were content and felt secure in the current social sphere and way of things kept women from gaining equal rights. Women in the 17 and 1800s fought for what they believed in, but were very rarely listened to, being faced with a culture of complacency and sexism. “Women, after becoming involved in other movements of reform- antislavery, temperance, dress styles, prison conditions-turned, emboldened and experienced, to their own situation.” (Zinn, 120). These emboldened and empowered women from the early years of feminism were the predecessors that inspired the women of the 60 and 70s to fight for workplace equality and reproductive rights, and just for the right to be treated and seen as capable, strong, intelligent human beings with power and might to change and impact their surroundings.
This world and this country need improvement in the way that they treat and interact with people they see as other and as different from the majority. The human race has made strides in its recognition of human rights and human dignity. But that doesn’t mean that the world is anywhere near done reforming and changing. There are still billions of people out there being mistreated and looked upon with contempt based on circumstances which they have little control over. Looking at history and seeing the things that have been done and taken away from decent human beings, it’s no surprise that the world is where it’s at now. Racial tension, violence, dicrimination, and many other abuses paints a clear picture of what happens when people allow history to repeat itself and for history to maintain a negative grip on the present. It is the job of the people who are aware of this pattern, and can see injustice happening around them to try their best to influence the world to become a better, more humane place that respects and cares for the people within it.