Racial Segregation in America

When Dr. Phil McGraw interviews people on his television show who have done very bad things, he frequently asks, “What did you say to yourself that made you think that was okay?”

That question could also be directed toward nations, lawmakers and political leaders who commit or condone atrocities. Case in point, “Southern United States, Bible Belt in fact, what on earth did you say to yourselves to make you think that racial segregation in America was okay?”

This, of course, is a rhetorical question, as the era in question happened approximately sixty years ago. The answers might surprise you, however. The web of self-deception was both broad and deep and engrained in every level of society. Entire generations of White people were born and grew up in cultures where they were taught that Blacks were inferior, stupid, lazy and born to serve Whites. Children’s games even portrayed Blacks at targets who didn’t feel pain.

Segregation and discrimination even had a name, Jim Crow, and he ruled with a heavy hand. Jim Crow laws were passed in numerous states between the 1870s and 1960s to keep Blacks “in their place,” i.e. subservient to Whites.

Who were these people? Largely, they were Southern White Protestants. About one-half had high school diplomas, and fewer than ten percent attended college. Their lives were narrowly focused, and they didn’t trust Jews, Catholics or recent immigrants, though most of them had never met any. They distrusted anyone they did not understand, but could be extremely warm and loving to those with whom they felt a kinship. Blacks were so different from them as to be feared, which ultimately led to Blacks being demonized and the object of domination..

Racial segregation in America was backed up by violence and threats of violence, even for minor offenses. If a Black man even bumped into a White woman on the street he could be accused of rape. Black people were not allowed to be buried in White cemeteries. White nurses could not be compelled to care for Black people. Black and White military units were separated, and the Black troupes always reported to White commanders. In prisons White inmates could not be forced to eat with black inmates. Any infraction could result in a beating, a lynching, or even worse.

Seeds of reconciliation between the races, and between the North and South, were discovered only when the when America was required to unite against a common enemy during World War II. It would take decades, however, for those seeds to sprout.

What do you think?

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