The issues of “civil rights” and “racism” have always dominated political landscape of the United States of America (USA) since its creation. Soon after the making of the US constitution in 1789, the first ten amendments, also known as “bill of rights”, were enacted, which tried to address the ambiguities and misconstruction in the constitution about status, powers, and rights of the US states and the people. The bill included (i) freedom of religion, speech, and the press, (ii) the right to bear arms, (iii) the housing of soldiers, (iv) protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, (v) protection of rights to life, liberty, and property, (vi) rights of accused persons in criminal cases, (vii) rights in civil cases, (viii) excessive bail, fines, and punishments forbidden, (ix) other rights kept by the people, and (x) undelegated powers kept by the states and the people. The bill, in fact, was recognition of the fact that the people and states enjoy absolute just rights and it laid the foundation of the US becoming the torch bearer of the human rights.
In spite of that, American “civil war” of 1862—1865 between the North and the South had almost brought the country towards disintegration on the issue of slavery, being one of the basic human rights issue. The will of the people to abolish heinous practice of slavery and their belief in one united nation succeeded under the great leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the former US President. The American resolve to stand by the principles of humanity stood victorious. But, this did not stop here as the forces of disruption kept on erecting their heads till the mid-1950s, which saw yet another “movement for the civil rights” under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. He mainly stood for ending the segregation of African-American citizens and stood victorious in the creation of the “Civil Rights Act of 1964” and the “Voting Rights Act of 1965.” This year, Martin Luther King, Jr’s anniversary coincided with one of the largest anti-gun violence mobilization in the US on April 4, 2018. He himself was assassinated with a gun on April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee. The gun violence has caused more deaths to the US citizens than all wars the country has been engaged in around the world.
The story of civil rights has not stopped yet as at present there are some concerns within the US about the policies of President Trump, which he is trying to enact. Since the dawn of President Trump, the White House is on course of becoming real “white” in its composition. Recently, the hiring of 91 interns in the White House reflected an all-white exercise with almost zero representation of the black Americans unlike the past. As per the White House website, “…the White House internship program’s mission is to make the ‘People’s House’ accessible to future leaders from around the nation.” Is this start of stopping the black political representation in one of the highest organs of the country? Those were the days when the same White House had housed the two times black President Obama.
More often, President Trump has engaged himself in comments, which were labelled as racist by the rights activists. He had often said that Barack Obama was not an American since he was a black from Africa. President Trump is also known and criticized as a person who has limited understanding and knowledge of civil rights history in the country. The controversy over his visit and opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country ever, in December 2017 sparked the anger and frustration as civil rights activists believed that he did not deserve to be cutting the ribbon of inauguration. They gave the reasons that previously he had tried to first undo the “Affordable Care Act” and then endorse a “travel ban”, which were in direct conflict with the work and aspirations of the civil rights movement. Mississippi Democratic representative Bennie Thompson and Georgia Democratic representative John Lewis had criticized Trump for his attendance at the event by saying that his “…attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum.”
Although since 1789, American path to liberty, human rights, and participatory democracy has seen tremendous achievements but the racism still saturates American life in one way or the other. The white-lash was visible in the country during the US elections of 2016, according to CNN political commentator Van Jones who is himself black American. Previously, soon after the 9/11 episode American Muslims had also to face different forms of wrath by the white populace mainly. Misunderstandings, stereotypes, and hateful rhetoric dominate American discourse at home when it comes to blacks and other minorities. America would not be great by doing so. Where is American diversity? Where is American dream? Where is American inclusiveness? These are the questions, which are raised by the sage voices in America and beyond these days. Are really gone the days when America was famously known as “melting pot”? These are some serious questions on American long-held principles, i.e. justice, rights, inclusiveness, and fair play.
Article originally published in Regional Rapport on April 30, 2018.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.