Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Historical Examples of Discrimination in the United States

            The history of the United States contains numerous examples where certain groups were denied the opportunity to participate fully in the American way of life, and it shows two basic reasons for this exclusion. The first reason is that individuals choose to break the laws and are legally separated from society as punishment for their actions. The second reason is that the majority of society prevents minorities from having equal admission to the political system. These discriminations may come because of differences in race, religion, nationality, sex, or other factors and usually develop because of fear, hatred, and competitiveness. This essay will discuss three historical examples of exclusion, explore how the Constitution protected or failed to protect these groups, and give an example of discrimination in today’s world.

            Discrimination reared its ugly head against the people of Japan when they were actually prohibited from immigrating to the United States by the Immigration Act of 1924. This law proclaimed that immigrants could not become naturalized citizens, although their descendants were eligible for citizenship if born in the United States. Americans were anti-Japanese for many years before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the war against Japan increased the tensions. As Japan won battle after battle, fears increased concerning sabotage and subversion from the Japanese people living within the United States. By January 1942 Americans wanted all Japanese to be relocated away from the West Coast, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order on February 16, 1942, to move them. The order did not specifically name the Japanese even though it was directly aimed at moving them out of the newly formed “military areas” in the chosen area. They were given a few days to dispose of their property, and then they were shipped to ten different internment camps located in inhospitable and desert regions in the interior of the United States.

            The camps had prison-like watchtowers, fences, and barbed wire, and the Japanese – even those who were citizens of the United States – were held without legal recourse. Thus, they were denied all constitutional protections. Korematsu v. United States was one of several court challenges to the internment, but the Supreme Court ruled against Fred Korematsu and upheld the exclusion and internment of Japanese-Americans. The camps began closing in late 1944, and the Japanese-Americans were set free. However, their properties and homes had been sold, and they had no place to go. These wrongs began to be recognized in the 1970s, and by 1983 a determination was made that the internments were based on untruths caused by racism. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 gave $20,000 to each of the 60,000 surviving internees to pay for their economic losses. Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts in fighting for the constitutional rights of Japanese-Americans, and President Ronald Reagan apologized for the racial“mistake” made by the nation, but he offered no judgements because the action was taken in the time of war. 

            Discrimination against women often starts at birth simply because they are female. Boys and men are physically stronger than girls and women and are often valued more for their ability to do the heavy work of running farms or working in the factories. Some nations even allow girl babies to be killed in order to have more boy babies, and most men desire sons. For many years and in numerous countries women were not allowed to own property or to vote, and multitudes of women are still treated unfairly. The basic right to vote was denied to American women long after African-American men received the opportunity in 1870. The women’s suffrage movement started in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19-20, 1848, at a gathering devoted to women’s rights. For much of the 1840s and 50s women marched to protest the denial of basic economic freedoms to women. They even lobbied Congress to be included in the provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments that extended full citizenship rights and granted voting rights to African-American men, but they were unsuccessful in the attempt.  

            Women’s demands for equality continued into the 1880s and 90s when they began to expand their spheres of influence outside the home. They joined progressive causes, organized women’s clubs, advocated for temperance, and participated in civic and charity organizations. However, only four states allowed women to vote before 1910 – Wyoming (1869), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), and Idaho (1896). After 1910 the women intensified their lobbying efforts and more states granted the right to vote to them. As the nation neared entry into World War I, women accepted President Woodruff Wilson’s argument that US efforts to “make the world safe for democracy” should begin by extending the right to vote for women. They insisted that the failure to do so would be detrimental to the efforts of women as workers and volunteers in support of the war efforts. The House of Representatives responded by passing a voting rights amendment on January 10, 1918, but received no response from the Senate. The House again approved the measure by a wide margin on May 21, 1919, and the Senate agreed on June 4, 1919. Official ratification of the amendment was made on August 26, 1920, fifty years after the right to vote was given to black men. Today girls and women continue to fight for rights of equality in the home, in school classes and sports, and in the business world.

            A third group of Americans who were discriminated against were early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were excluded for their religious beliefs. Even though Congress did not legislate against their establishing a new religion, the majority of American citizens persecuted them for exercising their freedom to worship as they chose. Governor Lilburn Boggs of the State of Missouri issued an extermination order on October 27, 1838, against all members of the Church, meaning that they were to be eradicated or driven from the state. Missouri expelled all of them during winter conditions and imprisoned their leaders. After escaping from jail Joseph Smith traveled to Washington, D.C. to plea with Congress and the President for help from the U.S. Government in obtaining compensation for or the restoration of property in Missouri. 

            The Constitution failed to protect this group of citizens because the federal government refused to act in the cause of members of the Church, some of whom are ancestors of this author. President Martin Van Buren told Smith, “I can do nothing for you, - if I do anything, I shall come in contact with the whole State of Missouri.” In other words, the President of the United States failed to give protection to a large group of citizens because he was concerned about the effects that such actions would have on his political situation. The Extermination Order from Missouri remained in effect until June 25, 1976, when it was rescinded.

            One would think that Americans would learn their lessons about exclusion and discrimination from the examples discussed above. However, prejudice and discrimination continue in the nation today as Americans currently fear the hordes of people coming from countries in Central America and amassing at the southern border. Several caravans of migrants left their home countries several weeks ago to travel to the United States, and the first one arrived at the border last week. A common term used for the caravans is “invasion” because about 95% of the caravan is composed of young- to middle-aged men carrying flags from their home countries. However, there are also families who are honestly seeking asylum because of crime and violence in their homelands. The men claim that they have a “right” to enter the United States to obtain employment in order to send money home to their families. They have even threatened to rush the border in an effort to overwhelm the border guards and enter the United States illegally.           
            US authorities hardened the border crossing with barriers and military personnel, so the caravan is currently stopped in Tijuana, Mexico. The travelers are discovering that they are not any more welcome in Tijuana than they are in the United States. Residents of Tijuana are upset with the thousands of immigrants who have descended on their city asking for handouts and causing problems. They also fear the coming days and weeks as more caravans arrive with thousands of more strangers. Americans, on the other hand, fear that the hordes of people will cause problems in the American economy as well as bring crime and diseases to the United States. Most Americans do not want the immigrants to enter the United States unless they follow all the rules and enter legally. Since there are already 3,000 or so immigrants waiting in line to be processed, the thousands more from the caravans will have to wait several months before their cases can be considered. Even though Americans are sympathetic to the causes of the migrants, they are also concerned about the effects of so many immigrants coming at one time.
            Discrimination is not singular to the United States because it takes place in all races, religions, and nationalities to some point and for numerous reasons. This exclusion usually comes from fear, hatred, or competition for jobs. Since the United States cannot accept the millions of people who wish to live in America, the government must have rules for entry and residency. Because of these rules, most of the immigrants in the caravans will not qualify for asylum and will be sent back to their home countries. However, Americans should learn to accept people who are different from them and to help all to enjoy the American experience. It is only through acceptance and assimilation that the future history of the United States can become different than its past history.

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