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Fannie Lou Hamer and racism

Introduction

American history represents the social problems of race and inequality apparent in the class divide. Racism is the result of social Darwinism that America used to justify inequalities and injustices. Historians relate social Darwinism with capitalism and race in the Western world. American racism influenced the Africans, resulting in their deprivations and devastated state. The socio-political structure of America was based on the survival of the fitters, allowing whites to justify their positions of domination and power. Africans lacked access to better opportunities, which confined them to poverty and low economic status. Sociologists used the theory of social Darwinism to explain the inequalities between blacks and whites.

Fannie Lou Hamer identifies different historical events that encouraged blacks to fight for their rights, becoming most visible in the civil rights movement. She criticizes the prevalence of slavery culture in America that motivated whites to treat blacks as inferior and slaves. She mentions, “The president will not allow the illiterate woman to speak from the floor of the convention” (9)[1]. Education was a major threat for Africans as the state wanted to keep them illiterate. Fewer blacks were able to acquire education during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hamer uncovers that improvements in the economy did not benefit blacks due to the existence of racism and discrimination. Racism was also apparent in the fact that the black majority belonged to the working class. Hamer herself belongs to a sharecropper’s background that added to her experiences of discrimination.

Economic expansion and improved financial state of the country benefited white Americans more than blacks. The period of the Industrial Revolution was due to drastic changes such as the larger production of goods and population diversity. Major shifts in technology and settlements impacted the workforce and economic power, which also influenced the economic sectors. Larger production of goods and increased consumption were the outcomes of the evolution. The era involved negative consequences such as the division of labor and class divide as the wealthy gained excessive power, permitting them to exploit black labor. The classification was prominent as the powerful had access to surplus resources[2]. History associates the Industrial Revolution with more drastic economic and social changes during the nineteenth century. Energy sources and the incorporation of power-driven machinery enhance productivity, contributing to the massive growth of businesses and allowing owners to generate huge revenues while labor receives no benefits. Low-skilled black workers lost their jobs due to their replacement with skilled labor. Unpaid workers and loss of jobs contributed to unemployment. The gap between the rich and poor widened, resulting in inequality and discrimination. The Industrial Revolution resulted in massive profits for the rich, which deteriorated the lives of the poor as they were unable to earn meager wages. The majority of black people were employed at low levels, so capitalism influenced them negatively.

The history of America portrays the themes of racism and social Darwinism reflected through the analysis of African Americans’ lives. The theory of Darwinism promoted the belief that some humans are superior to others due to their biological makeup. American society treated whites as superior and blacks as inferior; that was the misapplication of the real philosophy. The society represented a perfect picture of the divided human race between the blacks and whites. Hamer states, “We have to think and draw the line as our goal in talking about the future of black people in this country and how it relates to politics”[3]. The exclusion of Africans from politics remained one of the prominent reasons for black deprivations. White Americans’ access to more resources, education, and economic and political power made them dominant and stronger. Black Americans, on the other hand, suffered the consequences of social Darwinism and racism due to their low access to resources, low education, and no economic or political power. African Americans struggled for the basic necessities while the social system confined the masses to poverty. To justify the gap, white Americans relied on social Darwinism, which conferred the belief that the fittest survives. The philosophy reflects that the weaker are unfit to fight in society and are allowed to die.

Throughout history, Africans encountered racism reflected in the injustices and unequal survival opportunities. Fannie Lou Hamer, a black woman and civil rights activist, captures the realities of discrimination, “you never taught us, white America, that it was a black doctor that learned to save blood plasma to give a blood transfusion”[4]. Issues of race and class discrimination remained prominent chapters in American history, causing misery and pain to the Africans. The inequalities had a long-lasting impact on the lives of the black people, who lived in deprivation and suffered adversities in the form of poverty, poor quality of living, and no opportunities for growth. Philosophers and historical analysts associate the theory of social Darwinism with racism because whites used the ideology to maintain supremacy in the country[5].

Fannie Lou Hamer believed that white Americans used their power to keep Africans in segregation and poverty. Their unacceptance caused blacks to pay a high price, motivating them to fight for their rights. The World Wars had a significant role in widening the gap between whites and blacks; black soldiers contributed to wars while in WWI, they served in segregated units, protesting against racial inequalities. NAACP encouraged them to fight against discrimination and inequalities. The organization emphasized eliminating restrictions faced by blacks, such as voting rights and other civil rights. African America’s participation in two historical wars caused significant changes across social, economic, and political aspects. The war played a positive role in enhancing economic growth by removing trade barriers and allowing freedom. However, the blacks experienced no betterment. They continued to work at low scales, which worsened their positions. World War II also resulted in similar consequences, changing the dynamics of society. Millions of African soldiers fought in World War II, while the majority faced racial discrimination. American military created racially segregated forces as blacks fought from back lines. The military considered them unfit for combat at the front lines. Blacks mostly performed support duties, while it was only by civil-rights leaders in 1941 that they convinced the state to set up black combat units. Africans proved that they were equally competent as white soldiers and were capable of performing the same tasks[6].

The great depression and the New Deal are prominent events in American history that influenced the socio-political and economic aspects, resulting in increased racism. The Great Depression (1929) resulted in financial turmoil due to the excessive and uncontrolled lending of the banks. The common impacts include an increase in the unemployment rate by 25 percent and increased homelessness among African Americans. The plummeting of housing prices to 30 percent influenced the lower and middle class, comprising the majority of the black population. New Deal programs emerged to provide relief to the citizens who suffered the adversities of the incident. The program focused on eliminating the adversities of the great depression, but it again stressed comforting the whites. Blacks failed to receive the benefits of the New Deal programs. Social Security Act remains one of the most visible benefits, but it excluded the majority of Africans. By 1932, half of African Americans lost their jobs, which affected their socio-economic status, confining them to the lowest standards of living. Discrimination was more apparent in New Deal housing as it eliminated the blacks from proposed benefits. Blacks suffered adversities as they lacked the finances to buy houses.[7]

The civil rights movement remains one of the significant events in American history, allowing blacks to promote concepts of equality and justice. Many blacks emerged to reject the traditional approach of treating blacks as slaves. African leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer emerged in the civil rights movement to speak against the inequalities and injustices prevailing in American society. She presented valid solutions for blacks, including acquiring education and voting rights. She worked to motivate Americans towards the adoption of a democratic system and providing equal living opportunities to blacks. Through consistent efforts of blacks, they managed to gain voting rights and acquire more access to education. Hamer, through her speeches, convinces blacks to come out and change the white mindsets. She motivated blacks to gain education and criticized the role of the state in keeping Africans less educated and out of politics.

Conclusion

The analysis of the important phases of American history reveals the events that contributed to racism and inequality. Africans throughout history suffered inequality and discrimination under the influence of racism and social Darwinism. The Great Depression caused the financial crisis that caused unemployment, affecting Africans more than whites. Supremacy was prevalent in white attitudes that encouraged them to keep blacks in segregation. Blacks played significant roles in world wars while the American military segregated the black army. Fannie Lou Hamer was one of the prominent black leaders of the civil rights movement who stood for black rights and worked for equality.

References

Brooks, Maegan Parker, and Davis W. Houck. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is. University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

Crafts, N. F. R., and Peter. Fearon. The Great Depression of the 1930s: lessons for today. UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS, 2013.

Henretta, James A. America’s History. Vol. 1. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014.

Sled, E B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1981.

Brooks, Maegan Parker, and Davis W. Houck. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is. University Press of Mississippi, 2011, 9.

Henretta, James A. America’s History. Vol. 1. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014, 24.

Brooks, Maegan Parker, and Davis W. Houck. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is. University Press of Mississippi, 2011, 36-41.

Brooks, Maegan Parker, and Davis W. Houck. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is. University Press of Mississippi, 2011, 36-41.

Sledge, E B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1981, 55.

Henretta, James A. America’s History. Vol. 1. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014, 30.

Henretta, James A. America’s History. Vol. 1. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014, 29.

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