AP United States History Essay Sample
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AP United States History Essay Sample
The problem of racism has existed in America historically. From the moment Columbus arrived on the continent, confronting the Native Americans, to the tensions regarding race that exist today, race relations have always played a large role in the transformation of this country. One of the largest demonstrations of racism in this country is the antagonism that has been directed towards African Americans for decades.
Although there is so much discussion on the topic of reparations, any efforts towards making amends have not been large enough to impact how we see the injustice that was brought upon African Americans in this country. In his essay, “The Case For Reparations”, African-American author journalist TaNehisi Coates talks about the cumulative effects of racism and discrimination throughout American history, by acknowledging facts of the 20th century during which a barrier of white government, deception and violence continued to oppress blacks, and addressing the fact that reparations are needed to make the country whole.
One point Coates acknowledges in his essay is the role that white supremacy and the oppression of black people have played in making the country what it is today, by discussing how justice requires us to take into consideration the fact that our nation’s success and worth has been built on the abuse and theft of African Americans.
He makes a holistic argument that shows, that the US has flourished economically because of slavery, stating “The vending of the black body and the sundering of the black family became an economy unto themselves, estimated to have brought in tens of millions of dollars to antebellum America”, essentially saying that without the slavery that was a part of our past we would not be where we are today in regards to America’s economic prosperity and power. The cotton produced from slave labor accounted for much of the country’s wealth and also formed trading relations with foreign nations that have carried to this day.
This reflects Coates’ thesis as it supports the “two hundred fifty years of slavery” that still burden the morality of the nation’s past. Although I do think Coates makes a legitimate and valid argument, I do not believe it is completely accurate, because although slavery had a large impact on the establishment of the country’s economy, half of the nation was comprised of non slaveholding states that also contributed to the prosperity of American economy. The North had an industrial economy that was not entirely dependent on slavery or the raw materials produced by slavery.
Although his point is correct in that slavery was a major factor in economy, I feel that Coates fails to effectively incorporate other aspects of the economic foundation, not dependent on slavery, and therefore creates a swayed argument. Coates documents the variety of methods, from slavery to home ownership policies by which the government of the United States has prevented black citizens from keeping their wealth and passing it down from one generation to the next.
He talks about various government policies preventing blacks from being able to have equal that were implemented. Coates explains the stigma of how white sellers would not sell houses to blacks in white neighborhoods out of fear that the value of their property would decrease since blacks were not as “well off” as whites. I think this notion stemmed from the demeaning ideas about blacks that had been popular during the Jim Crow era. Furthermore, Coatesa specifically notes historian Kenneth T.
Jackson’s account of racial policies brought upon by the Federal Housing Act. Jackson writes in his book, Crabgrass Frontier, “FHA exhorted segregation and enshrined it as public policy. Whole areas of cities were declared ineligible for loan guarantees. ” (Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier). He explains the the action of the Federal Housing Administration “redlining” black neighborhoods, making it nearly impossible for African Americans to have insurance.
In Terry Gross’ article, “A Forgotten History of How The U. S. Government Segregated America” (Gross), the NPR author writes about redlining, stating that it “furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods”, further emphasizing just how difficult it was for black people to obtain homes in a corrupt system, where people were indoctrinated by the false belief that whites were superior to blacks.
I believe that this is a valid point that Coates makes, and agree with the fact that the government had racist housing policies for nearly four decades, preventing blacks from integrating into society. I think that these policies were largely rooted in the ideas of de facto segregation that were already existing because they were implemented in order to ensure that blacks and whites were not treated the same way as that idea of having equality still bothered many white Americans.
Additionally, Coates explains how the poverty of black people today can be directly traced to racist policies and actions of the past, essentially asserting that many shortcomings of black people today is a result of yesterday’s racism. He emphasizes how many Americans don’t seem to believe that the present situation is the result of these past actions. Many people seem to assume that black people and white people start with a level playing field, that they have similar resources at their disposal and therefore should be able to achieve similar results.
Coates discusses, “The lives of black Americans are better than they were half a century ago. The humiliation of WHITES ONLY signs are gone… But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere. The income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970”. This highlight the fact that blacks still have to work harder than whites in order to have the same opportunities. Coates shows that these damages are visible, including statistics that clearly show the persisting divide between white and black Americans.
For example, when Clyde Ross had initially bought his home in North Lawndale, it had been a “promising neighborhood”, yet now as a result of corrupt contract sellers who exploited the hopes of blacks, North Lawndale is an epicenter of poverty with 92% of the population being blacks, and 43% living below the poverty line. This cycle continues today as the environment in which many blacks live in, takes away opportunities from them as they have a lesser chance at a better education, which leads to less job opportunities, and ultimately puts them back into these “ghettos” that prevent them from prospering.
Sociologist Patrick Sharkey’s research shows that “black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000”, showing that seemingly well off black Americans end up in these neighborhoods. I think Coates’ argument here is completely valid because racism is obviously still existent in the United States today, and much of that racism still is rooted in white superiority ideas that were spread during the era of slavery and Jim Crow.
I also agree with the idea that there is not a quite “level playing field” for blacks and whites because as long as the ideologies of racism exist, there will always be an underlying bias against blacks, and therefore and unequal playing field. In addition, Coates contends that the damages black Americans face today are not just from ac- they are from what we continue to do today through willful ignorance of the economic, psychological and moral foundation of our country.
I think this is true because unfortunately it is still partially a reality that black people are living in a white man’s world. This is evidently shown in Coates’ paper when he states, “black college graduates still suffer higher unemployment rates than white college graduates, and black job applicants without criminal records enjoy roughly the same chance of getting hired as white applicants with criminal records”.
Black people are forced to work twice as hard as whites in order to have the same opportunities and I think this cannot change until we rid the idea that black people are not as capable from our society. It is not as popular as it was in the past, yet in order for America to be united as one, every individual must change their attitudes towards race relations.
Even today, in our era of “post-racism,” Coates explains that there continues to be the practice of banks and mortgage companies to actively work toward keeping blacks separated by having predatory credit and loan policies such as that of Wells Fargo in 2010. He writes, “According to The New York Times, affidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as “mud people” and to their subprime products as “ghetto loans””, revealing the insensitive and unjust policies that still oppress blacks.
I think the fact that racism is still prevalent in the United States is obvious, however what many people do not acknowledge is how it affects and threatens many African Americans from obtaining the American Dream in which anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, should be able to equally attain success in society. Today, debates regarding race and poverty often revolve around giving \”our\” money to people, who have had to deal with cruel treatment, out of sympathy for their condition.
Coates barely acknowledges that motivation, rather his essay talks about giving someone back the money that they had made in the first place. Racism and discrimination to the extent that they have been directed towards blacks are an offense that is broad. Many cases involve deeds that are reprehensible yet the crimes committed are almost on a spectrum, with varying levels of cruelty, making it seem impossible to formulate a concrete, specific system of compensation for the victims.
This is a meritable argument because how does one repay a population for the lynchings, trauma, and humiliation they have faced? I do not think you can just put a price on someone’s life, so I think Coates makes a good argument to raise the question of what reparations should be defined as. He does not delve into specific changes that need to be made in order for reparations to be fulfilled, stating that “No one can know what would come out of such a debate.
Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produce”, however I agree with the idea that he is trying to convey; I believe that before we try to make amends, we must first at least change the terms of the conversation of race.
Therefore I think that before we are able to make reparations or any sort of compensatory payment for the slavery of black people, the nation as a whole must come together on the same page and discuss reparations as a matter of wealth and opportunity rather than the guilt of actions that will forever remain irreversible. Overall, I think many points made in TaNehisi Coates’ essay agree with my stance on race relations today.
I believe that until we publicly talk about the story of racism in this country and how to repair the damage towards reaching a “whole America” it has done, we will not be able to in fact achieve the “whole America” mentioned in Coates’ thesis. I do not think monetary reparations to members of the African-American community for historical mistreatment and injustices are the most feasible option for America to mend itself and its views, rather I think it is better to discuss the situation of African-Americans in the context of the larger problem of inequality and declining social mobility.
However in the place of reparations that may not be possible, we can start improving the future by enforcing the laws that should protect black people and other groups from discrimination in housing, employment, banking, and other activities. By being aware of the past and working to change the attitudes of those who still hold prejudiced views, we can start to get beyond the legacy of exclusion in America.