Race and gender hierarchy changes in American history are the results of various social, economic, and political issues. While the poor economic conditions of African Americans are one reason for it, there are other social and political factors too. The racial discrimination and prejudice against African Americans by white people led to the civil war. Following this, there were improvements in their lives, though they suffered but to Jim Crow laws, until the civil rights movement. Even after segregation was abolished, there were cases of injustice like that of Assata Shakur. However, with varying periods, Africans have had improvements and failures in their social status. As far as gender hierarchy is concerned, there has not been much change throughout history, though there have been improvements in the conditions of women.
Changing Race/Gender Hierarchy
The race and gender hierarchy in the United States have changed with various events in history. What are the main reasons for such changes? To what extent do economic issues play roles in bringing about the changes? These are the topics going to be discussed in this essay. The life of African Americans, the causes for civil war and reconstruction, and civil rights issues and their consequences are analyzed for this purpose in this paper. The life of Assata acts as an example of the causes that brought about the changes. A detailed study of the conditions of the Africans in America in history proves that economic issues were not the only ones that resulted in the changes of hierarchy in the society.
Changes in race and gender hierarchy have resulted from the civil war and civil rights movement, which brought about changes in American society drastically, though these changes have not been stable enough to last for long. As rebellions continued, the supremacy of race and gender have greatly varied. Economic issues largely played a role in these changes. However, economic issues were not the main thing that caused these changes. There were other equally important issues like social and political ones. While the economic improvement has helped the oppressed people in their upliftment, social and political improvements cannot be ignored. Though women were mistreated by the white people, it should be noted that the dominant section viewed the black people in general as inferior to them. It was not only the women who suffered at the hands of the whites. Changes in race hierarchy include changes in the status given to men and women of a particular community. Gender hierarchy changes to deal with economic, social, and political issues.
The period from 1860 to 1865 saw the Civil War following which a period known as Reconstruction came about dividing the American society into two. As a result of the war, Northern states and many its inhabitants started sympathizing with the Africans, who before the war, were their slaves. There were attempts to abolish slavery that had existed in American society. They believed in giving more political freedom to black people. Whereas, the southern parts were completely against giving any kind of power to the black people. They soon turned to a white-only rule and introduced severe cruel laws against blacks. ‘Jim Crow’ was a rule to segregate blacks from whites in the society. This situation continued even in the twentieth century, when the civil rights movement arose, which gave more social, economic, and political power to the black people. Though there still remained traces of racism and gender differences in the American society, the condition of the black people improved providing them more opportunities to study and live comfortably.
Economic issues were to an extent, reasons for the civil war and civil rights movement. Slavery, which existed centuries before the civil war, had made them utterly poor. Even the Africans in African countries became terribly poor. The slaves in America had to work for very low wages. They were exploited by the white people. They were made to do all the jobs that required physical effort, which tired them a lot. Besides, they were not given proper wages. Their economic condition during those times was pathetic. The twentieth century before the civil rights movement too was not different. Though by the twentieth century, the African people managed to come out of slavery, they were still economically poor. They lived in very poor houses and were still employed in low-paid jobs which made it difficult for them to survive.
However, economic reasons were only a part of their social condition in society. Ever since Africans set their feet in America, they have suffered racial discrimination and prejudice by the white people who considered themselves superior based on their color. They were slaves or laborers of the white people before the civil war in 1860. They had no political power too. This along with a few other political reasons led to the civil war which helped in improving the condition of Africans in the northern parts. Africans, who were concentrated in the South, gradually shifted over to the North, because they got better treatment there. Reconstruction and the introduction of the laws of Jim Crow in the South resulted in creating resentment in the minds of Africans. The rule said that the blacks were equal, but must be separated. His segregation made them desperate. They were not allowed to enter public places like the restaurants or hospitals which were used by white people. They had separate schools. This made them move to the Northern parts. Though the North was far better than the South, and Jim Crow laws became weak by the twentieth century, there was unofficial segregation which made life altogether a struggle for them. This continued until the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. The Africans were not allowed to interact with the white people as equals. They had separate neighborhoods, away from the white people. The resentment due to segregation resulted in the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Act prohibited segregation in public. This was followed by rebellions of various kinds, which popularized phrases like ‘black power.’
There were still incidents of injustice done to the blacks. An aggressive and violent group called the black panthers came into existence, of which Assata Shakur was a part. She was convicted of murder, though she was actually guiltless and imprisoned for more than six years, during which she was isolated from other prisoners for almost two years. After she was released, she became famous as a political refugee and published an autobiography in which she narrates her life experiences and states why she decided to settle in Cuba instead of in the United States. In her book she writes, “But it was a lesson I never forgot. Anybody, no matter who they were, could come right off the boat and get more respect than American-born Blacks.” (Assata: An Autobiography). Her life story shows the social discrimination against blacks, The atrocities inflicted upon her can be viewed from the point of feminism.
Political issues which brought about changes in society are of significance too. Men were given full citizenship in America as a result of reconstruction. It also created ‘freedmen’ who were given more liberties. Women too were freed and gained better status in the society, though only men were given full citizenship. However, they still suffered at home, from their husbands. Thus, though reconstruction improved women’s condition, it was not strong enough to change the gender hierarchy and women were considered as below men. Though many women activists raised their voices for the upliftment of women, politically, socially, and economically, men were above women.
Thus, it can be seen from history that changes in race and gender hierarchy greatly came about as the results of social and political issues and economic issues to an extent. The conditions have off late improved with more successful African in all fields of study and work. African Americans can hope for even better times ahead with the arrival of Barrack Obama into the American political scene.
Assata: An Autobiography. 1987.