Oppression as a cultural process integrates different representations and is associated with a change in collective identity and a reworking of collective memory. The notion of a uniquely African American identity emerged after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The trauma of forced captivity and near-total submission to the will and whim of others is not necessarily something that many of the subjects of this study experienced directly. Still, it became vital as they attempted to create a collective identity from their memories. In this sense, slavery traumatized retrospectively; it created a “primal scene” that could potentially unite all African Americans in the United States, whether or not they were themselves enslaved people, in doing so, whether or not they still had knowledge or experience of Africa. Oppression laid the groundwork for the emergence of a collective identity, influencing the collective memory and then taking shape, which defines race, nation, and community according to a pre-selected level of abstraction or point of view.
Although black and white Americans have equal rights, their daily lives are hardly the same. According to various studies, even more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery, African Americans continue to face problems that seriously affect their societal position (Taylor et al., 2019). First and foremost are economic inequalities. One study showed that resumes of job applicants with Anglo-Saxon names get 50 percent more responses than resumes with African-American names. On the other hand, African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated and sentenced to longer terms.
The COVID-19 epidemic was another indicator of racial inequality: the number of African Americans who died from the coronavirus was 23 percent of all deaths. According to statistics, black Americans were the most vulnerable group because of the high incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. In addition, it is more difficult for African-Americans to get qualified medical care. According to data cited by CNN, 9.7 percent of black Americans have no health insurance. Among whites, only 5.4 percent do.
The economic downturn caused by the quarantine also hit blacks harder: African-Americans were more likely to lose their jobs and find themselves in financial difficulty. About 61 percent of Hispanics and 44 percent of blacks surveyed in May said they or a family member had been laid off or faced a reduction in income, compared with 38 percent of whites. One example: back in the days of racial segregation, American investors divided cities into favorable and unfavorable zones (Taylor et al., 2019). Money was invested in neighborhoods where the working white majority lived, infrastructure was built, and banks willingly gave loans to residents. At the same time, in black neighborhoods densely populated by poor and less educated descendants of formerly enslaved people, investment was out of the question. Banks refused to lend to African Americans, and agents would not sell them real estate in white neighborhoods.
As a result, many African Americans for decades lived in neighborhoods that remained gray areas. The U.S. has a property tax, from which local schools are budgeted, and utilities and police are paid. Residents of poor neighborhoods do not own property but use social housing, hence do not pay taxes. Local schools are overcrowded and underfunded; there are almost no students of different social status and skin color; public transportation works poorly in such areas; there are more security problems due to the lack of police; there are fewer job opportunities, as big businesses prefer to open in other places (Taylor et al., 2019). It turns out that a white American born and raised in an upscale neighborhood, who went to a good school, took additional classes, and grew up in a safer environment, has a better chance of a prosperous future than his black peer. It is important to note that not everyone in America agrees that such a term and phenomenon as systemic oppression exists at all. Although even the White House recently said that they do not dispute the fact that systemic racism in the U.S. is not extinct.
Indeed, the fact that Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States is progress for a country where half a century ago, people of color could not be around in the same establishments. However, according to the BBC, other than that, Obama’s contribution to the fight against racism has been negligible. Obama did try to implement reforms, for example, thanks to him Obamacare, an affordable health insurance program that reduced the percentage of uninsured African-Americans by a third (Taylor et al., 2019). The president also fought against overcrowding in U.S. prisons, where most prisoners are black. Between late 2009 and 2015, the number of people serving time in federal prisons dropped by 5 percent. In 2011, the White House issued a clarification that allowed schools and universities to use a racial criterion in admissions to make education more accessible to disadvantaged groups.
Not without its problems, it was under Obama in 2014 that the town of Ferguson, Missouri, experienced its first major racially motivated riots in 20 years. The unrest was caused by the killing of unarmed African-American Michael Brown, 18 years old, by a white police officer. Before that, the only other time such a large-scale riot took place was in 1992 in Los Angeles, after a bystander filmed the brutal police beating of African-American Rodney King (Taylor et al., 2019). To sum it up, Obama has succeeded in blending into the American system but not changing it. The same can be said about the U.S. police force, where, as of 2018, 13.3 percent of officers were African-American, which does not save the structure from constant accusations of racism.
The Black Lives Matter social movement, which emerged in 2013, has become the main face of the contemporary struggle of African Americans for their rights. Its primary focus areas are speaking out against police brutality against African Americans and discrimination in education, culture, and economic and labor activities. In addition to traditional methods and tools to defend their interests (rallies, demonstrations, marches, and petitions), protesters began to use the latest technologies: the Internet, social networks, online petitions, platforms, and media, which made the translation of new standards of reality and etiquette more effective, and the achievement of goals – more successful. Although the Black Lives Matter movement differs from the protest movements of the second half of the 20th century and has slightly different goals, at its core, it is their rightful successor. It has successfully employed the tools that have proven effective in the Black civil rights movement in the second half of the twentieth century.
Overall, American society has entered a stage of reflection, and new norms are gradually beginning to emerge that will allow discriminated groups to successfully integrate into American society as full citizens and improve their situation in the future. Prospects for further research include a deeper and more detailed study of the BLM movement and the methods and tools it employs. Since Black Lives Matter is the most significant contemporary movement in defense of the rights of black people living in an ethnoracially heterogeneous state, its results can be applied to the study of society.
Taylor, E., Guy-Walls, P., Wilkerson, P., & Addae, R. (2019). The historical perspectives of stereotypes on African-American males. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 4(3), 213-225.