The New Jim Crow: Has the Right finally Repealed the Civil Rights Act?

By Juan Cole

The 45 million African-Americans in the United States are unequal before the law vis-a-vis European-Americans and becoming moreso. In the age of Jim Crow (the white South’s attempt to prevent them from having the full rights of citizens after their emancipation from slavery), African-Americans often were denied the right to vote and were subject to arbitrary, summary judgement and even lynchings. They could not so much as drink from the same water fountain as European-Americans.

Although segregated drinking fountains haven’t reappeared, in many ways the right wing in the United States has largely undone the advances of the 1965 voting rights act.

In many states parolees and ex-felons cannot vote. KQED notes, some 6 million ex-felons are disenfranchised in the US. Since African-Americans are sentenced at startlingly higher rates than European-Americans, the burden of loss of voting rights falls especially heavily on them.

“Disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect African Americans: in 2010, 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age — about 7.7 percent nationally — was disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than with non-African Americans. In some of the strictest states — including Florida, Kentucky and Virginia — more than 20 percent of the African American population was disenfranchised, the report found.

Republican Party-pushed “voter i.d. laws” are aimed at making it harder for those who do not have drivers’ licenses, i.e. the poor who take the bus to work, to vote. African-Americans are especially hit by these laws, which often now also forbid early voting so as to foil the African-American churches’ programs of busing voters in.

Residential segregation, which is de facto often policed by realtors, continues to be extreme, though it is off the levels of 1970.

So, how much progress has the US really made? That places like Ferguson, Mo. were tinderboxes was obvious to anyone following these issues (see below).

Here is what I wrote last February:

Most death sentences are handed out for killing white people, even though African-Americans make up 50% of murder victims (they are only 12% of the population).

So if an African-American male had fired ten shots into the SUV of some white suburban kids playing their music too loud, killing one of them, I think we all know there would have been a murder conviction and almost certainly a death penalty imposed.

In case of conviction for murder, African-Americans are 38% more likely to be handed the death penalty than members of other racial groupings.

reprinted graphs: :

88% of African-Americans in a 2013 Pew poll said that there was “a lot” (46%) or “some” (42% ) discrimination against them.

Only 57% of whites agreed, and only 16% of whites said there is “a lot” of discrimination against African-Americans:

Average household net worth of whites: $110,000.

Average household net worth of African-Americans: $5000

The wealth gap between white and African-American families tripled between 1980 and 2009, according to the Century Foundation:

1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men

Or consider it this way

27 Responses

  1. These days it’s hard to not to recognize that the ethnically-defined underclasses in the US are treated like an occupied population.

    • You are frighteningly correct. Detroit is the prime example. Cutting off the water to 18k people for unpaid water bills while allowing service to many businesses and corporations who owe excessive fees. This winter those same families will face a cruel winter with the threat of losing their heat. And despite the city’s bankruptcy, the police force has been militarized. Detroit has become Gaza without the bombs—–so far.

  2. If I were a political platform I would have about 20 planks. One of those planks would be to institute a very progressive income tax. I consider myself a person concerned about the situation of the African American community in the USA today.
    People that I have respected did not struggle to free African Americans so that they would be second class citizens.
    Sadly I do not have any specific ideas for how to change the situation. I guess on the positive side that would mean that I would be open to what ideas others have. So I wonder if any readers would like to offer specific suggestions as to how to create positive changes in this regard. With a progressive income tax and a government that did not place a high priority on a balanced budget the money should be available to implement some good ideas. Maybe the best ideas do not even take much money.

    • To understand the problem, you have to understand the origins, and for me that has been a source of despair. “The Creation of the White Race”, by Theodore Allen, argues that rebellion-prone Southern white indentured servants were given their freedom en masse in exchange for their tacit cooperation in controlling their replacements, black captives mostly brought in from the West Indies. But then the entire legal system and society of the South were rebuilt around this brutal tribal casteism. I.e., the poor whites embraced this historic crime as their holy tradition and culture. This in turn saved the investors in the Southern colonies and served as the foundation of American capitalism. “Free enterprise” literally was founded on the freedom of whites requiring the bondage of blacks.

      If it’s that hard-wired in our culture, I fear you would need done to us what the Allies did to Germany in WW2 – blow it up, but then rebuild and oversee a real democracy in its place. Not likely in the nuclear age.

      The slim alternative to that is restore the economic advantage that cities once had over suburban/rural regions. See next post.

      • (cont)

        Cities force different kinds of people to have to deal with each other. As turbulent as the process is, they will make far faster progress towards respect & solidarity than those in the sticks. We’ve seen that divide grow in our lifetimes, such that the new Confederacy is now a ring of hostile suburbs, whose children now move back into cities out of disgust. If this reurbanization didn’t cause real estate bubbles that drive out blacks, we could trigger a real chain-reaction of genuine integrated economic growth. But that’s why the GOP is increasingly a party openly at war with the very idea of cities (see Ted Cruz smear Agenda 21).

        What we need is the combination of new technologies & organizations that would sustain meaningful wages, workers’ rights, & high voter turnout in cities. Then the ordinary people in the Red states, especially women, would have to choose between supporting their crazy gun-toting patriarchs, or feeding their children. Once they abandon the crazies, the racist culture of “real” Americans will be hollow.

        But we don’t know how hard the capitalists would fight this. After all, they bankrolled the rise of the Right for the last 60 years. They are still the plantation owners of 1676, and the bigots are still their suckers. Personally, I think they will all have to be taken down to save the world.

    • Curt,
      I’m of the opinion based on experiences in America and around the world that many if not most of the problems: social, governmental, political, military, educational, news media crap, etc are the results of the illegal and corrupt billionaires and their puppet millionaires that own and control the Federal Reserve, a private corporation, the banking industry and the IMF, and the major corporations; the news medias; Hollywood; the FDA; etc.

      The rich get richer and more powerful during difficult economic times, recessions, depressions, illegal/legal wars and military actions.

      The interest on money borrowed from the Fed/IMF only keeps America and other countries in perpetual debt.

      Paying for new government programs including rebuilding and building new roads, schools, hospitals, green energy plants, etc with “new money” issued by the US government would bring America out of debt. Very simple.

      • Yes I forgot to consider that when we build new things we are creating assets that have to have a value put on them something that the conservatives always fail to do and progressives often fail to do because they are so used to hearing conservative wailing about the phony size of the deficit. Of course we have a deficit when we refuse to acknowledge the value of all of the things that our money has built.

  3. ” Has the Right finally Repealed the Civil Rights Act?”

    Perhaps not 100%, but the Right is working on it and the rest of their agenda to make this a fascist nation. Where is Smedley Butler now that we need him – again?

  4. It is about time we start looking at the true and intended effects of the SIT BACK DOWN Act of 1964 and see government actions as what they are.

  5. The US right wing has also repealed the Civil Rights Act for whites. I am currently appealing a Florida federal court ruling that a county or its Sheriff cannot be sued for civil rights violations such as violations of Due Process (Amendments V and XIV) and Equal Protection (Amendment XIV). In fact the CRA (42 USC 1981-1986) was written primarily to protect the rights of citizens against local and state government. In Massachusetts I am appealing a Superior Court ruling taht the state or local government cannot be sued for unlawful taking of private property (Amendment V), a violation of the Civil Rights Act. Watch that go to federal court and be thrown out due to their opposition to Civil Rights.

    These comments may sound immoderate to people who are not involved, but they are the truth. Those who think that we have civil rights in federal court need to read the actual cases. When you read the right wing blather and non sequiturs used to burn the Constitution you will be outraged. There are no civil rights at all.

  6. The GOP has been fighting to return the nation to the 19th century for the last 80 years and they are well on the way to success.

  7. I generally agree with this assessment but am not comfortable comparing average incomes. I think median income would be a more accurate picture. Especially since we know that so much of our income is concentrated at the very top fraction of 1% of people. I found this but can’t vouch for its accuracy. link to infoplease.com

    • That is a quite interesting link. Of all of the stats that get trotted out in the discussions on the subject of African American integration or lack of integration in American society the one that I think is most important is median wealth. A families median wealth is is a much more important indicator of the economic health of a family than income. For many families there can be significant variations in income from one year to the next.
      It is in the accumulation of wealth that American society has failed African Americans the most. It is not hard to understand the main reason behind this. It takes a decent amount of income just to be able to save money over the short term. (one month to one year) This amount would of course vary depending on ones location. It then takes even more money to save money over the long term. (one year to twenty years)
      The Republican implication is that African Americans have not as a whole played the cards in their hand well. My experience from observing people is that very few people make it through life playing the cards in their hand well.
      I would be interested in seeing the income table that you linked broken down by age. A household of two senior citizens for example will generally not have the same income as a couple in their 50s. Two senior citizens also usually do not need the income as a couple in their 50s.
      Another thing that is sad about this is the overall level of wealth accumulated in the USA was not accumulated due to honest hard work, efficiency and thrift. This level of wealth has been accumulated while the USA has been a global empire.
      The implications of that might not be obvious. It is possible that had we not been a global empire are nations level of wealth might have been even higher because we would not have squandered wealth on global wars. It is also possible that our level of wealth would have been lower because the benefits of the empire as a whole might have exceeded the costs. Who has done an honest accounting?
      One thing seems likely to me and that is neither the benefits nor the costs of this empire have been shared equally. The net benefits of some have clearly been much greater than others.

      • The great mystery of whether we would be richer or poorer without the empire is why it’s impossible to engage citizens about our options without their eyes glazing over. We just don’t know how much the corporations have benefited from the leverage they obtain from the omnipresent Pentagon. If we tried to pull the plug on it, it would be interesting to see which corporations would go full-kamikaze to stop it.

        But indeed, the distribution of wealth would have been very different, and making America as unequal as possible seems to be the unifying principle of the rich and the factions of the Right. Just as being able to abuse blacks made white Americans amenable to rule by plantation owners and robber barons, perhaps the plan the last 40-50 years has been to make Americans accept the slashing of their wages and benefits by addicting them to the idea that they are a master race over the rest of the world. Weapons they can see, subtle comparisons about standards of living and social welfare are over their heads.

        • Thank you for your reply. In addition to being interesting it caused me to notice that I contradicted myself in my previous comments. If our nations level of wealth would have been higher had we not been an empire then by implication it would mean that the OVERALL the wealth had been accumulated by hard work, efficiency and thrift. It would not show exactly who had been hard working, and thrifty or just dishonest.
          Whether our nations overall level of wealth was achieved honestly or dishonestly it was in either case made possible through the use machines powered by cheap but polluting energy.
          We were smart enough to make the machines. We were self interested enough to make sure that for several decades the energy resources not located in the USA went to power those machines rather than to build or power machines outside of the USA. As time passed more manufacturing was shipped out of the USA and the machines to build consumer products were built and run in other countries. Greater profits went to some in the USA and losses of profits went to many others.
          The American 1870s could be repeated all over again on a world wide scale.
          If America did not have an empire I can easily imagine one thing that would have been different. We would have had to have paid oil exporting countries more for their oil. That would have led to different economic dynamics in the USA, Europe and Japan, and also in the Middle East, especially the Arab Gulf states.
          I wonder how many people would be interested in speculating on how history would have been different if the USA had not overthrown the Iranian government in 1953 and gone on to become a world wide empire? I wonder if Juan would give us space for this thought experiment? Who nose where it might might Go. Although we are wandering off the subject of justice for African Americans we might be wandering in to the subject of justice for Africans.

  8. I really think the simple first step is to undo Drug Prohibition. That will take most of the illegal profits and violence out of drug dealing/usage which has corroded the inner cities. It will also reduce the incarceration rate, which as Prof. Cole notes is almost an excuse to take away voting rights from black males. There will be a lot of money saved in the policing, judicial system and prison-industrial complex. And taxes on marijuana and narcotics will be a giant revenue stream. A portion of whcih can go towards drug treatment programs. And there are safety issues, and should be significantly fewer overdoses when heroin and other drugs are standardized and labeled.

    It’s not a cure-all, but so many lives are wasted and ended through the criminalization of drugs today. And the impact is worst on inner cities and minorities. It’s so abundantly clear that Drug Prohibition has failed even worse than Alcohol Prohibition did for many of the same reasons with similar results.

    A second idea is why not sell or give public housing to its occupants? Give them a significant discount to the market rate. The gov’t doesn’t need to own housing. And once these people have the equity of property, they have capital to work with. If people could take out a mortgage for say 30% of the market value of the public housing, most/many would take advantage and work to make payments and own the property. And once folks have an ownership stake, they start taking care of the place, renovating, etc. It unleashes a spending/wealth boom. This was actually done under Thatcher and in China in the mid to late 90’s. In China, folks got their state-owned apartments for a rather small fee, with the stipulation they were unable to rent it for 5 years or sell it for 10. Some of the money the government takes in can be used to build some new public housing which after a few years can also be given to its occupants. Seems a simple way to help poor people build up equity and have a stake in society …

    • This is a good start to a needed discussion. I would like to make some comments about your second idea first. A lot of public housing is apartment buildings. So if the occupants of these apartments get ownership of them coops will have to be established to maintain the common infrastructure. Can these
      coops avoid bankruptcy when unemployment rates are so high in areas where most people live in public housing? In China everyone has a job and I imagine that in England during the Thatcher era the job situation was not as bad as it is in US inner cities.
      I saw a suggestion some time ago on the University of Kansas City Economics website that suggested that the US government can and should have a national job guarantee program. I do not remember any of the details of this proposal. There seems to be a Socialist implication to the suggestion which is fine by me but I can easily imagine that the US Republicans would tar and feather it as socialist even if that was not at all the case. One detail that I would have to wonder about with this suggestion is how do you get the people with the right qualifications to match the jobs?
      It has been reported that in Germany although there are job openings and many unemployed in Germany the skills of those
      who are unemployed do not match the skills needed to fill the jobs which are also difficult to fill with immigrant labor because most skilled immigrants from developing countries speak English as a second language not German and therefore have little desire to immigrate to Germany. Even though this proposal of giving public housing to the occupants needs some more work I think that eventually it should be adopted.
      Now about your first proposal to legalize drugs. I was a member of the Libertarian Party for about 20 years so I certainly have a lot of sympathy for this position. Now i am more of a fence sitter. My Grandfather was an opium addict.
      No one really cared. He was so old the attitude of the family was hey when you get to be that old you can do anything you damned well please because you are living on borrowed time anyways.
      The thing with illegal drugs is that most of them are harmful. So even if they were legal making a living out selling them is still dishonorable. I myself do not want to see the African American Community prospering through the sale of harmful drugs any more than I would want to see them prospering through prostitution or serving as mercenaries for corporate profits. I would not be ashamed for America if we were only talking about organically grown marijuana but even that is questionable. But just as we having a legal age for alcohol, perhaps we can have different legal ages for different kinds of drugs, for example 21 for marijuana, 60 for opium and cocaine, 80 for heroin, and 90 for those drugs even worse than heroin.
      Well I guess I should cut my comments off here or some people might get the impression that I am a mouth peace for George McGovern or Eugene McCarthy.

  9. Poor people usually don’t have employers that pay them while doing jury duty, and they often need to excuse themselves from jury duty due to economic hardship. Low-income workers can’t take off a couple of weeks to serve on a jury. My guess is that poor people are not well-represented in jury pools.

  10. The white right Republicans will be overwhelmed by the brown Latino vote. The Republicans have already lost Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, 20 electoral votes greater than Ohio (18). They can’t make that up.

    The Republicans will lose Florida for good in the next couple of elections.

    BROWN POWER RULES.

    • Those “voter ID” laws have just gotten started.

      But more ominously, whenever “sacred” right-wing crap like voter ID and defense of marriage laws get overturned, right-wingers simply double down on the crazy. At some point, they can bully us as a minority by threatening to shut down the country when they don’t get their way – their Congressmen have already made a ritual out of this. But the next step is threatening secession. I hope the Ferguson incident makes people understand that if the Red States secede, life will be hell for the non-whites trapped there. Jim Crow could not have been created if the rest of the US wasn’t sick with fighting racism by 1876. They’re trying to wear us out again with endless threats of national disruption.

  11. Among the many problems we have in the United States are two that are fundamental. One is the tradition of talking out of both sides of our mouths; the other is that we don’t have an ethics ethic.

    With regard to the first, consider the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know of any other nation with a better concept. Imagine a nation with “liberty and justice for all.” How many times is that pledge taken by how many people? Now hands up anyone who believes we are “one nation, …., indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Watch C-Span when Congress is in session, and a few minutes after the pledge is mumbled representatives and senators will sally forth and perpetrate some injustice that denies countless people their liberty.

    Then there is the human condition that ensures that most nations with power and wealth will have authoritarian figures who are motivated by a lust for more power and avarice to accumulate more wealth. The only antidote for both of these defects is vigilance among the citizenry. The current lack of such vigilance among the American people is a fourth problem.

  12. Augghhh Juan! You hardly do the right wing justice!

    You only give them credit for their legal and above board tactics. You neglected to mention that they gather volunteers (True the Vote and its Election Integrity subgroups do this) to “research” and compile purge lists that they submit to State Election Officials and otherwise train and recruit Poll Challengers to challenge whether a person is eligible to vote very often preventing them from casting a normal ballot. They have the right to cast a provisional vote by Title III of the Help America Vote Act. However, in order to be sure their vote is counted, they would have to present documentation at the election office which is difficult, time consuming, and possibly humiliating. There is no way to offset this at the polls by, for instance, having your own group to challenge the True the Vote Challengers, help people who are denied their vote, and so on–at least in my State of Maryland, it is illegal for Poll Watchers and Challengers (how you can be present in the voting area for reasons other than casting your own ballot) to assist voters.

    Ever election, millions of voters who believe they are registered find out at the polls that their name was purged from the list (and they were not notified often because the purge lists cites that they are deceased as justification. These groups focus their research and “efforts” in the polls on low-income areas where the population is largely made up of non-white minorities.

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