The United States has committed many injustices towards many Black people throughout its history. There are many examples of de jure, and de facto racism that is recorded and well known throughout US history, and continues today. As a result of these many instances of Black people getting mistreated, one may ask, if Black lives do matter in this country. However, there have also been examples in history that try to advocate for racial equality, yet, many Black people still have faced some form of mistreatment. Black lives are worth comparatively less than White lives, which can be shown through the construction of the Constitution, the failures of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the active resistance against Reconstruction, and the Voting Rights Act.
The Framers valued the unity of states over the lives of many enslaved Black people. Slavery was a point of disagreement during the formation of the Constitution. Northern leaders generally opposed slavery, while Southern leaders were in favor of it. In order to preserve the union, leaders from both sides compromised, which allowed slavery to continue in the US with some limitations. While some leaders were opposed to slavery, their belief of slavery was outweighed by the creation of a union. In other words, the Framers of the Constitution significantly valued state unification under one nation, that it was enough to ignore and allow a system that mistreated many enslaved Black people in the south. The Framers were willing to sacrifice those enslaved without their consent, or even providing a chance to have a voice in the Constitution. The compromises made are irrelevant, as their compromises were made in terms to help form a union, rather than provide benefits or protections for slaves. Also, some of the compromises made about slavery in the Constitution dehumanized slaves. Specifically, the Three-Fifths Compromise which was supposed to apportion more southern states House of Representative seats by increasing their population. A significant portion of those enslaved were Black. As a result, this compromise claimed that Black people living in slavery, were not fully considered people under the eyes of the law. Whatever the intent was for this compromise was, it resulted in many enslaved Black people to lose a part of their personhood. On the other hand, it allowed White southerners to gain an advantage in a sector of the federal government. The Framers allowed the south to dehumanize many Black people due to their slave status, while also gaining power in government. Essentially, enslaved Black people were used as a means to an end. Those enslaved were used as tools, rather than independent human beings. A White man would never have their personhood questioned under the law, however, a Black person would have their personhood questioned and their answer would not be found within themselves, rather than the circumstances they were subjected to. As a result, the Framers did not value the lives of Black people, the same as the life of a White person.
Black lives being worth less compared to White lives persisted during Reconstruction. After the assassination of President Lincoln, Andrew Johnson became the next president. Johnson, who was a southern Democrat, pushed for southern states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, however, Johnson also allowed states to create laws that tried to restore White control over many Black people in the South. The state laws used to undermine the Thirteenth Amendment are called “Black Codes,” which was later ruled unconstitutional. The Thirteenth Amendment sought to abolish slavery in the south. This amendment would protect many Black people enslaved in the south, and allow them to be a step closer towards equality in the US. However, state governments created laws that undermined the Thirteenth Amendment that tried to restrict the freedoms of many freed Black people in the south. Southern states were already reluctant to accept the Thirteenth Amendment in order to return to the union, however, President Johnson allowed states to create laws that tried to limit the freedoms of many Black people in the south. States creating Black codes was a tool to try and control Black people in the south, just like White slave masters did during slavery. Black Codes were used as a way to work around the Thirteenth Amendment and limit Black people’s freedom in the south. By actively working against a law that is designed to help Black people gain rights, it shows that the state government did not perceive Black people as equals, and the complacent federal government allowed this to happen, which shows that they were reluctant in enforcing the law. The government may have adopted the writing of the law, however, they did not intend to act in the spirit of the law. Black Codes were later considered unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment was an amendment that essentially guaranteed equal protection under the law and states did not have the ability to take away someone’s rights without Due Process of the law. However, this would later be undermined by segregation. The Fourteenth Amendment was intended to grant equal protection to all its citizens, however, state and federal governments allowed private owners from finding ways of working around this amendment, especially in the south through segregation. State governments allowed businesses to segregate among their customers. By segregating, it creates an idea that there are two different groups that do not deserve to be together. One group is deemed as significantly different from each other that the other group cannot be associated with the other. In this case it is between Black any Non-White person and White people. White people almost exclusively had their own entrances and sections in any public area, such as parks, restaurants, public transportation etc. while everyone else who were not White were required to share their commodities provided to them. There are also instances where it was evident that the White sections, or commodities were better maintained compared to the Non-white sections. Segregation was a reflection of the government actively adopting the writings of the law, yet working around it and working opposite to the spirit of the law. It was an illustration of how White people were clearly perceived as special, or worth more than anyone by having their own specific public thing, while everyone else was required to use the one designated to them. Segregation promoted the idea that White people were seen as superior compared to the other races. As a result, the actions of the state and federal governments were willing to allow people to find ways to avoid following the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. By the government either seeking ways of acting around the amendments, or belong complacent to this happening, it shows that the government may have accepted the writing of the law, however, they chose to not act in the spirit of law, thus showing that Black lives, or any non-White life was worth less than a White life.
The people of the US also had an active role in perpetuating the idea that Black lives were worth less compared to a White life. One of the ways that people actively show that they do not value Black lives as much as White lives would be the efforts trying to suppress Black people from voting in the south. After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which provided federal protection from states prohibiting people to vote based on their race, color or their skin, or whether or not they were previously a slave. However, this amendment was also disregarded among many southerners. While it did not have any legal loopholes, people found ways of justifying voting discrimination without referring to any identities of groups of people. Some common methods used to deter Black people from voting such as, literacy tests and poll taxes. Literacy tests and poll taxes can be used to discriminate against people who either cannot pass the tests, or afford to pay the tax in order to vote. While literacy tests and poll taxes do not state race, it had racial motives. The aim was to try to keep Black voters from winning, by allowing less of them to vote. By many Black people who faced generations of slavery, or living in poverty where education was not as accessible due to being denied education, or unable to get formal education, having a literacy test implemented would lead to a risk of many Black voters being ineligible to vote. While it was possible for Black people to pass literacy tests, it still ran the risk of deterring other potential voters, thus indirectly infringing upon one’s rights. The same idea can be applied to poll taxes. Generations of poverty and oppression in the United States can lead to many Black families to be in poverty once the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified. It is still possible for some Black people to afford poll taxes, however, there is also a significant risk of deterring voters, as some people may not have the sufficient funds to pay for the taxes. As a result, people in southern states found ways of racially suppressing voters in color-blind ways. By suppressing voters, it unfairly silences voices in a community, or group of people. In relation to Black and White lives, it shows that the lives that represent a significant portion of the White population is deemed much more important that it has to be protected against by people who want to change it. Not all White people are the same, nor do they all support the same things, however, when one is complacent to the idea that Black voters or people who are affected by voting obstacles that result in the inability to vote, it contributes to the idea that not everyone’s voice matters in the US. Another instance of people doing everything in their power to hinder Black lives from achieving equality would be some White people’s reaction to the passing of the Voters Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests, and poll taxes among Black voters, as it was a means of excluding them from practicing their rights as a citizen. The Voting Rights Act was designed to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment in states. One of its important clauses was that it listed certain jurisdictions that were required to seek clearance from the federal government if they sought to change or make new voter laws in those jurisdictions. However, in 2013, Shelby County v Holder ruled that this clause was unconstitutional. As a result, jurisdictions created different forms of voter discrimination such as voter ID laws. The overruling of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has the same potential and leads to the same effects of literacy tests, and poll taxes. As a result, it can lead to various other people to not vote, and discriminate against them. By allowing these laws to pass. It allows people in these jurisdictions who are eligible to vote to have the ability to vote on the things that potentially benefit the voters, while voting against the measures that aim to help those excluded from voting. However, suppression of voters through ID laws may be intersectional. It may lead to obstacles that multiple groups of people are affected by, such as: race, class, disability, and age. As a result, Shelby County v Holder can give people who can vote an upper hand in elections as it prevents some people from voting, and allows measures to pass or officials to be elected that benefits one group of people, while disadvantaging the rest. While this issue has the potential to be intersectional, it translates to not only Black lives mattering less than White people, but it leads to a group of people being prevented to vote in order to progress the changes made by a class whose interests matter more than other groups of people.
While history has shown multiple times that Black lives are worth less compared to White lives, one can argue that Black lives are equal to White lives now. An argument that can be made to prove Black and White lives are worth equally would be that: Although Black and White lives were treated differently in past US history, amendments and laws were passed in order to help Black people achieve equality in the US. This idea can be defended because racist laws were later overturned or deemed unconstitutional at a later point in US history, laws are color-blind so they do not have racial consequences, and many of the instances that treat many Black people as less beings are recorded to be in the south (such as slavery, Jim Crow, or and voting discrimination), which means that Black lives matter less in some parts of the US. As history has shown, and throughout this paper, racist laws have been overturned, yet people can still find ways of mistreating Black people. With slavery, it was later abolished and granted citizenship to many Black people by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. However, many southerners and state governments implemented segregation as a means of separating people into groups, and giving one group of citizens (White people) their own commodities that were specific to them only, while other people who did not fall into that category had to share with each other. The introduction of literacy tests, and poll taxes to Black voters suppressed their voice in the democratic process, which was later ruled unconstitutional by the Voting Rights Act. Yet, a clause that required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to seek prior clearance of changing voting laws were also seen as uncostitutional. This allows for some jurisdictions to find creative ways in preventing certain groups of people to vote. It seems that the US has made a step towards equality, only for it to go back another step down the line in history. Colorblind laws do not necessarily mean that the law cannot have racist consequences. This can be seen through many different laws from the three-fifths compromise where it claims slave, but in reality a large majority of the Black population at the time was considered a slave, therefore a Black person would more likely than not be considered less human because of their status. Literacy tests and poll taxes were only seen as constitutional because it did not indicate race, rather it was set up for many Black people to fail because of not having the education, or monetary resources to be able to overcome this voter obstacle. Furthermore, Voter Id laws do not indicate any identity markers, however, it can be set up where people who cannot afford to go out of their way in order to obtain a card to vote, ensure that they do not vote. The targeted groups can range from different demographics, from racial groups, class groups, or even age groups. Laws do not have to be directly targeted at specific groups of people in order to have outcomes that affect that said group. Finally one may claim that much of the systematic racism has been done in the south, and it is unfair for the south to represent the rest of the US. There are also acts of racism in northern territories that are known, even individual cases. However, the federal government has allowed many southern states and southerners in allowing the mistreatment of Black people. By the federal government allowing mistreatment of a group of people to persist, it sends a message to the rest of the country that these lives that are systematically being disadvantaged do not matter enough for the federal government to intervene. As a result, the federal government plays a role by spreading a rhetoric that people can mistreat Black people and not face serious repercussions for it.
An important issue that relates to Black lives being worth comparatively less than White lives is that this issue can be seen masked in different movements, as it tries to delegitimize efforts of Black people trying to achieve equal rights. For example, the Black Lives Matter has seen opposition from All Lives Matter. Both of these statements are true, however, it distracts from the fact that many Black people are still facing systematic oppression in the US. By claiming, “all lives matter,” it erases the issues that many Black people face, and groups it with everyone else. All Lives Matter implies that all lives do matter equally, however it does not introduce or discuss any of the race specific issues different groups face in the US. It is a tactic used in colorblind language in an effort to ignore or stall discussions about racial consequences of some US laws. It erases the struggles of people faced by race, and rather places the struggle on the individual. This results in people having a difficult time differentiating between personal struggle, and systematic racial oppression through a system. As a result, it may lead to a rhetoric that claims that everyone is already equal, when there are still systems and practices in place that have varying consequences among different demographics of people. As a result, it could be argued that not every life in the US is worth the same.