The roots of our prejudice run very deep. To begin with, we can now agree that the evils of slavery were never truly addressed or repaid. An estimated 620,000 soldiers lost their lives fighting a war that was fought on the basis of eliminating the slave economy, and African Americans were indeed declared free, but other than having a formal legal declaration, they were largely abandoned to their fate amongst a deeply divided and bigoted nation.
In the South, African Americans faced Jim Crow and segregation, as well as political terror from the Ku Klux Klan, which was largely tolerated by the authorities. In the North, African American's were hypocritically welcomed to the land of their more progressive neighbors, while outright being denied FHA loans by the US Government and shunted into neighborhoods with inferior housing, infested with loan sharks, among other discriminatory practices.
It wasn't until after the Civil Rights movement that people of color were able to secure desegregation, equal protection under the law, anti-discrimination laws and practices such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which helped to get more people of color registered and voting fairly. Certainly these gains were major victories and hard-fought, but still there was a long way to go, and much more work to be done, especially on the part of the oppressors.
Riding on the momentum of the civil rights movement, and also the counter culture movement, black radicals like the Black Panthers became more bold and militant. There were more people of color who were willing to fight for their basic rights and equal standing in society, and demand for reparations for all of the injustices inflicted against them, and not just for a couple of formal but hollow guarantees and cheap concessions like affirmative action.
The establishment had to figure out how to keep oppressing people of color without being called out as lawbreakers or even as racists.
Open discrimination and prejudice gave way to all manner of subtle prejudice and quieter means of discrimination, which continues today.
From the state, we saw the gradual expansion of the prison system, combined with a 40 year drug war that continues on. Crack cocaine was introduced into black neighborhoods, which saw skyrocketing drug sentencing and prison terms. The press has largely declared the War on Drugs a failure, but from the perspective of a racist establishment, it can only be seen as a success. Though people of color make up 30 percent of the population, they make up 60 percent of the prison population.
In the private sector, we see egregious instances of redlining by the banks, a practice in which banks mark out Black neighborhoods on a map in order to deny them financial services, or else target them with predatory loans and high interest rates. A large proportion of the middle class wealth that was destroyed after the 2008 financial crisis belonged to people of color, due to the fact that African American households were especially targeted with predatory liar's loans.
Redlining has also been used by insurance companies to deny insurance or wring out high premiums, and it has also been used to deny health care and keep higher quality stores out of certain neighborhoods.
A silent and invisible war on communities of color by the state and by the private sector has left African Americans and other minorities in stressed neighborhoods that are devoid of basic public and economic services, as well as decent food, utilities, and public parks.
In many neighborhoods where people of color move in and attempt to better their lives, affluent whites flee for outer circle suburbs further and further from the inner cities, which is how the term “inner city” has taken much of its meaning.
These inner city communities then are left to wallow in inescapable cycles of poverty, all of the cards stacked against them. They are the most heavily patrolled, where police use discriminatory tactics and brutalization to keep people of color in and out of prison and otherwise demoralized.
Today ongoing economic stress, increasing inequality, continuing discrimination and brutality, and a variety of other stressors have aggravated these issues even more, to the point at which it seems that we are actively regressing to a more backwards state of race relations.
At its base however, we refuse to address our problems at the root level. We continue to rearrange the game pieces, in the hopes that we do something right. We make formal concessions, we make legal niceties, and carry around feel good ideologies about color blindness. However, until we truly confront our race problem head on, and implement the proper reparations for people of color, we will continue to make the same mistakes. And we will show that this requires a radical change of our way of living.