(Editor’s Note: This is a college essay I finished in 2006. It’s one of the better papers I wrote during college. I hope you get something from it.)
African-Americans have been fighting for the United States since the term “American” was created. What is more incredible is that Black Americans have consistently died for people who hate them and a country that ignores their needs. Throughout our nation’s early military history and beyond, African-Americans have gone to war to prove their worth and gain the rights denied to them while enduring racism from friend and foe alike.
Race and Racism
Race is a social construction used by people to classify humankind into easy to differentiate groups. While it would be possible to develop a system of race based on anything from eye color to fingerprint type, skin color was chosen, probably due to the fact that it is recognizable even from long distances. Racism, however, is more difficult to define. Some define racism as the idea that race determines ability or the belief that one race is superior to another. The definition advocated by Dr. Tatum explains racism as “prejudice plus power.”1 Tatum believes that prejudice needs institutionalization before it becomes racism. In this fashion, only those who benefit from racism can be racist. While this is a delicate topic, the racism endured by Black soldiers was so blatant that no argument about semantics is necessary.
As we speak, twelve human beings, fraught with fallibility and riddled with bias, will decide whether or not an approximate tenth of our nation’s citizens are entitled to the protections afforded all Americans by the 14th Amendment: “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Despite my knowledge of and interest in constitutional law, I really can’t merit a guess as to how the Supreme Court will rule. With eight justices probably already decided, my gut tells me that Justice Kennedy is leaning towards overturning Prop 8. Whether or not that leads to an end to the discrimination against our gay brothers and sisters for simply being who they are remains to be seen.
However, come June, we will await our Brown v. Board despite the very real possibility that we are only at Plessy v. Ferguson.