Racism in America; Can we Erase the Legacy?

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In 1619 the foundations of racism in America was laid down in the purchase of 20 captured Africans from Angola. This foundation started out as a form of indentured servitude. This was similar to what some poor Irishmen who had to work to pay for their passage experienced. For blacks though this eventually evolved into chattel slavery. Around this bedrock we developed a fictional narrative of white superiority and black subservience. Today very few of us acknowledge the color or the nature of the initial stone on which our nation was built. There are many more who would have us forget about this fact. Unfortunately we still continue to add new floors and extensions to this foundation.

In this post, I would not say a lot but use a few pictures to show what racism in America has achieved.

Race and Rape

The 1915 movie Birth of a Nation which portrays white slave holders as honorable white men shows Gus as a sex crazed black man portrayed by a white actor in black face chasing Flora a white woman to rape her. This movie happened to be the first movie to be played in the Whitehouse. At the end of the movie President Woodrow Wilson remarked. “It’s like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” The controversial movie managed to make heroes out of the Ku Klux Klan in saving the honor of white womanhood. A cause for which black men have had to pay dearly for, many with their lives.

Separate But Equal

George Mc Laurin; first black Oklahoma State University student was made to sit in a separate desk in an anteroom of the lecture hall. George wrote; “Some colleagues would look at me like I was an animal, no one would give me a word, the teachers seemed like they were not even there for me, nor did they always take my questions when I asked.” McLaurin entered the University after wining a case against the school which tried to bar him from entry. Despite the sabotage, McLaurin’s name remains on the honor roll as one of the three best students of the university.

The Lynching of a White Minister

In 1965 a white minister from Boston, Reverend James Reeb joined civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama to protest Jim Crow laws. After dinner one evening Reeb and 2 other colleagues were assaulted on their way back to their hotel. A mob of local white men beat them with clubs for their support blacks civil rights. James Reeb’s had head injuries which could not be managed by the local black hospital in Selma. When he was sent to the white hospital in Selma, he was refused care. Reeb became black by association and was lynched by his own. He became a “nigger” and was refused services at a white hospital even though he was critically wounded. Reebs murder which had many witnesses was never solved. Bill Portwood the 4th suspect was only recently identified by a private investigation by NPR.

The Blackening of OJ Simpson

In 1994 during the OJ murder trial Time Magazine deliberately altered the police mugshot. The original photo is shown on the left. The altered photo showed a darker skinned OJ with the faint hint of a beard. This was considered a deliberate attempt by the magazine to associate blackness with evil and criminality. This was how Time Magazine’s managing editor James Gaines described the resulting altered image:

The harshness of the mug shot — the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson’s face, the cold specificity of the picture — had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy. The expression on his face was not merely blank now; it was bottomless.

A President Presents a Birth Certificate

Our forty-fourth president was harassed till he presented a copy of his birth certificate. After many law suits we still have not seen the tax returns of his successor.

Yes, this is a post racial America! It is a world in which all references to race have been repressed. As a nation we are still in the painful process of peeling off the onion skins that covers our racist heritage. No matter how painful this process is; it needs to continue.

By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan