The United States of America is the most powerful modern democratic republic in the world. It has its own ideology based on the principles of liberty, individualism, egalitarianism, and laissez-faire. As it is declared in the US Constitution, each person is equal before God and human law. Therefore, the United States is a country of equal opportunities for each citizen, irrespective of his or her ethnicity, religion, race, or gender. Nowadays, it is called as the observation of human rights in the civil society of the democratic country. At the same time, the American people are a nation of immigrants from the whole world. The former British colony was settled by persons from the UK and other European countries from the outset of colonization in the 17th century. As a rule, they were Christians but had different languages, customs, and traditions. However, colonists were united by a dream to have a plot of land for a future wealthy life in the New World. American exceptionalism, slavery, and authoritarian regime were the main reasons for emerging racial problems in the United States. Nowadays, racial segregation still exists in America, turning into a specific policy of color-blind racism. In order to reveal this problem, it is necessary to consider racism in America from the very beginning of its emergence.
After the former British colony had achieved independence, it had to solve the problem of how to form a new nation from all the settlers lived there, and both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were the first legal documents to state the forming of a new nation in the American continent. Each nation is unique in the world because it has a language, culture, religion, traditions, armed forces, currency, and national ideology, and so has the United States because the former British colony turned into a so-called melting pot to form the American people from colonists.
Thus, American exceptionalism became the main national ideology to form the first democratic republic in the world. It influenced American domestic and international policies to be a tool of racial segregation or democratic reforms, depending on the historical period of the development of American society. As Deborah Madsen (1998) states, American exceptionalism is “the single most powerful agent in a series of arguments that have been fought down the centuries concerning the identity of America and Americans” (p. 1).
It emerged in the New World among Puritans’ communities of the first English colonies in Massachusetts Bay as an integral part of their religious beliefs. People believed that God had given them a miraculous opportunity to save fallen humanity by establishing their Christian communities there. It was done according to the strict observation of all Christian dispensations because the New World was the last chance to save human civilization. Thus, America and Americans are “special, exceptional, because they are charged with saving the world from itself… America must be as ‘a city upon a hill’ exposed to the eyes of the world” (Madsen, 1998, p. 2).
Simultaneously, the Catholic Church and Catholic immigrants were oppressed by the first English colonists and the American government because they believed Catholics posed a danger both to the English Crown and the young American republic. It can be explained by the world’s policy at that time, when Austrian Catholics defeated the French Republic because they believed that each Protestant or republican posed a threat to the Catholic world. At the same time, the Catholic Spanish Empire was one of the main rivals for the young American republic.
The next problem of American society was slavery. It was the most shameful phenomenon from the very beginning of the American colony. European colonists needed to have slaves to cultivate the vast of virgin soils of America because they did not have immunity against various dangerous new diseases, such as calenture, breakbone fever, malaria, and others. Therefore, they had to enslave some Indians or bring Africans. From the beginning, as Peter Kolchin (2003) states, English settlers did not pay attention to the skin color of their slaves because there were many former white criminals there who worked as slaves.
Certainly, they could not live long there because of the above-mentioned dangerous diseases. It was a major reason to bring Africans to the United States “for their ability to work; slavery there constituted, first and foremost, a system of labor” (Kolchin, 2003, p. 6). Definitely, it was a part of the colonial policy of the British Empire, which turned into the American one after gaining independence. In the course of time, African slaves became the most despised people in the United States, and American exceptionalism of whites was a major reason for the emergence of racial segregation and apartheid in the country. In the Slave Codes issued in the 17th century, slaves were considered as property of their white masters.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation to fight slavery in the states of the former Confederation. It became a solid ground for passing the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865 for eliminating slavery within the whole territory of the USA. The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 to guarantee the rights of former slaves as all citizens of the United States. The 15th Amendment was voted for in 1870 to guarantee equal suffrage to each citizen of the United States, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or religion. Thus, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were very important to emancipate African Americans and grant them equal rights with the white population. Though, Colston (2011) states, “The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution did not and could not give freedom. It must be earned” (p. 133). African Americans gained their freedom only after the May 17, 1954 decision of the US Supreme Court and the famous struggle led by Martin Luther King.
The Reconstruction period lasted from 1865 till 1877. Democrats managed to regain their power in the South with the help of the White League and the Red Shirts, two insurgent groups to banish Republicans from the Southern territories and intimidate African Americans for voting for their candidates. According to Woodward and McFeely (2001), in 1877, white Democrats seized power in all Southern states (p. 6). They passed Jim Crow laws to continue the Black Codes concerning African Americans after the Civil War.
Despite the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which provided African Americans with rights equal to whites, Jim Crow laws started a new racial policy giving special social status to freedmen as separate but equal. In their turn, whites feared African Americans to be able to take the highest government positions and turn them into an inferior race. Actually, the latter were considered as a special caste, which was forbidden to attend public places, educational and cultural establishments, use public transportation, and work in some governmental offices together with white Americans. Thus, whites saw African Americans as an inferior race with all the ensuing consequences. African Americans felt oppression from the side of whites continuously. The notorious Jim Crow laws were cancelled only in 1965 by two additional acts of the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights.
In the late 1860s, the racist organization Ku Klux Klan emerged in the Southern states, namely in Pulaski, Tennessee. Six former Confederate soldiers established this extremist organization to intimidate and kill African Americans and white Republicans for restoring white supremacy in the United States. Its activity was so violent that in 1871, the American government had to pass the Force Acts to terminate the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, but the organization emerged several times in the United States.
Between 1890 and 1910, the former Confederate states passed new amendments to reduce a quantity of African Americans (the reliable supporters of the Republican Party) and poor whites in voting with the help of some literate tests and poll taxes. Therefore, by 1910, about 0.5 percent of African Americans could take part in elections, and the rest were forbidden to serve on juries and get jobs in local offices. It caused to neglect all the interests of African Americans in local and federal governments. Therefore, all establishments for African Americans were provided with insufficient funding. As a result, a great part of them had to move to the Northern states, escaping from the racial oppressions of white Americans.
At the same time, African Americans had to survive in those political conditions and become an integral part of the American nation. Thus, they created their own world with its culture, religion, traditions, and customs. Furthermore, African Americans understood that a good education could give an opportunity to improve the social position in the country. Educated African Americans became leaders to head a movement for civil rights. Such prominent leaders as Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and many others argued and developed various strategies for further fighting for the civil rights of common African Americans and other non-European races. Ida B. Wells proposed non-violent resistance to apartheid that became the major means of the struggle led by Martin Luther King. Dr. Du Bois was the first African American doctor in the world.
He developed the famous concept of the Talented Tenth to give an opportunity to get higher education for ten talented African American pupils for forming the African American elite in the future. At the same time, Booker T. Washington stated that only industrial training was the major means to emancipate former slaves entirely. Without doubt, both approaches were very important for the further development of the African American society. In fact, they complemented it. Meanwhile, Marcus Garvey insisted on the exceptionality of the African race in America. He developed the Black Nationalist study to establish a Pan-American community for resistance to white racism, rejecting communism.
Dr. Du Bois (1972) criticized such approach to the issue. In the mid-20th century, the so-called Second Reconstruction took place in the United States. As a result, the Civil Rights Movement caused the ratification of certain laws in 1964 and 1965 to cancel racial segregation and give African Americans the right to vote. As a matter of fact, the Civil Rights Movement was conducted from 1865 till 1980 for equality before American law, irrespective of gender, color, ethnicity, or religion. As a rule, it was non-violent form of civil resistance, but sometimes, there were civil riots or even armed rebellions. The Civil Rights Movement was mainly targeted for the abolishment of all kinds of discrimination, including immigrants, women, religious communities, and other social minorities. During the period from 1954 till 1968, the movement gained nation-wide appreciation for forming a civic society in the United States according to the major principles of the Constitution. Non-violent protests and disobedience forced government authorities to pass certain laws guaranteeing civil rights for all American citizens as an example of the most democratic society in the world, which became the basis for the development of the world’s policy on globalization.
At that time, boycotts, peaceful marches, and various sit-ins, including occupations of various public establishments, were the main kinds of the struggle for civil rights, which could unite different social groups of American citizens. This struggle became the main factor to unite the multiethnic American people. Before 1955, the American people strived to cancel all the aftereffects of Jim Crow laws in courts or by passing certain changes in American law, but it was an insufficient measure. The so-called massive resistance of white politicians forced African Americans to find out new kinds of the struggle for their rights.
Thus, the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956) initiated by Rosa Perks, the march for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and the peaceful marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 gave more sufficient results to African Americans in their struggle for human rights against racism. Finally, they caused desegregation in the United States. The most prominent leader Martin Luther King with his famous speech “I Have a Dream” became a symbol of the battle for human rights. Meanwhile, the Big Six - A. Philip Randolph, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis, James Farmer, and Martin Luther King - became real African American leaders for human rights. As Barber (2002) states, they had different political views and social positions but were united in their struggle and united all African Americans. The Black Power movement emerged to continue Martin Luther King’s struggle, which was taken up by the Chicano Movement, the Women’s Liberation movement, and the Gay Liberation Front. American students took an active part in all the political events of that time.
Nowadays, racial segregation seems to be completely eliminated in the United States; African Americans were equaled in their rights with the white population. Many African Americans became famous political leaders, senators, and scientists. A representative of African Americans was elected as the 44th President of the United States. Nevertheless, a number of problems still exist with recognizing African American identity. For instance, Michael Jackson had to bleach skin to look like a white man. Higginbotham (2013) states, “White superiority refers to the attitude that is expressed in law and private actions under which whites are treated better than others simply because they are white” (p. 28). Moreover, Conrad (2005) argues after researching the behavior of African Americans in the modern business environment among white people, “Persons socially identified as white have an economic safety net or a group insurance unavailable to non-whites even if they choose to identify with non-whites as their primary reference group” (p. 121).
The African American population is about 40 million, which makes approximately 18 percent of the total number of the American people. In the first years of American independence, African Americans were about 4 million people. From the very beginning of the US history, these citizens were considered as a mental inferior race fit for being enslaved because of their inherent inability to run any activity. Thus, they were supposed to perform the least paid and the most dangerous jobs. As Butler (2000) states, “The colonial era’s localized, subsistence, and community-focused lifestyle gave way to a postrevolutionary ‘market’ economy whose profit orientation and enthusiastic entrepreneurialism reshaped American culture, politics, and religion” (p. 5). Racial segregation aggravated the social position of African Americans.
As a rule, they had less salary than whites for the similar work, lived in worse conditions, and had worse food. Thus, 30 percent of them lived in poverty, and 90 percent did not have any separate homes in the 1960s, while the white population was able to make real estate loans. As Boniella-Silva (2014) states, “They are about three times more likely to be poor than whites, earn about 40 percent less than whites, and have about an eighth of the net worth that whites have” (p. 2). Also, he defines a new American racial ideology that explains racial inequality in all scopes of American life as a color-blind ideology, when whites ignore African Americans and other colored people, not calling it as a racial segregation. As Locascio (2014) states, whites do not use the notorious tables for determining the real place of African Americans but treat them according to the racial prejudices of the early 20th century. Miah (2013) discloses the modern racist ideology, “The racism is still so deep in much of the South that most whites don’t know what all the fuss is about bigots” (p. 3). Therefore, African Americans and other colored peoples suffer from modern racism, and Ponds (2013) suggests healing their psychological traumas by “rethinking the entire concept of race and gaining a historical view of racism” (p. 24).
Thus, American exceptionalism is the main domestic and international policy of the United States. It has been the main American ideology for hundreds of years from the very beginning of the United States. Certainly, it was not a democratic country in the early 19th century, but American exceptionalism helped improve American society, turning it into the most progressive modern society in the world free from racial, ethnic, religious, and gender segregation. At the same time, racial problems still exist in American society, and modern scholars develop new concepts to solve them. The education of American society will improve the psychological climate in the United States and eliminate all further racism, and American exceptionalism in the modern democratic society is doomed to put an end to racial discrimination.