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401 Civil Rights and Black Power

401 Civil Rights and Black Power - The Civil Rights and...

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The Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in International Perspective (civ) If a sense that something has gone wrong that can never be made right is at the core of black blues, a sense that something has gone wrong that should have gone right is at the core of white country. It is the difference between being disenfranchised and being disinherited. --Margo Jefferson The distribution of power within societies along the lines of race and ethnicity is one of the defining elements of the modern world, whether one looks at Guatemala, South Africa, France or the United States. While nations across the world share this way of delineating social inequality, the historical experiences of individual societies are quite different. Immigrants to the United States from Europe, often initially categorized in racial terms on their arrival, became “white,” a concept foreign to the cultures from which they came. This was possible and only possible because the fundamentally American obsession with race made racial categories supercede ethnic ones. Euro-Americans had rejected the elitist race-consciousness of European aristocracies (which spoke of their genealogies in racial terms) for the populist inclusiveness of racial superiority based on appearance. Efforts in the United States to address discrimination and oppression based on race have had enormous impact on oppressed communities throughout the world: Black Africans in South Africa, the Catholic Irish in Northern Ireland, non-Europeans in Europe, etc. A decade ago, I was moved to hear ethnic Hungarian refugees from Rumania in Hungary singing "We Shall Overcome." 1. The Cold War and Civil Rights The Cold War figured into the civil rights movement in two ways. On the one hand Washington found it difficult to justify charging Moscow with human rights violations when a significant percentage of its own citizens were subjected to legal discrimination. This was reflected in government briefs filed in most of the leading civil rights cases of the 1950s including "Brown vs. the Board of Education." However, opponents of civil rights and Black Power movements used the Cold War as a justification for employing "any means necessary" to quash them. The Cold War identification of anything which threatened the existing economic, racial and sexual order as an ally of "Communists" was used by segregationists in the South and by the FBI to pursue an extensive and illegal policy of wiretapping and
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harassment of African-American leaders, most prominently Dr. King. 2. Decolonization The Cold War constituted one of the major international backdrops to the history of race relations in the post-1945 United States. Decolonization in Africa and Asia and the efforts of nations of the "South" to cooperate based on shared interests independent of the East and West provided a second. Once again, legalized segregation in large parts of the United States put the United States in an embarrassing position in its dealings with newly independent nations led by people of non-European origin.
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