Among other topics, we discussed the condition of blacks in America. The members of the delegation, who were all white, were very critical of the bad treatment of blacks in America. However, I said to them one should not overlook the progress made by blacks in this connection in America.
Before the American Civil War of 1861-65 slavery prevailed in many parts of America, particularly in southern states, and the shameful Dred Scott decision of the US Supreme Court declared blacks as non-citizens.
No doubt slavery was legally abolished after the Civil War, but Jim Crow laws enabled segregation and atrocities on blacks to continue for decades even thereafter.
Even long after the decision of the US Supreme Court in Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 which overturned the disgraceful judgment in Plessey vs Ferguson in 1896 validating racial segregation, blacks could not go to many restaurants, get a room in many hotels, or go to many swimming schools or beaches, etc. But today that is not so.
In Mark Twain’s famous novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when there is an explosion Aunt Sally asks ” Was anyone hurt ? “, to which Huck replies ” No Ma’am, only a nigger killed “. So at one time a black man was not even regarded a human being. Contrast this situation to the one now when Iowa, a state which is 95% white voted for a black man, Barack Obama, in the primaries of a Presidential election, which launched him on his path to the White House. Was this even conceivable earlier? However, it is true that there was still racism in some parts of America, and this needs to be opposed. But what also needs to be mentioned is the progress which blacks have made, otherwise, we will get an unbalanced one-sided view.
I have met many Americans, and have found the vast majority of them to be very good people, fair and upright, and helpful. Even the whites I met ( such as the members of the delegation whom I met in Delhi ) condemned the bad treatment of blacks.
People of all nations have some defects and have made some mistakes. We Indians are no exceptions, which is proved by the abominable manner in which many of us treat our lower castes (Dalits or scheduled castes ) even today.
Racism in America has a historical background. But there is no manner of doubt that America has made great progress in its treatment of blacks. At one time many blacks were slaves, and were denied education and were almost all living in abject poverty. Today a large number of them are highly educated and are scientists, doctors, engineers, successful businessmen, politicians, etc It is true that many of them are still poor. But can it be denied that blacks in America have made great progress since the Civil War?
The American people, like all people in the world, have done some wrong things. But they are basically fine people and have made a great contribution to human progress in various fields such as science, arts, technology, etc. I am sure in the course of time they will totally eradicate the scourge of racism which still bedevils them.
Long live the American people.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own].