Indians were actually Africans

US presidents and racismThe dark side of American history

While the unity of the country was being struggled with at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, slavery had long been a fact. The economic boom of the young republic was based on the exploitation and oppression of people who had been transported from Africa to America against their will. A million Europeans immigrated to America between 1600 and 1800. During the same period, two and a half million Africans were forcibly taken there. It wasn't that the Founding Fathers of the United States weren't aware of this dilemma. But the unification of the fragmented nation of white citizens ultimately counted more than moral issues. Simon Wendt, Professor of American Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt:

"It was about founding a new nation, and especially in the 18th century, things like the rights of the non-white population were relatively unimportant. And so you have to see that racism ultimately played an important role in the founding of the American nation This idea that the black population could actually be granted certain rights was important for a short time after the American Revolution, but then became less and less important in the following decades, and in the end there was a consensus that for several decades slavery is an evil - but an evil that helps the nation. "

Some of the founding fathers of the United States saw slavery as a moral dilemma, but as "an evil that helps the nation." (dpa / picture alliance)

With armed force against the Indian population

But not only the inhuman treatment of blacks is inscribed in the DNA of the United States. Wherever the Euro-Americans spread, they met the indigenous population, who had been farming and trading there for centuries. Professor Heike Bungert, historian at the University of Münster: "Those who got in the way and where Euro-Americans thought about how to drive them out."

According to the author of a history of the indigenous nations of the USA, an estimated 500 to 600 different Indian groups with probably five to seven million people lived in the area to which the white settlers have now laid claim and which have also been armed with violence. But government policy was largely indifferent to both the interests of the Indians and those of blacks.

A president like the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who was himself a slave owner and secretly had children with his slave girl Sally, officially pleaded half-heartedly for the emancipation of blacks. However, he made no secret of his view that blacks were "inferior". And, according to Heike Bungert, he saw the Indians as "in contrast to Afro-Americans a group that you can somehow integrate, that can be 'civilized' in quotation marks, which sounds bad nowadays."

No chance against the hunger for land of the Euro-American newcomers: the native Indian population "was in the way". (picture alliance / dpa / National_Antropological_Archive)

Cultural genocide against indigenous groups

Although the indigenous peoples were decimated by a third in the early years of the USA through diseases, murder and displacement, Heike Bungert does not want to speak of genocide: "That means, the intention to exterminate an entire people was not necessarily there . " But: "One can definitely speak of a cultural genocide, because the indigenous cultures should be destroyed in the process. Or of an ethnocide, these groups should no longer exist as groups."

Simon Wendt describes the progress of the story: "You have to bear in mind that in the 19th century the idea that non-white people have rights and are people like you and me, that it was a radical and revolutionary idea The majority of the American people thought they weren't real people. And that's why you have to see that the presidents who publicly supported slavery ultimately reflected the consensus of the population. "

Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the USA, is responsible for the expulsion policy against the Indians (Andrew Harnik / AP / dpa)

The policy of displacement of "Indian haters" Andrew Jackson

For example, one president who found the abolition of slavery provocative and unconstitutional was Andrew Jackson, who founded the Democratic Party in 1828. For a long time the party that campaigned for racial segregation and the supremacy of whites. Jackson went down in history as an "Indian hater". "He had already made a name for himself through wars against Indians and was elected with the promise of solving the so-called Indian problem through resettlement. There were still a lot of indigenous groups, especially the somewhat unfortunate five civilized tribes 'In the southeast, the most famous are perhaps the Cherokee, who settled and adapted in Georgia, but also in other states, "says Heike Bungert.

Under Andrew Jackson, the indigenous people were stripped of their fertile land in the southern states and were forced to relocate to the barren, arid areas of what is now Oklahoma. "This expulsion policy, which also killed around a third of the Cherokee and the other four indigenous groups, was one of the worst Indian policies in the 19th century. And there were certainly some not so lucky political measures."

The situation of blacks hardly improved after the abolition of slavery

Under Ulysses Grant, who rebuilt the country after the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s and 70s, the deportation of Indians to reservations with poor soil quality and the forced Christianization continued. And there was little improvement for the black population in the south either. Slavery was officially abolished. Simon Wendt from the University of Frankfurt am Main: "Through various constitutional amendments, African Americans were actually given the same rights on paper, but these rights were not implemented because the North had ultimately lost interest in this group."

And historian Heike Bungert explains: "Above all, there was no material basis for their life after slavery. Land was not distributed. The ex-slave owners were allowed to keep their land, so that there was great poverty that the African Americans continued to depend on the white landowners. "

The desegregation did not mean that blacks could exercise their rights without any problems (imago stock & people)

"Crow-Laws" ensure racial segregation into the 20th century

It is true that the Republican Ulysses Grant gave black men the right to vote in 1870. But the laws with the disparaging name "Crow Laws" - that is, "Crow Laws" - established racial segregation in public life well into the 20th century. That changed slowly in the 1950s under President Harry Truman. Less because the civil rights movement that had existed since the beginning of the century grew stronger than for reasons of foreign and power politics.

The American historian Jill Lepore: "The reason for this was that the USA entered the Cold War after 1949 and Harry Truman said: We are the leaders of the free world and we will fight totalitarianism in every form. The Soviets asked: You are free "Then what are the racial laws? We tell the stories in the Pravda newspaper of all the blacks who were beaten up by the police. The Soviets had many incidents in the US that contradicted all the rhetoric of freedom. And even in Truman." -Administration was told that if we want to win the Cold War, we have to solve this problem and the leaders of the civil rights movement will triumph. "

Successful into the White House with racist resentment: Richard Nixon. (imago / ZUMA Press)

Richard Nixon also relies on racism in the election campaign

But the problem was not really solved. Neither from Harry Truman nor from his successors Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson. And under Richard Nixon, who incidentally promoted the change from the Republicans to the white conservative party, racism was used in a targeted manner in the election campaign.

Simon Wendth: "With Richard Nixon, the point is that he or his campaign team have developed a strategy in which the aim is to find out who hates whom and then organize the election campaign accordingly. And that means that you stir up fears Black power activists who stir up fears of apparently violent African Americans and through these fears tries to get conservative white Americans on their side, which also worked in the case of Richard Nixon.

Heike Büngert: "But he was actually good at environmental policy and in his Indian policy. He was openly committed to indigenous self-determination.

Even Barack Obama cannot abolish everyday racism

High hopes were placed in 2009 for the first black president. But even a Barack Obama could not abolish structural everyday racism, especially since during his term in office the Congress was dominated by Republicans, who showed the president the limits of his power. After all: "There has definitely been progress. I mean, Afro-Americans in particular still benefit greatly from Obamacare, including indigenous people, of course, who actually also have the Indian Health Service. In this respect, you might have expected too much from a president who also just didn't want to be a president for blacks, but a president for the whole of the USA. "

(picture alliance / Wolfram Steinberg)