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The law exists to protect people, to keep Americans safe – but the politicians who passed the most racist American laws must not have gotten that memo. These laws were not passed in order to better America or its people. Lawmakers had only one thing on their minds when these went through: keep black people down in the mud.
Racism. Prejudice. These were the motivations for passing the most racist American laws – and, over the course of America's lifetime, many laws were passed to make lives hell.
Antebellum Black Codes
Before the Civil War, the South had slaves. Slaves, by design, were the property of their owners. The Southern gentlemen seated at the top of the political hierarchy saw no need to worry about their rights, since a slave, by design, had all the rights of a potato.
But free blacks, according to the United States government, were people, and were entitled to all the same rights as a white man. The white Southern gentlemen couldn't have that happen.
So they instilled the Black Codes – among the most racist American laws ever written.
Black Codes restricted free black men and women from gathering in groups, as the white people feared that this indicated that any union of African-Americans would lead to riots and acts of violence. Black people also were not allowed to learn how to read, bare arms, and testify against white people in court.
Which meant that, should a white man rape a black woman, no black person could testify against the white person – assuming the crime ever reached the courts.
Anti-miscegenation laws were a special variety of racist American laws. The objective was simple: some white people actually saw black people as human beings worthy of their love and fair treatment. And no self-abiding Southerner could stand watching black people intermingle with whites!
So they created the anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed interracial marriage. Before, interracial marriage had been a social taboo – though there existed no laws preventing a white slave-owner from forcing a slave of a different race to have sex.
This racist law came about from the insanely prejudice delusion that one race is so superior to another that the sheer idea that one could love the other was a blasphemy to the "superior race."
After all, if two races could come together in loving union, then what made white people inherently better? White southerners couldn't handle their delusional sense of superiority being broken like that.
Maryland's Vagrancy and Apprentice Laws
Maryland included numerous laws dealing with owning a business and being an apprentice to a business. They simply dealt with the legal parameters through which any business could be held. So they weren't racist laws.
Or, at least, they weren't racist until the Maryland state government added one little clause that turned all their vagrancy and apprentice laws into the most racist American laws around.
No black people could start a business or be an apprentice.
So all the prior laws applied only to white people. For the rest of mankind, they were stuck in poverty, as they could not – by law – even hold a job. How much more racist can you get than put a put-upon people down even further, stripping of any chance of financially bettering themselves?
Mississippi's Vagrancy Laws
The state of Mississippi was one of the first to instill racist laws following the Civil War. Once the Confederacy failed to hold onto its slaves, it decided to further hurt the freed black men and women by restricting their living conditions. Black people had to live in cities. They could not live on farms or make a living on farms.
Every January, they had to offer proof of work. If they did not, they would be arrested as vagrants. If multiple black people got together on a street, they would be detained for days on end, charged money, and regarded as vagrants.
However, if a white man was with the black people, that white person would be fined even more.
Charging black people for just gathering together is enough to make this policy among the most racist American laws, but what further sank this into the history of racism is the fact that white people couldn't join black people. Not only did it put one race down, but it instilled this racist mindset that white people were inherently better than black people, further wedging the divide between the races.
South Carolina's Forced Apprenticeship Laws
South Carolina saw Mississippi's laws, and no doubt felt they could make them even more morally bankrupt.
South Carolina established two key laws that many claim were just a form of slavery without the title of "slave." What follows were among the most racist American laws ever written.
The first law South Carolina established permitted business owners to hire black people without guaranteeing them a salary or wages at all. Which meant that black people could labor away at a job without ever coming home with anything to show for it.
But good luck finding a job. If black people could not prove they were employed every January, the South Carolina government could take their children away, and force them to work as apprentices for another business.
So the choices were such: work for no money, or lose your kids.
This did not apply to white people.
The Grandfather Clause
The Grandfather Clause remains one of the most infamous racist American laws. Following the passing of the 14th Amendment, which liberated slaves from the hands of slave owners, many Southern states resisted the ideas of black people voting. After all, if black people could vote, how could white southerners maintain power over them? What if they elected black politicians – or, worse still, a black president!?
So, in order to keep black people from ever rising up to the same level of privilege white people enjoyed, the Grandfather Clause was established. There were now various literacy tests and fines one had to pay in order to vote in any election. Failure to satisfy the requirements meant you couldn't vote.
However, if your grandfather could vote, you bypassed these laws. You were, in essence, "grandfathered" in.
The laws were designed to beat down illiterate black people while still protecting illiterate white people. This was deemed incredibly unconstitutional, and the 15th Amendment, in essence, destroyed the law.
However, to this day, various forms of voter suppression exist. Most of which is illegal, but happens anyway.
The Jim Crow Laws
Northern outrage at the countless laws passed in the South resulted in the South replacing many of their racist laws with the "Jim Crow" laws – policies intended to satisfy the northern politicians while still allowing the South to pass the most racist American laws in history.
Jim Crow laws pushed many racist agendas in the United States. The most notable policy pushed by the Jim Crow laws is racial segregation. White and black people were never to mix. There were "colored" bathrooms, restaurants, and locations where black people could stay, while white people could go somewhere else.
Oh, and any service could be denied to a black person. A restaurant owner didn't have to serve black people if he didn't want to. A bus could throw black people out to make room for a white person. A doctor could let a black person die if he didn't feel like operating on him or her.
The Jim Crow laws may not have established the pseudo-racism of the post-Civil War Black Codes, but they were just as racist as any law passed before.
These laws remained in effect until 50s, when Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and countless other brave men and women of color fought and protested after decades of institutionalized racism.
Arizona's SB 1070
When you think of the most racist American laws, you think of history, of the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. Institutionalized racism? That's a thing of the past.
This mindset is blissfully naive. If you genuinely believe any of that, then you are living in a dream world.
In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070. This law may sound like a bunch of random letters and numbers, but – and trust me on this – this is the most racist law in modern America.
SB 1070 gives police officers of the state of Arizona the right to detain any individual who has either a non-white skin tone or an accent, and force them to prove their citizenship. This is a law so horrendous that the Supreme Court has decreed it impossible to enforce, as long-term detainment without just cause is against the US Constitution.
However, short-term confinement is permitted.
And the law does not offer parameters on how these people may be detained. They could be walking down the street, driving a car, in their home, en-route to the hospital – it does not matter.
And if they do not satisfy the officer's demands for proof of citizenship, they can be detained. Indefinitely.
Now, consider this: there is no investigation given, no crime committed. These people are just walking down the street, and can be arrested. It's even possible the same person could be arrested again and again and again by other police officers.
It remains one of the most racist American laws. By far.