The US has seen passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, and the passage of subsequent Civil Rights legislation in the latter half of the twentieth century, and, as of January 20, 2017, the completion of the second term of the nation’s first African-American President. Can the US now correctly claim to have eliminated racism and overcome its heritage of racial exclusion?

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The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were all important steps in righting some of the more extreme wrongs suffered by African-Americans during the nineteenth century. The same may be said of civil rights legislation in the twentieth century. The election of a President of African-American extraction in the twenty-first century is clearly an advance of some symbolic importance.

However, none of these advances can reasonably be said to have overcome the heritage of racial exclusion in the United States of America, let alone to have eliminated racism. It is doubtful whether any society can be said to have eliminated racism entirely, but the United States certainly has not done so. Barack Obama, the first black President, was only the fifth African-American ever to take a seat in the US Senate. There are currently just three sitting US Senators who are African-American.

In the prison population, however, black people are vastly over-represented, and are five times as likely to be incarcerated as white people. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander argues that the prison system in the twenty-first century fulfils many of the same functions as racist legislation in the Jim Crow era.

It is very clear that America has become much less racist and more sensitive to the issue of racism since the eras of slavery and segregation. However, analysis of data in a multitude of areas—poverty, employment, housing, education, the penal system and political representation, to name a few—shows that the United States is a long way from having overcome its history of racial exclusion.

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