The civil rights era was supposed to drastically change America. It didn’t.

From covid-19 to the 2020 election, the specter of America’s racist history influences many aspects of our lives.

Protesters chant near a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis in June.
Protesters chant near a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis in June. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Racism is costly. American policies, from law enforcement impunity to the disparate effects of covid-19, are killing Black people. In the 75 years since World War II ended, legislators have created, courts have deliberated and executives have overseen policies that were said to benefit national interests but have harmed the Black community. Rules designed to provide Black Americans with equal access to life and liberty — the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, school and housing desegregation — have met with severe backlash in the post-civil rights era.

Sadly, the current economic and public health crises have revealed much about the deeply embedded forms of racial marginalization that exist in America. But our conversations about anti-Black racism are useless if they ignore historical context.

Covid-19 afflicts and kills Black Americans at higher rates than almost any other race, but many do not trust vaccines because of the unconscionable experimentation on and maltreatment of Black Americans by White health-care professionals and researchers in the past. Black voters saved the election for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, but only because of extraordinary efforts to overcome the obstacles created by the gutting of voting rights policies. And the Black Lives Matter movement has helped expose the uneven policing of Black citizens after decades of federal government-subsidized militarization of police departments in the name of wars on drugs and terrorism.

America’s racist history also has created a domino effect of disadvantage through every aspect of how we live and learn. Black and White people largely reside in different neighborhoods because of the segregationist housing practices that incentivized White flight to the suburbs. Because housing is directly linked to education funding in America, the exodus left many Black children in underfunded, urban public schools. Now, as students attempt to learn virtually during the pandemic, the racial and economic inequities could not be starker, with Black students having less access to technology and other critical learning resources. Those children’s parents also are more likely to be essential workers in service industries that make it difficult to monitor their children’s educational progress at home.

The following timeline shows how America’s history of racist laws, policies and court rulings has significantly affected the lives and opportunities of Black citizens during the post-civil rights era. It is far from exhaustive but highlights key reasons systemic racism pervades the American experience today.

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Stefan M. Bradley is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University and author of “Upending the Ivory Tower: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Ivy League.”

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Editing by Simone Sebastian. Design and development by Junne Alcantara. Design editing by Suzette Moyer. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Copy editing by Vince Rinehart. Audience engagement by Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn. Operations by María Sánchez Díez. Project management by Julie Vitkovskaya.