When Americans who shout, “I want my country back," to what country and what era are they referring? If they mean the United States of 50 years ago, they wish a return to American Apartheid, the Jim Crow Era. The country that many Trump supporters yearn for is one in which Jim Crow was the law and custom of the land. Jim Crow lasted in the United States from 1877, the end of Reconstruction, until the 1960s. Jim Crow was the set of laws enacted by lawmakers bitter about the end of slavery, the loss of the Civil War and the gains made by blacks during Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws and customs were based upon the ideology of white supremacy and created a racial caste system which operated primarily but not exclusively in the South. Jim Crow was a system of segregation and discrimination that relegated primarily blacks to second-class citizenship.
What would a return to this America of the past be like? The country of the past which a segment of white Americans yearn for is based upon the construction of racialized "space" and "place. " Jim Crow laws governed racial spaces, forbidding blacks from entering spaces reserved for whites. In the America of yesteryear, whites and blacks were not to share the same social space. Most forbidden was whites and blacks eating and drinking together. All spaces in which social contact and interaction might occur were segregated. This included schools, theatres, hotels, libraries, churches, parks, beaches, and even cemeteries. "White" and "Colored" signs directed members of each race to water fountains, restrooms, ticket counters, entrances, and even viewing areas in courtrooms. In the America of the past, for which many yearn, there would very possibly be a return to separate "spaces" designated by race.
Probably more important in the mind of those who wish for the America of 50 years ago is a return to the racial concept of "place." Jim Crow customs dictated that in no way could the behavior of a black or brown imply that they were social equal with whites. Whites were taught that they were superior in intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior. Blacks were believed to be inferior and only suited for servile stations in life. In the country of yesteryear, Blacks knew and stayed in their place. When blacks forgot their place, violence, most often in the form of lynching, was the chief method employed to maintain social control. There were no blacks as heads of corporations or in front of television cameras. Blacks were required to take menial positions as suited their station. Most importantly, in the America of yesteryear, blacks were never to show any discontent with their oppression. The happy and contented black was part of the mythology of America of yesteryear.
The Civil Rights Movement brought unbelievable change to American society. The progress of blacks in the last fifty years challenged the most sacredly held concepts of whiteness. Many white Americans as evidenced by opposition to President Obama immediately followed by the election of Trump as President-elect still hold firmly to their concepts of racialized "space" and "place." and have never let go of the dream of the cherished life they once enjoyed. It is unlikely, however, that blacks or browns will willingly return to the racialized space and place of fifty years ago. The Civil Rights Movement changed blacks and browns forever; for them, there is no going back to the indignities of Jim Crow. What remains to be seen is whether or not these white Americans will get back the country of Jim Crow which once was.
Muslims, Latinos, and African Americans are already beginning to see and feel evidence of their hatred. Because of the rhetoric used by Trump during the campaign, it might take considerably more than his simply saying on television "stop it." The hope is that these Americans can somehow be persuaded by the new president to accept the reality of a diverse American society in the 21st century in which all of its members are treated with respect as first- class citizens. If not, the nation is truly in for some troubling times.