The ACLU SoCal views much of its work as directly connected to racial justice. In particular, our work in the areas of education, immigration, and criminal justice, including jails and police practices, is integral to dismantling racism and white supremacy and creating equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.
On our own or in association with other civil rights groups and attorneys, we bring impact lawsuits in state and federal courts, taking on cases designed to have a significant and widereaching effect, challenging the ways in which racism and discrimination remain embedded in our laws and legal systems. In coalition with other groups and local advocates, we also lobby state and local governments. We further support community-based groups and grassroots movements and work to develop strong partnerships with groups impacted by racial injustice to build knowledge, leadership, and power. Last, we seek to educate the public on a variety of issues, including how racial and ethnic inequities reflect various forms of discrimination.
Though our work is often grounded in the language, principles, or values of the U.S. Constitution, we recognize that for the first 78 years after it was ratified, the Constitution protected slavery, legalized racial subordination, and proved no obstacle to the virtual genocide of native populations and expropriation of their land. A bloody civil war had to be fought before amendments brought African Americans and other people of color under the protection of the Constitution. We also recognize that it would take another century before the promise of the Civil War Amendments began to be redeemed. During that time, white supremacy became deeply embedded in our laws, our political institutions and our culture. Indeed, until 1954, white supremacy was explicitly legitimized by the U.S. Supreme Court. All told, our nation did not outlaw racial discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and voting until more than 175 years after the Constitution was written.
Racism has consistently shaped U.S. immigration laws and policies, determining who could and who could not become an American. The first immigration act passed by Congress, in 1790, restricted naturalized citizenship to "free white persons." The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 temporarily halted Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese people from becoming U.S. citizens; it would later be made permanent in 1902. From 1924 to 1965, Congress restricted immigration from Africa and Asia and gave preference to northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans (who didn't fit the prevailing concept of whiteness) in an effort to perpetuate the existing ethnic makeup of the U.S. population. This system ended in 1965, but racism in policy enforcement and public opinion has persisted. In the 1990s, new nativist movements directed against Latin Americans arose, pushing policies to eliminate immigrants' rights to basic services and expand immigrant enforcement and mass incarceration and deportation. Since 9/11, as the immigration and national security narratives have been substantially merged, immigrants from majority-Muslim countries have been subjected to heightened scrutiny and discriminatory treatment.
California has its own shameful history. For example, among the first legislative actions that the new state of California took was to pass laws that gave whites the power to take custody of Native American children and to arrest Native Americans for minor offenses like loitering and put Native Americans convicted of these crimes to work to pay off fines they had incurred — which led to the enslavement of tens of thousands. Between 1909 and 1979, California maintained eugenics laws that resulted in the sterilization of more than 20,000 people deemed "unfit" to reproduce. These laws, steeped in the ideology of racial hierarchy, were disproportionately applied to women of color and specifically Latina women.
Today, while the law promises equal opportunity in theory, the law too often denies it in fact — profound racial disparities persist in health, education, employment, and income across the United States, and these outcomes reflect a combination of structural inequality, overt and covert discrimination, and implicit biases. From police abuse and violence to the death penalty and the school to prison pipeline, it is clear that racism and white supremacy remain powerful forces today. For this reason, we believe it is critical that government at all levels systematically examine how different racial and ethnic groups — and those who experience discrimination at multiple levels such as women of color or LGBTQ people of color — will likely be or are affected by its decisions or policies and how adverse impacts could be minimized or prevented. Only in this way can we as a society expect not only to avoid perpetuating racial inequality and subordination but to reduce and eliminate it.
We seek to achieve racial justice within the organization as well. We are committed to consciously taking racial equity into account and assessing the impact of all our internal policies and practices — everything from hiring and promotion to staffing and budgeting — and will be developing tools to help staff carry out racial equity impact assessments. As part of our commitment, we seek to strengthen relationships with impacted communities and organizational partners and identify shared goals and opportunities to advance these goals together.
Ultimately, our efforts to achieve racial justice and create equitable opportunities and outcomes for all will take time, planning, and focus on systemic solutions that address the root causes of inequities. We are committed to doing all we can.