Racial Equality Will Set Us Free, Colltalers
The pace of social transformation takes generations to complete its cycles. That should bring some comfort to those discouraged with the continuous struggle for racial equality in America since the three voting rights marches, from Selma to Montgomery, 50 years ago.
They should take at heart that, while the walks were all violently disrupted by the police and white vigilantes – the first 54-mile trek between the two Alabama cities, on March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday – they ultimately succeeded in their original purpose.
The marches jump-started the 1960s civil rights movement, despite the assassination of several black leaders and opposition from politically conservative Americans, and culminated with a series of landmark rulings that, at least on paper, have changed the country.
But it’s not easy to see the changes we undoubtedly underwent in five decades, when the past few years have shown a particularly nasty strain of racism and lethal violence against black youth, often coming from society’s own organized forces. The police, for instance.
The spike in incidents of institutionalized brutality against racial minorities nationwide have shown how far we still are from the ideals those thousand of marchers were aiming at, and how the depth of their commitment and sacrifice can be so easily brushed aside.
‘Our march is not yet finished,’ said President Obama in Selma Saturday, in another display of his gifted oratorical skills. ‘But we’re getting closer.’ It’s arguable that an event of such magnitude would’ve deserved full White House attention if the president wasn’t black.
But his words set in a long line of inspired speeches made since those marchers forced President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act and other crucial legislation aimed at leveling the playing field and promote Americans of color to the full benefits of citizenry.
That we haven’t succeed yet speaks more of our collective inability to move on closer to ideals professed by the Founding Fathers, through the Constitution, than on the eventual fragility of such laws, even though that was made evident two years ago. That’s when the Supreme Court, in a startling display of short-sightedness and lack of judgement, gutted crucial provisions of the Voting Right Act.
Going back to constitutional times, though, throws us back in the loop of the unresolved quagmire of racial disparity. And that’s what those discouraged by current events find solid ground for their despair: slavery was, and remained for over a century, integral to the economy. Racial equality was arguably not in the horizon for those enlightened leaders, who got so many other things right.
That used as an argument, however, is purely a stinking pile of waste. We should know better by now not to blame those who lived in another time for our present sins, or even worse, try to find pseudo-constitutional justification for what’s clearly more than a social flaw.
The anniversary of Selma – the second 1965 march took place on this day and the third, 21st of March – coincides with the conclusion of a Department of Justice investigation of grave systemic problems in the police department serving the City of Ferguson, Missouri.
The resulting report, which stemmed from the Aug. 9, 2014, killing of city resident Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white police officer, acquitted of any responsibility on the crime, validated much of the public dissatisfaction with the verdict.
As it turned out, the widespread riots that followed the trial and acquittal called attention to a long-term, ingrained disrespect towards the majority black population, by exposing a predominantly white police force displaying a pattern of ‘racial bias’ on its conduct.
Internal emails using racial stereotypes, manipulation of traffic violations disproportionately targeting the mostly impoverished black community, and above all, ‘excessive and dangerous’ force against it, showed that the problem predates the tragedy of Michael Brown.
The DoJ report suggests that to solve them, the Ferguson PD may need to be completely reformed, which obviously didn’t please city officials. But what they think is irrelevant, at this point, since the same racial bias is being identified throughout the whole country.
For any American reasonably attuned to the times we live in, such conclusions hold few surprises. In fact, some would say that they fall short of effecting any immediate change, since it’s unlike that officers accused of abuse of authority will be prosecuted, go to a retrial, or even be dismissed solely based on the report. But, again, even such a timid step is already progress in the struggle for racial equality.
So there may be many still discouraged with the glacial pace of social change. Or rather, slower than glacial, given that climate change has quickly outpaced even the most conservative predictions. But it’s important to assure that such social change comes from the letter of the law and not from the barrel of a gun. And let’s face it, the black community has been exceedingly non-violent at all times.
In reality, despite fear of riots and lawlessness, manipulated by some media outlets, and the tragic deaths of countless black youth, with an appalling proportion of acquittals of the uniformed officers who pulled the triggers, there hasn’t been a single incident of coordinated incitement to breaking the law from the part of those being victimized. On the contrary, black leadership has been all about justice.
Which shows that the non-violence advocacy professed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who took part of the marches and was killed only three years afterwards, continues to resonate and remains a guiding principle for those seeking redress on racial matters.
It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: there’s no possible reconciliation for the American society, today as there wasn’t 50 years ago, without it climbing over this hump of racial bias that poisons our relationships, and undermines all sunny but misguided statements about some sort of exceptionally that’s supposed to distinguish us from other nations. It’s either racial justice or no justice at all.
While experiments such as Affirmative Action and others may or may not have fulfilled their purpose, bringing some semblance of race equality, time is now ripe for trying something new, even if it feels like the ‘old fashioned’ way of applying the same law to everyone.
If one thinks about what’s involved in taking new steps toward racial justice, such as police accountability, transparency, oversight, a less repressive and more collaborative approach, then it becomes clear that we need them taken also for a variety of social ills that affect us. In other words, the Obama administration could extend its current zeal to other areas too. Banking accountability comes to mind.
As for those deeming that too much has been made out of ‘isolated’ incidents, they’re part of a receding minority, not attuned to the times. We became a better society when desegregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Voting Rights Act, to name a few, became the law of the land, period. Any attempt to dismantle such will of the people is unpatriotic and simply un-American. Have a great one. WC