Civil Rights Act is 50, lets say yes to a color-blind society


WASHINGTON, July 7, 2014  – During the second week of April of 2014, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas hosted a summit on civil rights, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964).     

The Economist noted that:

“The fact that the Civil Rights Act can now be the subject of a major conference is, in itself, a sign of how much this country has changed since its passage.  In the early 1960s, opposition to racial equality was widespread, brutal and sometimes lethal.  It was also a more or less mainstream political position at the time the law was passed, and for years thereafter, at least in parts of the country.”

Former President Jimmy Carter…recalled that when he was elected governor of Georgia in 1970, segregation in public services such as schools was the norm, even though it was illegal…Real progress has been made.

Barack Obama also spoke at the summit, the first black president’s first appearance at the official archives of the great civil rights president of the 20th century.”

Recalling an era when Republicans and Democrats worked together to bring an end to segregation, President Obama declared that,

“Because of the civil rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody…not all at once, but they swung open.

And that’s why I’m standing here today…because of those efforts, because of that legacy.”

Those of us old enough to remember the era of segregation, particularly those who lived in the South at that time, remember segregated schools, segregated swimming pools, buses, rest rooms and water fountains.

A black family setting forth on a trip never knew when it would be able to stop for a meal or the use of a rest-room, or a hotel to stay in.  Men and women in much of the country were forbidden by law to marry across racial lines.

For millions of Americans who were not white, this was hardly the land of the free.

But America has an extraordinary ability to change, and to do the right thing, and it has. Within a single lifetime, we have moved from segregation to a society in which men and women have equal rights regardless of race.  Today, any individual can go as far as his or her ability, and hard work, can lead.

Black Americans hold every conceivable position in our society, from president to attorney general to Supreme Court justice to CEO of our largest corporations.

This is not to say that prejudice and discrimination have been completely eradicated.  In a country of more than 300 million people, vestiges of these phenomena persist in some places.  But the real story is one of progress and achievement, which should be celebrated.

Sadly, some within the black community, particularly the most vocal professional spokesmen who have assigned themselves the role of speaking for black Americans, continue to paint a bleak picture.

When real racism cannot be found, it has become common to use the epithet to categorize behavior which would traditionally have been viewed as something else entirely.

In March, for example, The New York Times carried a front-page story with the headline, “Everyday Slights Tied To Race Add Up To A Big Campus Topic.”  It begins:  “A tone-deaf inquiry into an Asian-American’s ethnic origin.  Cringe-inducing praise for how articulate a black student is.  An unwanted conversation about a Latino’s ability to speak English without an accent.

This is not exactly the language of traditional racism, but in the avalanche of blogs, student discourse, campus theater and academic papers, they all reflect the murky terrain of the social Justicd word du jour, microaggressions, used to describe the subtle ways that racial, ethnic, gender and other stereotypes can play out painfully in an increasingly diverse culture.”

On a Facebook page called “Brown University Micro/Aggressions,” a “dark-skinned black person” describes feeling alienated from conversations about racism on campus.

A digital photo project run by a Fordham University student about “racial microaggressions” features minority students holding up signs with comments like “You’re really pretty, for a dark skin girl.”

At St. Olaf College’s “Microaggressions” blog is a letter asking college president David Anderson to address “all of the microaggressions that go unreported on a daily basis.”

Times reporter Tanzina Vega writes that, “What is less clear is how much is truly aggressive and how much is truly micro, whether the issues raised are a useful way of bringing to light often elusive slights in a world where overt prejudice is seldom tolerated, or a new form of divisive hypersensitivity in which casual remarks are blown out of proportion.”

Harry Stein, a contributing editor to City Journal, says that while most people feel unjustly treated at times “most such supposed insults are slight or inadvertent, and even most of those that aren’t might be regularly shrugged off.”  He took issue with the term “microaggressions,” saying that its use “suggests a more serious problem:  the impulse to exaggerate the meaning of such encounters in the interest of perpetually seeing oneself as a victim.”

Professor John McWhorter of Columbia University, who is black, declares that, “The concept of microaggressions has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation.  The idea is that whites should now watch out for being microaggressors in the same way they learned long ago not to be racist in more overt ways.

Some may see this whole microaggressions concept as just a way to keep grievance going in an America where it gets ever harder to call people on naked bigotry.”

In McWhorter’s view, “There is something counterproductive about the microaggression concept.  The scholars promoting the concept claim that it is a microaggression even when someone says, ‘I don’t see you as black,’ claims to be color blind, purports not to be sexist or in general doesn’t acknowledge one’s race or gender.

But if it’s considered racist for whites to designate any trait as a ‘black’ one, we can’t turn around and say they’re racist to look at black people as just people.

That would be fixing it so that whites basically can’t say anything right, as if being white were itself a microaggression.

That, however, is neither profound nor complex, it’s just bullying disguised as progressive thought.  Let’s call it microaggression only when people belittle us on the basis of stereotypes.  Creatinb change requires at least making sense.”

The fact that those in search of racism need to look so hard and can come up with largely ambiguous “microaggressions” as their result is evidence of how far our society has come. Why not, instead, take “Yes” for an answer and move forward in developing a genuinely color-blind society?

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.