After studying the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) this week, you may wonder if the CRM is still around. And, the bigger question is, is there a need for one? You might think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 / 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had fixed many of the egregious racist violations of human and civil rights that had existed since slavery ended in 1865. Why would we need a CRM when we’ve got a black president, some of the wealthiest Americans are black, and many entertainers are black and are “visible” in movies and TV and on the Internet (as opposed to “invisible” during the 1950s that we saw in the video, The Rage Within). Right? Isn’t America dedicated to the proposition that everyone is equal and has an equal chance to reach for that American Dream? So what’s the problem?
Well, if we limit our civil rights discussion to just Black Americans, we can see several things that pop out at us:
1. The income gap between whites and blacks is dramatically widening since 2007 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession/). Using the chart at the left, you can see that the average household income between whites, blacks, and Latinos has continued to plague the country. Obviously, the Great Recession (2007-2009) broke a lot of peoples’ dreams to own their own homes and live a comfortable life. But what these numbers show is that since the 1980s, it’s gotten worse, twenty years after the Voting Rights Act. Watch this link to a CNN video that explains why this gap has existed (http://money.cnn.com/video/news/economy/2014/12/14/the-economy-in-black–white-animation.cnnmoney/). This leads to my next point.
2. There is systemic racism in this country as shown in the way Black Americans lose their jobs more readily than white Americans and more likely to had been the victims of foreclosure at the end of the real estate boom in 2007 (http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-wealth-gap-between-whites-and-minorities-is-growing/). We see this in still who controls the majority of the wealth of the country and the barriers that still exist for Black Americans to gain home loans and job opportunities. This racism is also seen in urban public schools and their lack of funding. Most urban public schools are segregated de facto (by choice) rather than by law. And with urban schools failing, it seems to compound the cycle of poverty that we read about in the excerpt from Michael Harrington’s The Other America. We also see this structural racism in the way Black Americans are portrayed in the media. When white mass murderers are examined in the media, they’re sometimes portrayed as loners with mental problems, but when Black men are murdered, the character is called into question as if that justifies their murder.
3. Most visibly, we see African Americans made victims of police brutality and violence. With the proliferation or spread of camera phones, dash cams, and other video recording devices, murders or assaults by police that might have been hushed up are now receiving the attention they deserve. With incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, Texas, and too many other locations to mention, even the U.S. government is getting involved in examining the effects of police brutality and unequal enforcement on communities. (U.S. Justice Dept. report on Ferguson).
4. The continuing rise of respectability politics puts down one aspect of the Black community while highlighting another aspect. This idea comes from an early 20th Century movement in the Black community itself to change “Black American culture – and Black Americans themselves – are broken and need to be fixed. And “fixing” means improving the “Black underclass” that holds us back.” Much of this comes from forcing Black Americans to attain the standards of white America as a way to improve upon Black culture. (http://alineinthesand.com/respectability-politics/). The underlying thinking is that one group of Blacks is making it impossible for the “more respectable” Black Americans to rise up and defeat racism. President Obama has been guilty of engaging in respectability politics when he talks about the role of the father in Black families. Comedian Bill Cosby has also been a big proponent of this concept.
5. The school-to-prison pipeline is systematic of two things: underfunded schools and lack of real job opportunities for African Americans. This pipeline “refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education” (https://www.aclu.org/fact-sheet/what-school-prison-pipeline). With insufficient funding in urban schools and zero-tolerance educational practices, students who violate school rules in major ways are shuffled out of school and into the criminal justice system. This kind of educational discipline, made in response to the numerous school shootings that have happened since 1999, also affects students with special needs. Some for-profit schools are being created to treat drop-outs or “troubled children” with a no-nonsense approach and have had dismal records of meeting the needs of these students.
If we were to just focus on African Americans to the exclusion of other minorities, I would stop there. But what about the biggest minority group in America, Latino Americans?
6. Using Donald Trump’s comments over the summer as his presidential race debut, he described Mexicans who came over our porous national border as “rapists” and criminals. If he had it his way, The Donald would have Mexico pay for this wall he’d like to put up on our southern border (despite the fact that there is already a wall along many parts of the U.S.- Mexico border). These comments just add to the way many Republican candidates see the influx of Latinos coming into the country as a negative thing.
But what about those already here illegally?
7. President Obama’s been deporting more undocumented workers by 2014 (2 million) than previous presidents, yet the Republicans say he’s not doing enough. Many plans have been bandied about with regards how to include the 11.5 million undocumented workers legally into the American taxpayer system: give them Social Security numbers so they can pay taxes; put them on the road to citizenship and learn English; pay penalties, etc.
8. Much like the gap between whites and blacks with regards to income equality, the same can be said for Latinos and whites. Questions include, are there enough resources for ELL (English Language Learners) in our schools? Why do only 52% of Latinos have a high school diploma vs. 85% whites? Kids in poverty, regardless of race or ethnicity, tend to do poorer in school and on standardized tests. (http://www.nea.org/home/HispanicsEducation%20Issues.htm)
Next, let’s talk about women.
9. One of the first things that needs to be addressed is the pervasive rape culture in the United States. Women should feel safe, no matter what they do or how they dress. When society tends to blame the victim of rape (87% done by an acquaintance, not someone stalking them in the dark) for how much she drank or provocative clothing, the playing field tends to be skewed towards men and not the victim. Should 20% of American women having survived a rape be considered the norm, especially when an overwhelming majority of rapists never go to jail? We need to teach men and young men not to rape, not to tell women how to avoid being raped (as if that’s a normal thing). (http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real/)
10. What about the pay gap between men and women for the same jobs? The arguments against paying women the same as men used to be that a woman’s income was secondary to her husband (assuming she’s married), so that money is just extra. Another argument against equal pay was that women get pregnant and their replacements needed to be trained, so the money comes out of the pregnant woman’s paycheck for loss of productivity. According to the AAUW, women in Michigan get paid about 74% what men get paid and are 45th out of 50 in a nationwide ranking. This chart shows what could be done with the extra money women would get if they were paid equally. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have women paid as much as men. (http://billmoyers.com/content/facts-figures-women-and-pay-inequality/)
11. I don’t even know where to start when talking about the double standard for beauty with women and men. Women are expected to look beautiful while a man can get away with jeans and a t-shirt and a baseball cap for dates. Men can put on the pounds but women can’t? Look at the number of people who have eating disorders, mostly women. Make-up, over-sexualized clothes and toys for children, online bullying – the list can go on and on. Yes, men have their own hyper-masculine body images as well, but this double standard for beauty seems to really impact women.
I Am Not A Slut by Leora Tanenbaum. http://www.amazon.com/Am-Not-Slut-Slut-Shaming-Internet/dp/006228259X
And what about the LGBTQ community?
12. Finally, marriage equality is the law of the land thanks to the Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Holmes, decided this summer. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned two years ago, and you would have thought that most states would have followed through with it, but it took the courts to secure everyone’s rights. But this doesn’t mean everyone is accepting or willing to follow the law – see the county clerk in Kentucky for one prime example. Some anti-LGBTQ groups have pushed presidential candidates to seek to overturn Obergefell, or sign laws that allow for religious discrimination directed at those who want to get married.
13. And if the LGBTQ community is allowed to get married, what about the creation of families and adoption rights? Only 10 states and D.C. allow adoption by gay parents, and Florida is currently the only state that bans adoption by gay parents, but many other states put obstacles in the way of gay parents, including lots of misinformation like “A child is better off with one father and one mother“. (http://civilliberty.about.com/od/gendersexuality/ig/Lesbian-and-Gay-Rights-101/Gay-Adoption-Rights.htm)
This list is by no means comprehensive. That would take books on each of these issues (like The New Jim Crow, Bad Feminist, God Believes in Love, I Am Not a Slut, Between the World and Me, Harvest of Empire, Citizen, The Fire Next Time).
My question for you is this:
If you had to choose one group to join for a civil rights movement, which one would it be, why, and what would be your top priority? You can list other priorities that I have not mentioned, because though I have tried to familiarize myself with all of these groups, it is just a cursory / surface familiarity.
If you choose to disagree with the basic premise, that no new civil rights movement is needed, please explain why along with facts to back up your argument.
300 words minimum answer due Wednesday, Oct. 14 by class.