Commentary

Something I Said: 40 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, underscoring that, in all this time, when, where and however America can get away with keeping Black people at a disadvantage… This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, underscoring that, in all this time, when, where and however America can get away with keeping Black people at a disadvantage it determinedly will do. Having the law on the books cannot counteract such bigoted spite as festers in the heart of White society.

The letter of that law reads that the Civil Rights Act enforces, among other supposedly inalienable freedoms, "the constitutional right to vote, to [have protected] Constitutional rights in public facilities and public education…." Right there, you have clear indication that this country still works in the interest of discrimination.

Okay, well, I do have to admit that at least one out of the three situations has changed. All across these great United States of America, a Black person can go and sit in a public toilet stall right next to a White person. So far as exercising the much important right to vote, all one need refer to is the scandal of when George W. Bush was illegally handed the 2000 presidential election — in broad daylight with the whole nation looking on — by way of Florida's blatant obstruction of the Black vote. This treacherous undermining laid bare not only the workings of Republicans, but also the consent of Democrats, that political party which allegedly is such a friend to Black folk. When Jesse Jackson, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and a host of others protested, there was a telling silence on the part of Democrats. This despite that the evidence of orchestrated malfeasance was clear. And it apparently was quite okay with even the defeated presidential candidate Al Gore that the practice of discrimination had proved itself alive and well.

The state of public education is equally shameful. White flight from public school rolls separates Black students, leaving them in budget-slashed, over crowed and under staffed institutions that are in no way equal.

In 1963, Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, vowed: "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races." Ugly as his words were, at least the man was honest. He came right out and acknowledged his hatred by his despicable conviction. That is a great deal more than can be said of George W. Bush, who keeps talking about the great, inclusive society while doing his utmost to keep equal education, affordable housing and other vital aspects of American life as exclusive as he possibly can. It turns the stomach to consider how his armed forces celebrated the 4th of July in Iraq, complete with fireworks, and had the Iraqi National Guard join in. He has rammed his rhetoric about freedom and justice for all right down the throats of the Iraqi people even as he prospers by denying those rights to citizens of his own country.

His duplicity, by the way, does not make him much different than President John Kennedy, who put the Civil Rights Act bill before Congress. In the 1960 election campaign Kennedy stumped for civil rights, yes. After the election it was discovered that he had won over 70 per cent of the African American vote. However, during the first two years of his presidency, Kennedy failed to put forward his promised legislation. And he didn't get around to it until 1963, when he was getting ready to need those votes again, had he lived to run for office in 1964. Clearly, it was not about any sort of belief that Black Americans must have their civil rights protected. It was about looking like he believed that, trotting out the manufactured image of valiant emancipator when it most expediently served his own ends.

So, we still have a country where it's all about the color of your skin. A piece of paper with some words on it has not changed that. And it is h

July 12, 2004
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