Friday, February 4, 2011

Civil Rights 2.0

I was a kid living overseas during the height of the civil rights movement in the late sixties and early seventies. I'm still not sure whether I consider myself lucky to have been away during that tumultuous period, or that I somehow missed out. I consider myself a progressive, even brave person and I'd like to believe that if the need had presented itself, I would've been right out there, waving a sign and doing my best to stick it to The Man with all the other angry, idealistic people.

Civil rights, or rather the idea of civil rights, seems so basic, so much of a no-brainer, that it shouldn't even still be an issue. But, of course, it is. We've all heard a variation of the story about how someone's cousin's best friend's wife's sister didn't get a job someplace doing some-such-thing because they were white and a minority quota had to be met because of Affirmative Action. That may be so. And it's unfortunate. No one should be denied employment because of their color. (I almost used the word 'race', but we're all one race, right? Anyone out there not human?) Truth be told, Affirmative Action is tantamount to reverse discrimination. But at that time in this country, discrimination was so pervasive that bigots had to be forced, by law, not to engage in racist practices, at least in the workplace. Rocky Redneck had to hire black folk whether he wanted to or not, sometimes to the detriment of his company (too bad, Rock).

That was then. And this is now.

Reading, listening, watching, thinking. As I've gotten older and experienced more, something has continued to bug me. How equal is equal? And what exactly do pundits mean when they claim they seek equality? Black civil rights activists have fought being singled out in a negative way in favor of being singled out in a positive way. But why be singled out at all? In an effort to foment inclusion, activism has perpetuated exclusion, even separatism. There was a time when the black community in this country had to band together and toot their own horn because no one else would. But in this day and age, why is it okay to have 'black' colleges, or 'black' night clubs, or 'black' TV shows? If an institution openly touted itself as being 'white', they'd be considered racist. When blacks do it, it's socially acceptable as 'black pride'.

I'm not saying that prejudice doesn't still exist. I'm not saying that there isn't still work to be done. But how long does the current generation of white people need to be held accountable for what their great-great-great-great ancestors did? How long should black people feel that they're still "owed" something? At some point, a generation needs to say, "Enough."  

Enough with the separatism. Enough with the sense of entitlement. If blacks want to be truly integrated into all aspects of mainstream society, the exclusivity needs to stop. To be clear, my opinion is as an observer and participant, not as an authority. I'm not a journalist or a cultural anthropologist, I'm just a guy who believes a little modernization of the civil rights dogma is overdue. Just as the U.S. Constitution was written nearly 250 years ago and has since been amended dozens of times to address changing times, the thinking of the 60s needs to progress wholly into the current millennium. It's not okay for any group to continue to spout they're own ethnocentric rhetoric in the name of civil rights. Rule of thumb: If any group would be considered racist for saying something, no one else should say it either.

Rosa Parks fought for her own seat, not her own bus.


  1. Wow! This is a tough one to post a comment on without the fear of sounding racist. I have thoughts, a lot of them. I agree with you and I'd like to say more, but I think I need to think about how I word things before I write them.

  2. Interesting that you posted this during Black History Month. To me, that falls in the same category as what you’re addressing. During the month of February, why aren’t we celebrating and recognizing influential Americans of every ethnicity? Celebrating only one ethnic group just continues the separatism, and reminds everyone that there is still a divide.

    @Michelle, I hope you post your comments. I can understand your trepidation, but I’d love to know your thoughts.

  3. @Christy: Whoa. I didn't realize it was Black History Month. Go figure. But you're right; it's an interesting coincidence that I should share these thoughts now.

    @Michelle: Fear not. Your comments are welcome in any way you see fit. Promise. I've only shared my thoughts on this with a few folks and I'm curious to hear what other people think. So please feel comfortable sharing. :)

  4. Really good post, @Steven64; however, as a white American, I can't really feel free to respond to it because unfortunately, anything I write will be come across or be taken as racist. @Michelle has a point, and I'm surprised @Christy felt safe enough to say as much as she did. It was risky because I've seen people slammed on other blogs for saying that (I agree btw).

    I completely agree with you. There should no longer be separate colleges, clubs, etc. for people of color. It in itself is racist people. If I started a college and said explicitly it was for whites, I'd be labeled a racist. So why is it different for people of color? If I opened a club and everyone said, "It's a white club." That would be considered racist. So why is it different for people of color?

    Same with Black History Month. It's awesome to teach our youth about the struggles of black Americans; however, I don't think we should have a "Black History Month." If we had White History Month, everyone would be horrified and say it was racist. What is the difference people?

    We don't live in the 1960's anymore. We aren't living in the slave era anymore. We live in a time when more and more children are born into multiracial families and are taught about multiple cultures as they grow up. We're blending as a society, which is great, in my opinion.

    The way to combat racism is to integrate with one another, not separate ourselves out. We have to let go of the past and look at the future. What do we want for the future? Not a world full of black colleges and white colleges and brown colleges, etc. We want a world where people live and work together. We want a world where my son and daughter see a person as a person, not as a color. We can't do that if we're constantly pointing out the color.

    I dated someone of color and it always surprised me when it came up. Honestly, I never saw the color difference. I never remembered we were different until she brought it up. That's the way we all should be. Everyone should forget we're different other than our personalities, styles, etc. Color should never be the thing that sets us apart.

    So yeah, I think it's time we did away with the racist practice of having black colleges, memberships in clubs, etc. There. I've said it. Of course I'm also not brave enough to put my name on this because I know it's not safe for me to say that in today's world. I know you've said it's safe for me to say it here @Steve64, but really, it isn't. As a white person, there are still things I can't say write or say safely because, even though I may be right, it isn't safe. I'll be labeled a racist.

  5. @Anonymous: I know this is a touchy subject. It's difficult in our hyper-sensitive, PC climate to say anything that might sound even remotely bigoted or insensitive, even if it's right. I've purposely been coy about my own ethnicity because I didn't want to sound biased.

    I applaud you for what you said and how you said it. I still believe that there was a time when pointing out black-this and black-that was absolutely necessary. The country needed to have racism-is-bad thrown in their face. But, damn, let's dial it back a bit. You can't whine about not being included out of one side of your mouth and then preach about how special and wonderful [insert demographic here] are out of the other side. You can't have it both ways. Not any more. Our differences need to be celebrated, not brandished as a weapon in the fight for social change. Basically, we need to get over it.

    And for what it's worth, I don't think you sound like a racist. ;-)

  6. @Steve64 You say you were being coy about your ethnicity in your blog but I could tell by your writing what ethnicity you were. Because we all have different ways of saying "Black folks" as you said or Africa American as others would say. Sometimes it's in the words.

  7. @Anonymous: Ah-haaa. Not so coy after all. ;-)

  8. Like the post and as with others, I agree. Times have changed and we need to change as well. I like to think that racists and bigots are in the minority now.

    Reading one of the "anonymous" posts, the person wrote that he can't say certain things because he will be labeled a racist. It isn't fair, but it's true. I don't think he sounds racist in his post, but people have to be careful about how they word things or other people are quick to jump on their innocent statements and label them. It's tricky these days and it shouldn't be. We should have come so much further.

    Anyway, good post and I commend you for putting it out there.

  9. @Anonymous (No. 2): In spite of the topic at hand, I still find myself grinning because I'm so damn impressed (not that I'm especially deserving of being impressed by anyone) by the things you and others have said and how you've said them. I'm also moved that people are willing to "risk" posting at all, anonymously or otherwise.

    This particular posting was something I've been thinking about for a long time. I've found an excuse to bring it up in casual conversation occasionally, but not until now have I gotten to really hear what people think about it. It's nice to get honest feedback. Thanks for the compliment and for sharing.

  10. I like your last sentence. The rest of the post too, but the last sentence is very good.

  11. We may not live in the 1960's anymore but where would we be without Civil Rights and Affirmative Action. Would we have a Black President, famous actors like Will Smith, Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier if was not for Civil Rights and Affirmative Action?

    You say lived overseas as a kid, we you a military brat?

  12. From your post...

    I'm not saying that prejudice doesn't still exist. I'm not saying that there isn't still work to be done. But how long does the current generation of white people need to be held accountable for what their great-great-great-great ancestors did? How long should black people feel that they're still "owed" something? At some point, a generation needs to say, "Enough."

    I agree!!!

  13. I meant to add to my "I agree!!" post, that the current generations, especially those who are under 50, have had nothing to do with what was done in the past. New generations are coming up and times are changing. Drop past hurts and embrace future greatness.

    What if I held something you did wrong against you for the rest of your life and brought it up every time we talked and told you that you owed me for that one past wrong you did ten years ago? Does that seem reasonable? Even better example. What if I brought up a past wrong that my wife did to me and told you that you were also held accountable for it because you had the same color eyes and that you owed me for it when it happened ten years ago? Does that seem reasonable? Same thing.

    We need to learn to let go of the past people. Move on. Especially when it had nothing to do with some of us. I wasn't there during the slavery era. I wasn't there during the segregation era. Why am I still paying for all that in so many ways today? Yes, as a white person, I'm paying for dumb bigots of the past.

    I completely agree that we need to teach about the past in schools so generations coming up don't forget, but that's where it needs to end. Stop throwing it in my face. I'm tired of it. And I'm tired of not being able to state what I feel without being labeled a bigot myself.

    Why do I feel I have to post this anonymously? Why can't I put my name on here and be proud of my opinion? Because someone will look at it and make a judgement about me. Don't think they wouldn't. I can guarantee you someone has done it about one of the people who did post a comment and included her name. She's just lucky no one has posted a rude comment.

    I just want people to look at each other and see people. I want us all to be able to say things and not have meaning that isn't there read into the statement. Is that really too much to ask?

  14. Written like someone who didn't live through any of the trying times. If you had, you'd understand why it's important to keep it fresh and front today.

  15. Why do you feel it is important to keep it fresh and front in today's world? Enquiring minds want to know more??

  16. @All Anonymouses & Jane:
    I figured I'd just make a blanket reply to all you wonderful Anonymouses (and Jane) out there. :-)

    First off, I had no idea this post would be so difficult to respond to. Although, in hindsight, I should've known. Whether you're black, white, red, yellow, brown -- it's tough to say much without sounding either racist or militant. But I think it's really cool that so many of you spoke up.

    Just to be perfectly clear (at the risk or boring you or repeating myself), I wholeheartedly support the efforts of civil rights activists of every ilk. Any past, present or future action taken to right a wrong, especially where basic civil liberties are concerned, is difficult and brave. Period. However...

    My gripe, if you will, with black civil rights specifically, is that, as a nation, we seem to be stuck in the 60s and 70s on so many things. Yes, we have a black president - unthinkable a couple of decades ago - and we have black celebrities that would still be watching Al Jolson in blackface if it weren't for the folks that paved the way to equality. I just wish we could get past the wrongs perpetrated by generations long dead and continue to move forward in a positive way.

    We cannot forget the past, nor should we try. But we've gotta stop living in the past.

    And on a completely arbitrary side note: The only people to comment with an actual name were all women. I'm not sure that's particularly significant, but it's kinda interesting.

  17. So does this that mean you live in the present?
    Do you live for today and not reflect on the things that others did you wrong in the past and blame them for things that cannot be changed?
    Just curious.

  18. @Colleen:
    I do try to live in the present. BUT -- I also reflect on the past. I think one of the ways we get better (wiser?) is to remember the past - good and bad - and let it inform our present and what we plan for the future. For me, blame is easy, but forgiveness is hard. In my experience, a lot of people have confused forgiveness with forgetting. Or rather, they think the two are synonymous. "Forgive me and then forget that I ever did you wrong." I don't forget, but I try to forgive. Finding the balance is something I'm working on.

    @One of the Anonymouses:
    You asked if I was an military brat. Close. We jokingly called ourselves oil brats, because we moved around as much as the military families and often ended up in the same far-flung locales.

  19. Can't post my comment.

  20. @Disappointed:
    Aw! Technical or ethical difficulties?

  21. Contradicting yourself. YOUR COMMENT–you reflect on the past & one of the ways we get better (wiser?) is to remember the past – good & bad – & let it inform our present & what we plan for the future. I don’t forget, but I try to forgive. BUT YOUR ORIGINAL POST sounds like you’re saying–enough already, stop bringing up the past, let’s move on. How long do people have to pay for things of the past? Let it go.

    Which is it? Reflect, forgive, but don’t you DARE forget how they screwed up because they might do it again & we need to base future decisions on that! OR. Things were done, but they corrected the mistakes & tried to make it better. Let's move on & stop bringing it up!

    I’M CONFUSED! Either you keep screw ups in mind & keep them present for future decisions, OR you forgive & move on with the belief the future is going to be better because EVERYBODY LEARNED.

    People do confuse forgiving/forgetting, but you don’t get it either. Forgiveness, means you know they made a mistake & ATONED for it or were TRULY REPENTANT. It means you’re ready to move on & NO LONGER HOLD IT AGAINST THEM, that INCLUDES keeping it in your mind for the future. You don’t say, “I forgive you, but I remember you screwed up & I’m basing ALL FUTURE OPINIONS on that.” What you’re saying is you HAVEN’T forgiven them. You HAVEN’T moved on. If you HAD you wouldn’t keep judging. You’d have FAITH that they & you learned & things were going to be better. If they weren’t, then you get to choose whether or not to forgive them again & let them have another shot at doing it right. Which means you still DON’T hold on to things & wait for them to screw it up again. You believe this time things will be better and don’t remind them of it. Because here’s the thing, even if you think you’re not reminding them of it, if you HAVEN’T let go of it, I can PROMISE you it’s coming out in some way & you’re doing what you’re accusing blacks today of doing. You’re bringing up past wrongs, not letting things go, or wanting payback. You’re reminding them they screwed up & YOU HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN SO THEY SHOULDN’T EITHER.

    Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. The not forgetting part means EVERYONE learned. It doesn’t mean you’re holding on to what someone did, judging the future, or expect them to compensate you. It means, EVERYONE learned & EVERYONE is moving forward as BETTER PEOPLE. Or it at least means EVERYONE gets the CHANCE to move forward & PROVE they are better people. It doesn’t mean YOU get to hold on to it & throw it in their face the first time they slip up. It means you move forward REMEMBERING how things were, but KNOWING things are better or are on the way to getting better.

    You’re asking blacks who have lived through some awful times to forgive & move on, telling them to drop it. But it sounds like you aren’t willing to do the same in your own life. How is it different? It’s OK for you to not forgive someone from your gut & heart–to not let them & YOU move on because you’re keeping it & remembering it for the future–but it’s NOT OK for blacks who marched for their rights or took a seat on a bus or sat at a white’s counter or drank from a white’s fountain –you’re saying it’s NOT OK for them to hold on to those wrongs, not forget what was done, & remind people when they think the world might be in danger of it happening again. They have “forgiven” per your definition, & they want to make sure future plans are based on past mistakes. What is the difference? Explain it so we all understand you.

    Your comment made me angry, seemed VERY hypocritical. Maybe you're talking about how you live your personal life vs how you expect others to live history. You should live both the same! Don’t tell me to drop what happened to blacks in the past, but tell me you’re not going to drop something personal. You just lost all credibility with me.

  22. My comment was too long. Had to shorten it. Tech diff. No problem stating my opinion, just not enough room to do it!

  23. Whoa! Disappointed. Dude.

  24. To the “Anonymous” who asked, “Why do you feel it is important to keep it fresh and front in today’s world?”

    Have you never heard the expression, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That’s why.

    Because I don’t think we’ve come far enough and there are still prejudices out there. I lived through the civil rights era, and I remember all too clearly the way things were. I haven’t forgotten. I have a long memory. And just when I think things are getting better and we’re making progress, something happens and it reminds me we still have miles to go.

  25. @Disappointed:
    Wow. I'm glad you were able to "condense" your comment enough to fit it all in. Now, about what you said…

    At no time did I mean to imply that the past should be forgotten. In an idealized world, past wrongs could be forgiven and forgotten because it would be accepted that those mistakes would not be repeated. Unfortunately, our world isn't ideal, and history has shown us that mistakes are repeated. Hitler committed genocide, but he wasn't the first or the last to do so. On a broad scale, forgiveness has to work in concert with remembrance. If all was forgotten, there'd be no such thing as history. We'd just live, as a race, one day to the next and our lives would have no context.

    Please don't confuse what I aspire to personally and what I've actually been able to achieve. I'd love to be able to live my life in a way that past wrongs perpetrated on me by others didn't dictate my future choices. A life where fool-me-twice didn't exist. The life I do have, however, is filled with people as flawed as I am; where grudges are held and pettiness exists. Historically, It's always been easier to espouse an ideal for a group than to practice it as an individual. A group's collective goal may be trust and harmony, for example, but the people that make up that group will invariably have a harder time achieving it individually.

    As long as the effort is sincere, I don't think it's hypocritical to believe in an ideal that's not always achievable. I also understand why certain segments of the black population "actively" hold onto the past and still feel entitled to reparations as compensation for past wrongdoing. But I think their reasoning keeps us stuck in the past and that pisses me off.

  26. Hey guys! See the top of the blog adn the photo!

    Just Chill!


  27. Where is the "LIKE" button for Daring Dave's comment? ;-)

  28. Why, thank you! Things were feeling a little ramped up.

    Hey Steven. What's next? I'm hoping for one of the following topics:

    - Why can't we tickle ourselves?
    - If Barbie's so popular, why do you have to buy all her friends? (daughter's question)
    - If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?
    - Is there a mouse flavored cat food? Who taste tests it?
    - Why is the word dictionary in the dictionary?
    - What sound does a name make when someone drops a name?
    - Do pilots take crash courses?

    These things and more cause me to ponder.

  29. Well, you’re entitled to your opinion and since it’s your blog I guess you can post whatever you want and call yourself right. A word of warning young man – you’re dancing dangerously close to sounding pompous and like you have all the answers, no matter what the question. But maybe that’s just my opinion. Something to consider is that perhaps you aren’t as smart as you think.

    As for the Anonymous who responded to the other Anonymous, I agree.

    I’ll let the other comments go because I think they were made to lighten the mood, and that’s not a bad thing.

  30. @Daring Dave:
    LOL! I'll keep those, um, "topics" in mind. :-)

    The cool thing about opinions is that they're neither right nor wrong, and I sincerely appreciate you sharing yours. Disagreeing isn't always a bad thing. At least we agree on one thing, though: lightening up ain't a bad thing.

  31. @Steven64: The 'shroom zone on the edge of the moors is looking safer. Have to say it's cool you keep it open to all opinions. Disagreeing can create interesting thoughts.

    @Disappointed: Read your long post and sense religion plays an important part in your ideas on forgiveness. Me too. Matthew 6:14-15. I forgive and move on quickly. Always have. Others don't. Some things need to be remembered, like heinous crimes. Others need to be forgotten, like petty arguments between two people. I don't think you can compare something like the civil rights movement with someone's personal life. Doesn't seem exactly fair. But I do see your point. It's still valid.

  32. @Hooka:
    You said: "I don't think you can compare something like the civil rights movement with someone's personal life."

    That's basically what I was trying to say a little earlier. You just managed to say it in a single sentence! lol!

    Having 'shrooms for dinner tonight and feeling safer by the minute. :-)

  33. Post something new. Where are you? Huh?

  34. @Steven64: I got lost in lands unknown! Things are crazy in St. Upidville. I cruised over there and got lost! All is well now. I'm back. Looks like your girl has her hands full. Saw you've been helping her out. Good man.

    Hope the 'shrooms were tasty. Still have to watch out for them. We know how they like to move.

    Also glad you liked my line. Thanks man!

  35. @Hooka: I almost got lost in there! Things got really nutty there for a while. Seems to be calming down now. After spending a few days in there, my blog seems kinda...dreary. LOL! It's good to see you again, dude.

  36. Seems like u r. Not sure tho. Don't mean nothing by asking. Just wondered if u were. Like ur blog. So r u?

  37. @Anonymous who asked "So r u?":
    I wasn't trying to be coy. I just don't want my ethnicity to be an issue when you read my comments. So I will continue to keep my ethnicity private, for the time being at least.

    @Anonymous who said "Yes he is.":
    I'm Vulcan.

  38. Vulcan. Should have known from the photo. Doh! Everything makes perfect sense now. Just had to apply logic.


  39. almost sounds like you are ill at ease by your ethnicity. You do realize Mr. Spock was half Vulcan and half-human; could it be you are bi-racial and embarrassed by it? I hope not because I have close friends that are, and they embrace it. But if you feel the need to keep it private then I understand.

  40. @pretty girl. He just doesn't want it to be an issue. It isn't the point of the blog. Probably just need to drop it.

  41. Considered it drop :-)

  42. @pretty girl:
    @Anonymous is right. I just didn't want to cloud the issue with who's white, black, hispanic or Vulcan. (lol!) But I do appreciate your thoughts and, no, I'm not mixed, black/white or human/Vulcan. But no worries either way! :-)

    Thanks for 'splaining! :-)

  43. This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. I agree completely Steve. It has been so long since those terrible days. Lets stop beating that dead horse. I'm sure there are plenty of other horses we could be beating. (Just kidding, I would never)Its funny, my husband and I were having a similar discussion last month. If we are going to have whole months dedicated to, shall we say, certain "ethnicities" then shouldn't we have months for Chinese, Jews, American Indians, and so on. I don't know, all this hatred seems so beside the point now.

    Steve, I think we were very lucky to have grown up overseas as this might well be one of the reasons for our way of thinking about this issue. I never knew of bigotry or racism until I came here. Not even in high school Social Studies class did it sink in, 'cause I was rarely paying attention, and reading...I did that even more rarely.

  45. @Carrie:
    I think you hit the nail on the head. (Not to be confused with horse-beating.) I don't remember ever being aware of color or religion or anything when I was coming of age overseas. I was thousands of miles away when the Civil Rights movement went through it's more volatile years. Social Studies class was like novacaine; it just bored me to tears. ("...reading...I did that even more rarely" - that cracked me up.)

    As an adult, I now understand what was going on. I just wish we could move forward and stop playing the blame game. Horrific things occurred and most of the people responsible are dead. Now I think it's time for us to remember the past, learn from it, and move on into the future.

    I also wonder how long it'll take for other ethnicities to declare their "own" months for celebration. Only a matter of time... I'm cool with it as long as it doesn't incite a bunch of riots!

  46. I want my own month. And I want it to be August because there aren't any other holidays to detract from MY month. So from now on, everyone will celebrate Anonymous Americans month in August, which just also happens to start with the letter A and makes it that much cooler.

  47. @Anonymous:
    August is yours, dude! (You'd have been screwed if you'd picked April 'cos you woulda had to compete with Arbor Day. 'Cousre, you still have to deal with National Ice Cream Sandwich Day.)

  48. Interesting post and comments.

  49. Did you see this article? Your post reminded me of it as I read what you wrote.

  50. @Less Than Zero:
    First off, I want to make this a collective 'thank you' for all the wonderful comments you made on my other posts. (It's always fun to see new comments on an older post.)

    But I also really appreciate you posting the link to the article on Plessy v. Ferguson. It's nice to know I wasn't pontificating totally out of left field!

    I hope you will, indeed, pop in again and say 'hey'. :-)