Civil Rights Aren’t Just in the Past

People keep saying things like “racism is over with”, “the fight for civil rights ended in the 60's”. These people are forgetting that those in the past exist in the present. Those who were violated, discriminated against, abused, and harassed are still alive in our society. They remember these atrocities; their lived experience impacts their lives and the lives and society around them. Racism is most obviously denoted with slavery. Slavery is in the past. It happened over a hundred years ago. But people are alive who were the grandchildren of slaves. The majority of the modern world has been based in racism, slavery, and the degradation of humankind. To say it is in the past ignores the ways in which these hierarchies and racist assumptions impacted the contemporary capitalist, political, and legal systems that we take for granted. So while written discrimination and racism is over with, thanks to the civil rights movement, it is disrespectful and a perpetuation of violence to ignore how these issues are maintained through systematic foundations. Generations of people are still alive that lived before desegregation, before the Voting Rights Act, before the Civil Rights movement. Do not disregard their lived experience.

CDC Photo of Doctor Giving Man a Shot During Tuskegee Trials

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male was a government sponsored experiment to determine the lifetime experience of people with (at the time) syphilis, which at the time was not treatable. The study aimed to find differences between how syphilis impacted Black men differently than white men, if at all. The study ran from 1932–1972 and tested Black men who had unknown syphilis. These men were never even told that they had the disease. In 1947, penicillin was found to cure syphilis. The study never used it to cure the men; for nearly 25 years these men could have been cured of disease and the state kept them in the dark and let them die. The families of these individuals are still alive and living with the loss and abuse of their family members.

Police violence against Black people has existed throughout the history of the United States in various forms and continues to exist through contemporary understandings of it. In post-Civil War America through 1950, the government was aware of unjust lynchings of Black people and did nothing to prevent, allowing mob rule to persecute Black people for alleged (and typically made up crimes). This regulation isn’t typically identified as policing of Black bodies but must be considered this because of the lack of intervention by the state leading to and encouraging the abuse of these citizens.

Bull Connor Era Police Violence

In the 1960’s at the height of the fight for civil rights, Bull Connor led Birmingham police against Black citizens aiming to be treated equally as white citizens. He utilized high-powered water hoses and trained police dogs against peaceful protesters. Two years later when Martin Luther King Jr. brought the Civil Rights Movement to Birmingham, he used children aged 6–18 to peacefully march through the city, sure that Connor wouldn’t make a move against children. By the end of the day, Connor locked up over 900 young protesters.

Policing Black bodies continued into the 1990’s (and through today) with Drug War politics and mass incarceration of Black men. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population; 25% of the world’s incarcerated population resides in the U.S. Black men are more at risk than their white brothers to be targeted and subsequently receive harsher punishments than them. The incarcerated rate of Black men now equals the number of Black men enslaved in 1820 America, revealing the bias and continuation of violenced policing. Even though, powder cocaine is not as deadly or addictive as crack cocaine, it has been policed as the better option. Crack cocaine is the cheaper option and the user profile is that of the poor and Black communities. Until the Obama Administration, there was a 100:1 disparity between minimum sentencing for these drugs. 5 grams of crack cocaine would receive a three-year sentence; for get the same sentence for possession of powder cocaine, someone would have to be charged with 500 grams. With the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, this disparity was decreased to 18:1. Drug War politics has politicized and racialized drug use and thus creates discriminatory policing practices.

In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which “prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability”.

Redlining was a product of the New Deal and is used to describe racist policies towards lending practices. Maps were color-coded to determine where it was safe to insure mortgages; wherever Black people lived, it was deemed unsafe to insure. This type of policy persists today in lending practices, where African Americans and Latinos are consistently denied mortgages and loans at far higher rates than their white counterparts. These findings show that in places where legal segregation occurred, socialized segregation still exists (i.e. new loans are more readily secured within the territory of allowable loans from segregationist times).

Redlining and Racial Discrimination in Philadelphia

The impacts of redlining and racist housing practices don’t just continue within the realm of housing, but also extends into the financial realms. “African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth.” This stems from the use of equity within financial portfolios. Housing equates to a massive amount of financial security and economic stability. Without equal access to this and perpetuation of housing biases, minorities cannot build their wealth and gain access to move out of these socially segregated communities.

In short, when people say that some kind of bigoted notion is in the past, question it. Honor the people who are still alive from when the issue of the past was supposedly settled. Recognize the systematic injustice that perpetuates supposedly historic injustices.

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Darby Matt

Darby Matt

Drake University International Relations (MENA focused), Socio-Legal studies, religious studies and Arabic graduate. This is a blog-like post to learn and share