Bo Statham: Racism still a problem in America
Sixty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” in the field of public education has no place, concluding: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That decision is but one of several actions that have given legal meaning to the sacred words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” (In the 1776 Declaration, was the word “men” exclusive or did it include “women”?)
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves in the Confederate states.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, ending slavery in the United States.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, guarantees due process of law and equal protection of law for all persons.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended lawful segregation in all places of public accommodation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put teeth in the Fifteenth Amendment right of blacks to vote.
These founding documents, constitutional amendments, case law and statutes, enshrined over a period of more than two centuries, have proclaimed and protected the rights of African Americans to live in dignity without discrimination. But they have not cleansed the hearts and minds of too many in this country of raw and demeaning prejudice.
Recent statements of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling are well-publicized cases in point. Bundy, a 68-year-old Nevada rancher in the news related to his unlawful use of federal lands, offered his views about “the negro.” Along with his appalling views of African Americans’ behavior, he wondered if they were better off in slavery than today.
Sterling, the 80-year-old billionaire owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, complained of his girlfriend publishing pictures of herself with blacks, and of her bringing blacks to Clippers games. Bundy and Sterling profess they are not racists, but it is difficult to ascribe any other meaning to their statements.
Such behavior is often thought of as a generational characteristic. Americans now in their later years grew up in a society, not just in the South, when discrimination was commonplace. Prejudice was widespread, deep and socially acceptable.
But there is ample evidence of prejudice among young people toward African Americans.
A statue was erected on the University of Mississippi campus in 2006 to commemorate the admission of James Meredith, the first African-American to attend that institution. In February of this year, three white students defamed the statue of Meredith by wrapping a rope and a Georgia flag around his neck.
Student racial incidents aimed at African Americans increasingly have been reported on college campuses in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio and other states.
Clearly, prejudice knows no age limitations.
In the acclaimed 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men,” protagonist Henry Fonda replied to an angry, biased, fellow jurist “whenever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth.” A memorable movie line, those words are as relevant today as when the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
When, at last, will “all men are created equal” have true meaning?