America today is the most ethenically and racially diverse country in the world. America has shown that it could meld ethenically and religiously diverse Europeand into a new people able to live harmoniously in a democratic republic. This was part of the proposition posed by President Lincoln in the Gettyburg Address. Left unanswered was whether people of other racial groups, especially blacks, could be assimilated into the American national mosaic. That question was answered by
the Civil Rights movement. And Dr. King's non-violent movement was key not only in achieving civil rights, but in changing the hear's and mind's of those who had struggled against the movement. Of course, America is not a perfect society. Racial and ethnic hatred and distrust has not disappeared. Great disparities continue to exist in American society. The very nature of American society has changed. Racial bigotry is now recognized as reprhensible. Individuals of every racial and ethnic group now play important roles in every sector of society from the science labortory to the Wall Stree boardroom and legislatures and court rooms. The impact of the civil rights movement becomes even more important when it is realized that sometime before the mid-21st century, whites of European origins ill fall below 50 percent of the populaton.
America today is the most ethenically and racially diverse country in the world. America has shown that it could meld ethenically and religiously diverse Europeand into
a new people able to live harmoniously in a democratic republic.
This was part of the proposition posed by President Lincoln in the Gettyburg Address.
Left unanswered was whether people of other racial groups, especially blacks, could be assimilated into the American national mosaic. The Civil War was not begun the free the slaves. It began with the Federal Goverment determuned to preserve the Union. It was Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party that convereted into a crusade to free the slaves. The rhetoric of the President and Republican leaders was always an attack on slavery and not the acceptance of Blacks as full citizens. This only came after the War with the 14th and 15th Amendments. The Republicans managed to pass these two amendments. They were unable, however, to bring about the reality of full black citizenship in a still racist society. The Lost Cause myth and extra-legl violence succeeded in sipressing black civil rights for a century.
The question of black civil rights was answered by
the Civil Rights movement. And Dr. King's non-violent movement was key not only in achieving civil rights, but in changing the hear's and mind's of those who had
struggled against the movement. Of course, America is not a perfect society. Racial and ethnic hatred and distrust has not disappeared. Great disparities continue to
exist in American society. The signs now point to America successfully addressing racial diffrences in the same way tha it had successfully addressed national and religious differences. [Pulera]
Charges of reverse drimination began to be raised in the 1970s as public instituions and universities began to try to make their work forces and student bodies more representative of the wider population. One observr notes striking parallls to these charges and the voices raised against Reconstruction after the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Riughts Bill and Reconstruction critics charged "class leguskation", a common 19th century term used used to charge special privlidge. [Foner]
The very nature of American society has changed. Racial bigotry is now recognized as reprhensible. Individuals of every racial and ethnic group now play important roles in every sector of society from the science labortory to the Wall Stree boardroom and legislatures and court rooms. Even inter-racial marriages no longer turn heads, perhaps a few eye brows are raised, but the severe social approbation no longer exists.
Some argue that little has changed in America and the country remains at hear a racist socirty. They claim that for the most part, the successes of leading minority figures represents tokinism. This charge is not wihout some truth. Many Americans do harbour rascist attitudes, ranging from outright racist to attitudes that people are not even conscious that they hold. This of course could not be otherwise. The impact of three centuries of slavery, segregation, and white supremecy will not be easily erased. Most of the people that charge that America has not changed are usually young people that do not realize the full extent and power of the system confronted by the Civil Rights movement. Many of these critics prefer the retoric of Malcom X to the effective political action of Dr. King. The critics are parially right that minorities are not fully represented in many important sectors of national life. We say partially because there are areas that minorities are represented in some areas in proprtions greater than ther proportional share of the population. Example would be blacks (the military, entertainment, and sports), orientals (science), south Asians (computers). While it is true that minoritie are under represented in many other areas, especially the Wall Stree boardroom. The presence of minorities in many other areas, however, such as politics has reached a level where it can hatdly be called tokinism. We do not dny that much work neds to be done in expanding opportunity in America. We do deny the proposition tht little has been accomplished and that nothing has changed in America. Of course the best evidence of this is the number of people of every ehnic and racial background that try to enter the United States every year.
Other ctitics have charged that the only minorities hich have managed to achieve in white Ameica are those who have lost contact with their own communities. The best example here is Colin Powell. Powell is a well known world figure whose personal story is beautifully told in his memoir. [Powell] Notable blacks like Harry Belefonte have question his "blackness". Here we strongly disagree. What black critics have noted is not people like Colin Powell or Condaleza White acting "white", but rather acting middle class. This is part of the same transition that other ethnics such as the Irish and Itlalians have made in early epochs of the American saga. It is true that the desendant Irish, Italian, and other Euopean immagrants entering the middle class behave differently than their parents nd grand parents. Yet in these communities, their achievements are looked on with pride. The great tragedy here is that many black youths who now have opportunities their parents only dreamed of see behaving and seriously applying themselves in school is "acting white". Of course capitalizing on the opportunities avlable can come only by academic achievement. Here we could not help but wonder why Revernd Jessie Jackson took up the case of black youths violently attacking others at a football game. We wonder if the youths he sould have stood up for were the students behaving themselves and seriously persuing their studies.
Many in the Civil Rights movemnt assumed that as the black community became more affluent that the achievement-gap between whites and blacks would close. While there remains a large segemnt of the black community that is an economic underclass, it is also true that a substantial part of the black comminity has entered the middle class. Here afirmative action has undoubtedly plaued a major role. While the growing affluence of the black community is major achievement, it is troubling that it does not seem to have close the achievement gap. Reasearchers in the 1990s have found that comparing white and black acdemic achievement in affluent communities have found a persistent gap. One Harvard resercher assesing 5 affluent, racially mixed communities found whites had grade point averages of B-plus while blacks averaged only C-plus. [Ferguson] A more limited study of the affluent Skaker Heights, Ohio community resulted in similar findinds. [Ogbu] Less well understood is why this achievement gap persists. Certainly the pernicious impact of centuries of slavery and Jim Crow may take more time to correct than once thought. There must, hoiwever, be other factors at play. HBC tends to think that cultural values are a major factor here. One espcially serious concern is the attitude of many young blacks mentioned above that study and serious application are somehow "acting white" and to thus be avoided. We also believe that many black families may have closed the income gap, in many cases they do not have the educatonal and middle-class cultural background as white families. Another serious concern is the number of black children being born into single parent families--the rate is much higher than that of white children. Many other factors may be affecting the achieveent gap as well.
The history of Blacks in America has been that of a people enslaved and exploited by Whites. This is a powerful mind set in the psyche of many Black Americans. The Civil Rights movement has removed the institutional barriers to Black achievement. There is no doubt that some Americans still harbor racist views. There is, however, also no doubt that considerable opportunity now exists in America for people of all racial and ethnic minorities. Still many Blacks continue to focus on White racial prejudice. Blacks today politically control many large American cities. It is difficult to explain why Blacks in these cities, such as Washington, D.C. fail to achieve academically. This can't be blamed on White racists when the schools are run by Blacks. Financing in terms of expenditures per child are often higher than in many school districts where acceptable results are achieved.
The academic achievent gap between some (but not all minorities) and whites means that many well paying jobs are closed to large numbers of Blacks and Hispanics who do not develop basic academic skills. Many Blacks believev that jobs are closed to them because of race. In America it would be unrealistic to think that this does not happen. By the samec token it would be unrealistic to think that individuals who do not speak with reasonable basic grammar and do not have basic reading, writing, and math skills are not severely disadvantaged in the job market. Civil Rights activates have tried to explain away the gap in English-lnguage skills as resulting from culturally based assessments. The gap in math skills is more difficult to explain. Bill Crosby in May 2004 casused a firestorm in the Black community when during a celebration of Brown vs. Topeka he criticised some Blacks for poor grammar and squandering the opportunities afforded by the Cibil Rights Movement. He was sharplu criticised many sectors of the Black community. Crosby hasn't backed down. Crosby addressed a grouo of Black activists at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Educatioin Fund's annual conference (July 1, 2004). He criticised somec Black spokesmen for trying to hide what he called the Black community's "dirty laundry". He told the group with Rev. Jackson sitting at his side, "Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other [racial epithets] as they're walkingb up and down the streets. They think they're hip. They can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and the're going no where."
There are a range of impediments that have made it difficult for black Americans to take dvantage of the opportunities created by the Civil Rights Movement. Authors will disagree as to the importasnce abd extent of these impeiments, but they are surely factors that require consideration. One important impediment is the modern job market. It was at one time possible for an individual with limited education to find factory jons that could support a family. This is becoming more difficult. Good paying jobs increasingly require a formal education. And the primary factor afecting educational achievement is the family one comes from. And blascks are less likely than wwhites to come from stble moddle-class families with educated parents. Two is continuing racism. This can not be dismissed, lthough the importance of this imediment is a subject of conjecture. Three is personal conduct. This is a factor that inspires inpassioned debate sihin the black community. Four is community. Many black Americans still live in inner-city gettoes. The popular "gangtsa" enviroment nd criminality adversely affects the individial growing up there.
It is possible to claim that Blacks do not get good jobs bcause of racism. After all the great bulk of hiring decessions are made by whites. As discussed above, the gap in academic achievement seems a more likely reason. A much more serious impediment seems to be personal decesions some young minorities are taking that are outside the control of suposedly racist Whites. Bill Crosby pointed out that Blacks can not blame Whites for high drop out and teen pregnacy rates. He cointinued, "For me there is a time ... when we have to turn the mirror around. Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen on their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in. Perhaps the most controversial statementv was when Crosby suggested that Black men who now face a future without a decent job are angry, but it is because they failed to take advantage of the opportunities now available. He bluntly told Black men, "You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, because you didn't want to get an education and now you're [earning] minimum wage." Reverend Jackson endorsed the thrust of Crosby's remarks, "Bill is saying let's fight the right fight, let's level the playing field. Drunk people can't do that. Illiterate people can't do that." Cosby is the most famous person to make this argument. And because of his celeberity status has been able to make it. Mamy blacks do not like to here this argument. It is always easier to blame others for your own short comings. And even Crosby was roundly criticised. One important scholar who has made these arguments is Orlando Patterson. There are a numbers of writers who essentailly believes that the Civil Rights Movemt has ended the major institutional barriers to balck achievement and it is now up to a new generation to take advantage of the opportunities created. [Williams] These authors focus on education, seld-determination, and individual responsibility. We note minority, mostly black, spokesmen on television who keep saying they want a public debate on racism and an examination ofvthe facts. The principal fact they allude to is the high unemployment rate among blacks. The assumption that spokesmen (like Al Sgharpton and Mark Lamont Hill) make is that this ipso facto proves that biased employers are unjustly denying jobs to blacks. Our experience is that once the discussion shifts to other explanations such as personal responsibility that the interest in a full discussion of race becomes less enthusiastic.
Many Civil Rights activists object to the authors who argue that much of the modern difficulties are due to self destructive behavior of blacks themselves. One author writes, "Lacking the political courage and personl compassion to confront the racism, segregation, poverty and violence tht so disturbed [James] Baldwin, these post-civil rights critics observe that, for black people, the enemy is us." [Joseph] The comment here is noteable. Th author does not just obkect to the argument that blacks are partly responsible for their plight, but those who dare to suggest it are not courageous, lack compassion. Now we would be the last to say definitively that Cosby and others are definitely correct. We would say that those who attack their character rather than address the issue they raise are being intelectually dishonest. Of course blacks are not solely responsible for their situation. No serious author suggests this. But black personal conduct dies seem to be a contributing factor and this is a subject that merits serious consideration. I think that much of the raction to Cosby and the others who maintain that blacks themslves bear some responsibilit for their condition is the very public expression of this position and the degree to which they focus on it. Self criticism is painful. It is much easier to blame your condition on others. This of course is true of any individual, not just black Americans. A good assessment of the debate within black America is a recently published compendium. [Smiley] This collection of essays overs a wide range of views on the situation of black America today and how to address those circumstances. Some authors touch on some of the same issues raised by Cosby and other self-respnssibility spokesmen, but the discussion is much broder.
Much of the focus of America in the last half of the 20th century was on the dichotomy between blacks and whites. Begining in the 1990s, the dynamic has begun to change. New minority grous have increased in importance. The most significant shift has been the growth of the Hipanic population in America. The 2000 Census confirmed that Hipanics are now the largest minority group in America. The poor academic achievement of many Hispanics is a very worrying trend. While on a smaller scale, there has been a signifcant expnsion of orientals. Here we note that many orientals achieve considerable academemic success, ven individuals arriving in America without English-language skills.
Other immigrants from South Asia and the Middle East have added further diversity to the American mosaic. As a result, especilly in the major U.S. cities, issues no longer or simple black-white issues.
The impact of the civil rights movement becomes even more important when it is realized that sometime before the mid-21st century, whites of European origins ill fall below 50
percentof the populaton. This importance of this trend poltically is one reason that President Bush is trying to change the focus of the Republican Party and appeal to minorities.
Ferguson, Ronald. Harvard University.
Foner, Eric. "Blacks and the U.S. Constitution," Who Owns History? Rethinnking the Past in a Changing World (Hill and Wang, 2000).
Joseph, Peniel E. "Is Bill Cosby Right?" Washington Post Book World August 20, 2006, p. 10.
Ogbu, John, University of California.
Powell, Colin. My American Journey
Pulera, Dominic. Visible Differences: Why Race Will Matter to Americans in the Twenty-First Century.
Smiley, Tavis. ed. The Covenant with Black America.
Williams, Juan. Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We can Do About It (Crown, 2006), 243p.
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