by Lawrence Ware
Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July of that year. This legislation prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It has been 50 years since this act became law, and racial progress is undeniable.
Overt acts of racism are now met with moral indignation and social alienation. Those who fought for civil rights are considered modern-day saints, and those who actively opposed racial progress are viewed as ignorant at best. Considering how much lip service is given to the notion of a post-racial America, you would think we’ve gotten this race all figured out.
You would be wrong. Dead wrong.
Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride [three unarmed young black people killed by whites—Editor] are but reminders of how much work remains to be done. They show us that stereotypes are not only lamentable—they are deadly.
Further, when juxtaposed with cases like Marissa Alexander (a black, female victim of domestic abuse who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gunshot into the ceiling of her home while her abuser threatened her), they also serve to show us how race still matters in the American Justice system.
These cases show us why Black History Month remains so important.
As we fight for important causes like economic justice and gender equality, we must never forget that one of America’s oldest sins still lingers: the social sin of racism.
Black History Month is an important reminder about how far the United States have come, and how far we have yet to go.
Progressive communities have a tendency to sweep racial injustice under the rug as other “in vogue” topics take precedence. Things like LGBTQ issues will take center stage, or student debt will be the topic of the year. All the while, racism festers beneath the surface until acts of violence place it back in the news.
Martin Luther King once wisely wrote: “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King wisely discerned that many fail to see that injustices suffered by one group affect all groups. Therefore, in ignoring any injustice, one fails to see that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Translation: We are all in this together.
Black History Month reminds us that while we should work on a multiplicity of important issues, the shadow of racism follows us still—lest we should ever forget.
Lawrence Ware is a Professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He is a frequent contributor to the Democratic Left magazine and co-editor of the forthcoming progressive publication RS: The Religious Left. He has been a commentator on race for the Huffington Post Live and NPR’s Talk of the Nation. He has taught and lectured across the country on issues ranging from race to economic policy.
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.