The struggle so far shows a long way to go

I didn’t grow up around very many minority children. I don’t recall my high school had more than a handful of African-American students when I attended and graduated. My college dorm had one African-American.

And my adult life hasn’t included many minorities, at least on a daily workplace basis. Actually, since I’ve worked in small towns in Colorado exclusively to this point – and in some cases by myself – I haven’t really worked with very many people, period.

Still, I’ve always believed everyone – no matter what their race, sex, age, the team they root for, etc. – should be treated the same. I think that’s why I like “Star Trek” so much. As I wrote in my last blog, to honor the late Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Mr. Spock on the science fiction TV show and the movies, I thoroughly endorse the “infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” or IDIC, philosophy developed for Spock’s alien species, the Vulcans.

Back here on earth, though, I doubt anyone would argue human beings have a long way to go to come close to that societal ideal. And some, myself included, often wonder if we’ll ever get there.

50 years on

As I write this, President Obama, our senators, representatives and civil rights activists, are taking part in the golden anniversary of what is called “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala.

Selma-Dog1The anniversary marks 50 years from the day hundreds of people were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers as they marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. to protest racial discrimination in voter registration. About 600 people participated in the planned 50-mile journey on March 7, 1965.

The marchers were protesting discrimination that kept black people from voting. But as the marchers approached the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers used force and tear gas to push them back.

The Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma, Ala., where hundreds march for voting rights in 1965.
The Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala., where hundreds marched for voting rights in 1965.

I was just a young child when the march happened back then, and don’t recall seeing or hearing anything about it. But I did read several news media accounts before this year’s anniversary, one by the Washington Post that was reprinted by the Denver Post. Parts of the story really pointed out to me that we, as a country and a society, unfortunately haven’t come all that far in 50 years.

That story noted that today, Selma is more than 80 percent African-American, has a black mayor, a black police chief, a black district attorney and a majority black city council.

But more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty and the unemployment rate is twice the state average. The story described Selma this way:

It was a place struggling to overcome the racial divisions that have in many ways defined it for generations.

The Post story also noted that when the all-white Selma Country Club initially rejected a Japanese businessman’s application in the early 1990s, it was national news. The club, in a county that is 80 percent black, still does not have any black members.

Its schools have been effectively segregated since the early 1990s. A bitter fight over whether to renew the contract of the superintendent led the white population of the city to abandon the system en masse. Today, the public schools in Selma are 99 percent black.

Days earlier, Obama met with some of the activists who were part of the voting rights battles in Selma in the 1960s. The story said his message to them was that his presidency was their legacy.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it was not for you,” he told them, according to senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.

A big step back

Some of the voting rights that were the cause of the march in 1965 were recently undone by the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times noted in its June 25, 2013 story:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

The Times story said the court was divided along ideological lines, with the two sides drawing sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting.

At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

So our highest court can’t agree on the issue of discrimination at the polling place. At the time of that ruling, it was about 48 years after the Selma march. Progress? I don’t see much, based on this ruling. If anything, it set things back big time.

When will the Vulcans land?

Granted, and again keeping in mind my background, things are much better in many ways than they were 50 years ago. We don’t have separate black and white drinking fountains. The workplace is – in theory and in law, at least – fair and equal in who is hired and why.

Yet race continues to bedevil our society, especially in certain regions. Just this past year, we’ve seen marches and demonstrations over the deaths of blacks at the hands of white police officers. And I have to admit I’m often pessimistic about the chances of our ever getting to the point of IDIC.

Still, I’ll always hold out hope. If you give up, nothing will change. Maybe it will take something like aliens landing on earth (again, “Star Trek”) to point us in the right direction and bring everyone together.

I would hope we can get there on our own, though. Whether it happens is up to us.

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