The Fight for African American Civil Rights is Not Over

When my brother and I went through the educational system, we were taught that the big fight for African American civil rights was in the 1950s and 1960s…and then there was nothing on that fight after then.

That is somewhat understandable, because several of the most significant court decisions and pieces of legislation on African American civil rights in the history of the United States happened/passed in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the fight for African American civil rights is far from over, and in fact, in a number of ways, the United States has seemingly gone backward on African American civil rights.

There is clearly a disconnect going on here, between what some people believe and what the reality is.

Below are three of the common[1] beliefs about African American civil rights that are incorrect. Those incorrect beliefs are in bold and the answers to those incorrect beliefs are in regular text:

  1. We have gone forward on voting rights in recent decades. Actually, the United States has gone backward on voting rights for African Americans. Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, many hundreds of voting sites have closed down, an overwhelming majority of them being in African American communities.[2] Additionally, Voter ID laws have come into play in numerous states; these ID laws have disproportionately affected people of color.[3] If you think that voting rights for African Americans are going forward, think again.
  2. School segregation is in the past. It’s over. To the contrary, racial integration in schools has also gone backward. This Atlantic article goes into great detail about school segregation in the United States. But the TL; DR (short for too long; didn’t read) version is that school segregation is actually getting worse, and there seems to be relatively little political will to sufficiently address that fact. And that’s not just a problem in the American South—there was a whole feature story, also in The Atlantic, about how the new chancellor of the New York City schools has made desegregation of schools a major priority because segregation has become a problem in New York. The consequence is schools that are separate…and unequal.
  3. White people and people of color are treated equally under the law. That’s not true either; the criminal justice system still shows racial disparities. A study in 2017 showed that black men get 19.1% longer sentences than white men on average…for the same crimes![4] Innocent African Americans are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent people of other races—50% more likely for murder, 3 ½ times more likely for sexual assault, and a staggering 12 times more likely for drug crimes.[5] The disparities may not come as a surprise for many, but the magnitude of the disparities may catch some off-guard—while also demonstrating that the United States has a long way to go on criminal justice issues.

Some people may yet argue that the fight for African American civil rights is over, and that anyone who believes otherwise is somehow holding on to misplaced bitterness. However, during this Black History Month, I argue that actually, it’s far from over. To the contrary, we’re going backward, whether people realize it or not.


[1] Note that this list is not comprehensive. In order to keep this post relatively short, I narrowed it down to three key areas where the fight for African American civil rights is clearly not over.

[2] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[3] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/black-men-sentenced-time-white-men-crime-study/story?id=51203491

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

Racism Exists Where You Don’t Expect It

A few weeks ago, someone (I don’t know who) wrote some extremely disturbing things on my family’s car and on street poles near my family’s house. The person wrote things like “n****r,” “Mexican n****r,” “black cop,” and “Black people are stupid.”

I was tempted to not say anything, anywhere, about all of this. I decided otherwise.

I will use my experience with such hateful rhetoric by saying this: racism exists where you don’t expect it.

People tend to associate racism with certain parts of the country, or even with certain parts of states. I’ve heard people from the northern United States make remarks about the “racist South.” I’ve heard people from northern New Jersey make remarks about how southern New Jersey is a hotbed for racists. I’ve heard people in New York City remark about how upstate New York has many racists. And, admittedly, I’ve been behind some of those remarks and/or have implicitly or explicitly agreed with many of those remarks.

But the thing is that I don’t live in southern New Jersey, upstate New York, or the southern United States. I live in New York City. People often don’t think of New York City as a hotbed for racists. Yet, I was staring at racism in my New York City neighborhood several weeks ago, both figuratively and literally.

The bottom line is this: racism exists in places where you don’t expect it. It exists everywhere. You don’t just see racism in southern Jersey; it exists in northern Jersey. It doesn’t just exist in upstate New York; it exists in New York City. It doesn’t just exist in states that used to be parts of the Confederacy; it exists in states that used to be part of the Union. If there is one thing about racism that doesn’t discriminate, it is in the places where racism actually exists.

So I hope that all of us stop trying to pretend that race issues are either from a bygone era or are in part of the country that is far away from where some of us live. Wherever people exist, racists exist. I just hope it doesn’t take seeing words like “n****r,” “Mexican n****r,” “black cop,” and “Black people are stupid” in your neighborhood to recognize that fact.

IMAG0538
This racist language was not found in Alabama or even southern New Jersey, but in my own neighborhood in New York City. This photo was taken by me.