Suppressive voting rights efforts. Race-baiting taunts. Hate killings. Black men losing their lives to law enforcement. Nonviolent demonstrators marching nationwide for justice. Where have we seen this picture? Is this still 1965?
No, but there a lot of people who believe this country is on course to repeat the history of Selma and the civil rights era in a multi-faceted way.
And you don’t have to watch a movie to tear up and feel that way.
Selma is happening right now. It’s all around us. You don’t have to look too far to find it. Selma will find you. If that adage is true then the events surrounding Bloody Sunday (Selma) and the Civil Rights Movement have unfortunately recycled themselves into a generation five decades removed from the circumstances of oppression, segregation and the unduly influence of Jim Crow racism.
We’ve seen it repeated almost in an instant as soon as the United States Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts decided to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2013 (Shelby County v Holder). I was one-year old when the slaughter in Selma aboard the Edmund Pettus Bridge took place March 7, 1965.
Back then blacks had to fight their way through the courts and marched to demand equal treatment under the law.
Strangely, we are nearly 60 years removed from that era (58 years) and Black Americans are in the same struggle as their fathers, mothers, grandparents and great grandparents. Low wages, homelessness, crime, and poverty block the pathway to move forward.
The tyranny of racism is embedded in this country almost as it was back then. The problem with battling the issue today is that some of it is so hidden and thinly disguised that people overlook it. But it’s there. Then there are forms of hatred that are so in-your-face that it’s scary.
The mass shooting of Black people in Buffalo, New York, Jacksonville, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina, are stark reminders of this. Some of this is on us.
We slept for a number of years after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. This allowed the haters of race and gender equality, justice and fairness, to go backdoor and reaffirm their hatred to destroy symbols of peace through a myriad of ways in education, politics, the media, entertainment, and yes, sports.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused twice of sexual assault and yet he stands with two Super Bowl rings and is considered as a future Hall of Famer. Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, lost his livelihood of playing football in the NFL because he chose to quietly protest police brutality of Black and Brown brothers and sisters.
The world of education isn’t exempt from the race card. The University of Oklahoma, including a massive protest by the student body and faculty, told some racist frat boys (2015) get the heck off the campus and expelled the bums from the school after they were seen on video calling blacks the N-word in a song.
Why is this a big deal if not for freedom of speech? Freedom speech is what it is even if it is hate speech. However, there is a price to pay for ushering in a culture of hate towards a person regardless of race, gender, and religious beliefs.
History gives us that illustration.
It was hate that drove Nazi Germany in its insane quest to try to eliminate people of Jewish descent. What was the result of that fiasco? Adolf Hitler slithering like a coward in an underground bunker taking his own life. It was hate towards Black Americans that pushed Jim Crow laws into a way of life in this country.
What was the result of those laws? Those restrictive voting rights laws were canned, and Jim Crow segregation was abolished. However, gerrymandering and redistricting are the now tools to use today to render voting ineffective by certain groups of people and keep people separated.
Practiced racism has not gone away. It is still here. It threatens the essence of our democracy as a country no more than the violence that engulfed the civil rights fight during the 1950s and 1960s. It is now covered up more smoothly. In some cases, it is not.
Instead of wearing white robes with hoods, they now wear suits and nice designer dresses. There are no visible chains or hostile lunch counters to sit-in at, but we have plenty of reminders that the fight for equality remain.
This is a diligent fight. It will require stamina to go the distance. Looking for a quick TKO is not the solution. We must treat it as such. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 29 states have come up with 94 restrictive voting rights laws since the Supreme Court said bye-bye to the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
What can do about this? Well, for one, the fight for equal rights is going to take a lot more than public-touting symbolism. It’s going to require action.
It’s going to take action like the Justice Department calling out police departments like Cleveland and Ferguson for its impractical racist and unlawful actions against a signaled-out minority group (Black Africans).
It’s going to take going to the polls and exercising your right to vote no matter what. Instead of bellyaching and complaining, vote. That is a freedom all Americans have. Don’t take that privilege for granted. Vote.
Until then, the adage that says “we’re better than this” in referencing to this country’s back-and-forth racial tumult, doesn’t really have any juice. Apparently, we’re not better than this because history has a way of repeating itself.
Dennis J. Freeman is the editor and publisher of the Compton Bulletin. You may contact him at email@example.com.
Top photo by Tony Webster