50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Struggle for Equal Opportunity

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act (of 1964). Though the law marked many fundamental and necessary changes and is a landmark piece of legislative history in civil rights, let's not forget that there’s still, currently, work that needs to be done to uphold the law.
The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to openly discriminate against people based on their race, religion, skin color, gender, or country of origin; it also threw out erroneous voter registration requirements and desegregated schools, the workforce, and public facilities. 

However, the system continues to struggle to uphold many aspects of the law. How? Let's take inventory...

People of color, black folks, women and children are still being marginalized and are subject to institutional racism, the wealth inequality, the prison industrial complex, and resource hoarding. Unemployment continues to plague black people at a higher rate, and is often driven by white America’s obligation to do favors for their friends and people within their group, putting black job seekers at a disadvantage.

According to a 2013 book published by the Russell Sage Foundation and written by sociologist Nancy DiTomaso, a professor of organization management at Rutgers University and vice dean of Rutgers Business School, there are latent forms of racial inequality in the workforce that aren't as cut, dried, and obvious as blatant racism is, based on favoritism. And since many black people don’t often have access to career connections and social capital, it puts them at a disadvantage and leaves them out of the running for job opportunities. And while the ‘subjective well-being’ of black folks has increased relative to white people, many still hold the short-end of the stick, when it comes to socio-economic mobility. Recent data has also shown that white high-school dropouts were just as likely to get hired as black college graduates with more education.

Likewise, despite the reformation of discriminatory voting laws a year later (Voting Rights Act of 1965), in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down key elements of the legislation by a 5-to-4 vote, deeming them ‘unconstitutional’;  enabling 9 states (mostly in the south) to change their voting laws without needing advance approval by the federal government. This gives states with high instances of racial discrimination, free reign to regulate voting elections and possibly discriminate against voting areas in high minority neighborhoods. 

Also important to note: while the Civil Rights Act didn't expressly include the LGBT community, there are definitely amendments that need to be made in this regard, particularly since in most states, workers can be unceremoniously fired or denied a job for being gay.

The (mostly male) conservative members of the Supreme Court has presently shown a pattern of discriminating against women, using a moral code rooted in patriarchy, to police reproductive rights and deny women body autonomy, as evidenced by their recent ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, making it legal for Hobby Lobby stores to use religion as a reason to not honor the Affordable Healthcare Act’s mandate on covering contraception; which set a precedent for other corporations to possibly use “religious freedom”, as an excuse to violate women’s reproductive rights.

Also alarming, was recent news that black women faced higher instances of housing discrimination and are evicted at higher rates

Although the Civil Rights Act has worked to prompt hope and enthusiasm about education equality and the desegregation of public schools, progress still seems to elude many black and brown students struggling to close the achievement gap and with having to make do with lack of resources, drop-out rates, poverty, overly aggressive school policies that target black and Native American students, segregation and corporations looking to bank off of the emergence of charter schools.

According to data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights department, black and Native American students across the nation are underrepresented in gifted programs and are suspended and expelled at higher rates than their white (and even Hispanic) classmates; this includes students with special needs, as well. Couple that data with the fact that there was more school closures in areas that are predominantly black and Latino. During the summer of 2013, thousands of displaced black (the overwhelming majority) and Latino students in major cities across the country, scrambled to find other (further away options, in some instances) schools to transfer to in the fall, casualties of mass closings due to failed school districts. Chicago alone faced approximately 50 school closures.

So yes, today marks 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many advancements have been made since then. But, before folks start espousing rhetoric from the University of Ayn Rand, it’s time for the system to reinforce those polices and stop regressing to oppressive regulations that keep marginalized groups mired in a perpetual state of structural oppression, and that punishes folks for holding the structure accountable for upholding basic human rights. 

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