by Alyson Helms
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a key part of our history that formed our current way of life in the United States. Several events led up to the passing of this important law that granted the equality of African Americans in public places where they had previously been rejected. These rights were long overdue for African Americans and the act that passed in 1964 brought change that African Americans had desired to see since the abolition of slavery. America has changed in many ways and equality is closer than ever, especially considering our African American president. But there are many racist views and policies that still exist in our society today. By examining current events, one can see how racism has declined over the years and also how racism is still prominent in our world.
Racial discrimination has declined over the past 50 years as many white Americans have become more open-minded about race and culture. Interracial relationships are at an all-time high: there are 4.8 million interracial relationships in America today (Associated Press). Most of these 1 in 12 couples include 1 white and 1 black partner, proving that America is changing and becoming more diverse in its idea of what a relationship should look like. Studies show that in 1958 only 4% of people approved of marriages between blacks and whites, but in 2013 87% of Americans approved of these interracial relationships. The main group of Americans that doesn’t believe in interracial relationships between blacks and whites is people 50 years and older. Data show that marriages between whites and blacks are still rare, representing less than 1% of all marriages, but they have increased since the 1960s (Gallup). Interracial relationships have also contributed in other ways to the diversity of America besides changing marriage statistics. Daniel Lichter claims that biracial children have “blurred America’s color line” and serve as “brokers” between different races in their families (Newport). He also states that the mixed children challenge typical notions of race and diversify America. These children interact with both races and show that equality is coming even though America still has a long way to go.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only brought more whites and blacks together, but also gave African Americans the chance to get a better education. In 2010, 2.9 million African Americans were enrolled in college compared to 1990 when the number was 1.7 million fewer. These statistics show that even over the last 20 years, African Americans have gained access to more opportunities compared to the times before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2010, 18% of African Americans had a college degree, compared to 40% of white Americans, which is an improvement considering that in the 1960s it was rare for an African American to get accepted into any college that wasn’t a Historically Black University. Many of the Historically Black Universities that cover the country are ranked in the “Best Schools of 2014,” including Spelman University, which was founded in 1881. Spelman is the oldest historically black college, inspiring women to change the world and be the best they can be (Spelman College).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed the social world when it came to sports as well. During the passing of the act, integration wasn’t popular and African Americans were rarely welcomed into the sports world. In 1966 Don Haskins at Texas Western University made social history by starting five African American players in the game for the NCAA title. In today’s society, African Americans are popular in sports and many of the best athletes are African American. One of the nation’s best basketball players, Michael Jordan, is an African American man who played for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s varsity basketball team. As an African American male, he went through difficult situations with racism but he kept going because he knew that his dream of being in the NBA was bigger than the restraints that society was trying to put on him. In 1984 he was the first draft for the NBA and ended up with the Chicago Bulls. If it hadn’t been for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he most likely wouldn’t have had the chance to have such a great impact on the game of basketball. Jordan has influenced many basketball players with this story and has become one of the biggest faces of basketball in our world today (“Michael Jordan Biography”). Michael Jordan and other famous African American athletes changed the “white mindset” of the country and became role models for black people all around the country. Jordan had to work twice as hard as white basketball players in order to achieve the high profile he had and become a public figure. He showed that if he could be equal on the court, he should be equal off the court as well.
Although many improvements have been made in our society, racism is still a problem in America. Many current events show that racism still exists in our world even though America has progressed quite far in recent years. One case that recently got America’s attention was the Trayvon Martin case, in which a neighborhood watchman shot a 17-year-old African American boy. Zimmerman saw the African American teenager on his way home and decided to call the police because he was suspicious of Martin’s behavior. Police officers told Zimmerman over the phone to not chase Martin down but to wait for them to arrive at the scene. Zimmerman went against the orders of the police and decided to follow Martin with his loaded handgun. Martin was chased down simply because of the way he was dressed in his hoodie with his dark complexion. George Zimmerman, the killer, was tried and found “not guilty” even of manslaughter. Many say that if Martin had killed Zimmerman the trial would not have gone the same way because Martin was an African American and racial prejudice led Zimmerman to assume that he was a bad teenager. In the 911 call that Zimmerman made when he saw Martin, he said “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about” even though Zimmerman had no idea if Martin was doing anything wrong (Touré). Zimmerman also mentioned that Martin’s hands were on his waistband, which shows that he believed Trayvon had a gun when he actually didn’t. Zimmerman believed that Trayvon was a black criminal with a gun and a drug problem, which is a common stereotype about black males in today’s society. If Trayvon had been a white male would Zimmerman have chased him down? Probably not.
Statistics from America’s criminal justice system also show the amount of racism that remains in our society. Research shows that 1 in 3 African American males will go to jail during his lifetime, but only 1 in 17 white males will go to jail. Minorities are more likely to go to jail than whites and they are more likely to be convicted of crimes as well. Statistics show that blacks are more likely to be stopped by cops for drug searches. African Americans make up only 13% of drug users, but they make up 46% of the drug users that are actually convicted for their actions (Knafo). Also, African Americans spend almost the same amount of time in jail for a drug conviction (58.7 months) as whites who commit a violent crime (61.7 months). Statistics also show that whites use drugs 5 times more than blacks, but blacks are 10 times more likely to get arrested for it. These facts show the continuing inequality in our justice system (NAACP).
Unfortunately the Trayvon Martin case was not the only judicial case that proves that racism still exists. Another case that happened in September of 2013 involved an African American male, Jonathon Ferrell, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ferrell wrecked his car and knocked on the door of a house nearby, where the owner called the police. When the police arrived, Ferrell ran towards the cops to get help and was shot down by Officer Randall Kerrick. (Goldberg). Kerrick fired the gun twelve times even though he didn’t have probable cause to do so. Ferrell was unarmed and looking for help after crashing his car, but the stereotype that African American males are “criminals” and “thugs” misled the officer to think it was okay to kill him. If Ferrell had been a white male, the police officer probably would have thought twice before he shot the gun twelve times and killed an innocent man who had no interest in doing anything wrong. Officer Kerrick didn’t even make it known that he was a police officer.
Another example of racial injustice in America is the “Stop and Frisk” policy that was put into place by the New York Police Department, allowing them to stop and question pedestrians and search them for weapons or drugs. The police department stops many people in the streets and most of them happen to be African American, which brings up the topic of racial profiling. Police officers stop people without having any credible suspicions. In 52% of the cases black people are questioned; another 31% of those stopped are Hispanic, which shows that most of the people targeted by the police are not white. Racism still exists even among law enforcement officials due to stereotypes and prejudices that people have towards people of other races (Pilutik). Research also shows that the NYPD is more likely to use physical force when it comes to blacks than whites. In 2011, the New York Police Department used physical force against blacks 76,483 times and only 9,765 times against whites (Gonzalez). Police target blacks more often and blacks are treated like criminals even if they are innocent. No data has shown that the “Stop and Frisk” method actually helps keep weapons off the streets, but it does victimize people of minority races that are already scarred by racial profiling in their own communities. This racial profiling makes it hard for African Americans to trust their law enforcement officers because they are never sure if police officers will arrest them for no reason.
In some cases it even seems as though racial progress is being eroded. One of the greatest sports stars that helped the process of integration occur was baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Robinson helped the Dodgers go to the National League Championship and made six trips to the World Series. Robinson became a political speaker for the act of integration in 1949 and influenced not only baseball but also other sports such as football and basketball (Goldstein). In order to honor his bravery, there was a statue built of him in the MCU Park in Coney Island. Many people would assume that the racism towards Jackie Robinson is long over, but unfortunately this was recently disproved. On August 7th, 2013, police officers got a call that the statue had been vandalized with “vulgar writing that was both racist and anti-Semitic.” On the statue in black marker, NBC reported, someone had scrawled graffiti that included “the n-word and a swastika and said ‘F— Jackie Robinson’” (Fieldstadt). This news is upsetting and offensive because of all the progress that has been made since the time of Jackie Robinson. The Jackie Robinson statue should represent American equality, but the vandalism that recently occurred shows that racism is still alive and some people still don’t believe in equality. These hateful words hold back the hopefulness that one might have for true equality in our society today.
As America moves towards the future, we hope for a world where everyone feels accepted for who they are, including their skin color. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an important step toward equality for blacks in America. But current events show that racism is not over in our society and the close-minded views of some Americans may keep that from ever happening. America has surely improved the treatment of African Americans and as we move into the future racism will decrease but there will always be remains of stereotypes and prejudice in our world. America will continue to work for equality for all people despite the judgments that society puts on them. As more people join together and fight for equality like they did in the 1960’s, America will come together and be a strong nation made of thriving people who are not judged by the color of their skin but by their potential and what they have to offer the world.
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