Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Civil Rights Act Turns 50

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 8:00 AM

I love libertarians. Often, they're the only people in the room who want to smooch me. But I am a big government liberal and, when I say "big government," I mean, bring on the power of the Fed. Each state being its own testing ground for whatever bozo ideas the majority of people in that state want has a way of going badly for people like me. I like feeling like I might have Uncle Sam on my side to even it up a little.

I don't know how many opportunities I've had because it's illegal to discriminate against someone "on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," but I think it's safe to assume that I'm sitting here before you because of the Civil Rights Act.

More importantly, the Civil Rights Act gave the strength of law to the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. We may still have some vestiges of segregation, but the United States' shameful legal apartheid was over. Still, I think it's important to take a moment to remember that this wasn't some ancient past. My parents are still alive and they were adults when the Civil Rights Act passed. We're still in the process of trying to turn a corner as a nation. We've seen incredible progress—we have a black president, a woman may very well be our next president.

But our old sins are still with us. I'm sure you all saw Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece in The Atlantic about racist housing policies in Chicago that directly impacted the black middle class and about the necessity of reckoning with how the United States can make right what was done to black people. Those housing policies, many of them, were put in place after 1963.

Or look at us, a city that's 25% African American, but our public schools are 45% African American. Everyone who lives here knows that when white people talk about the "bad" parts of town and bad schools and warn each other away from them, they mostly mean places where non-white people live and go to school. We don't need formal segregation if we just do it ourselves.

The Civil Rights Act remains an important piece of legislation, but we're celebrating its 50th Anniversary in a country that hasn't come nearly as far as it should have.

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