Civil Rights: It’s Not a Black Thing, White People Just Don’t Want to Understand

civil rightsInstitutional racism is alive and kicking Black butt. Voter ID laws, redlining, and credit scores. Institutional racism attacks Blacks by engaging in racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policies, police brutality, the failed “war on drugs,” and the criminal justice system in general. It misinforms our youth by using bigoted and prejudiced textbooks, punishing non-white students more harshly than white students, underfunding public schools, and closing down public schools attended chiefly by students of color.

Green is not the only color that matters in business. The media, television, and news portrayals of Black people are negative and just stereotypical nonsense. Do you think fashion is neutral? Consider that when Blacks wear hoodies, it creates probable cause so observers and the police can take appropriate action. These same onlookers cannot bring themselves to divert their attention from the rear ends of so many Black males. Since the butt-viewers lack the discipline to look away, it is incumbent upon government, businesses and schools to protect the “looky-loos” with anti-sagging measures.

Sports are the bastion of merit and color-blindness. Guess again. As the numbers of Blacks in sports increase, the distribution of sports revenue decreases. What if the athletes are failing their classes? Do not fret, they can “fix” those grades. Just keep them in the fields, I mean, on the field so they can play. It is illegal to buy a college athlete on scholarship a meal or give any money or compensation. But the NCAA will use the athlete’s likeness to sell jerseys, tickets, and for video games, to name a few exploitative maneuvers. The athlete will not receive a dime.

I could provide more examples and discuss more areas, but you get the idea. When any entity treats people differently, then it is discrimination, which is a violation of civil rights. Civil rights refer to opportunity, equal access, and treating individuals equally under the law. In common parlance, it means everyone is supposed to be treated the same as anyone else in a similar situation or class. You cannot treat people differently because of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, religion, etc.

In my opinion, institutional racism disproportionately affects Black people. Of course, if Black people make up the social group most affected by institutional racism, then it is understandable that most Black people support civil rights and other means to rid society of discrimination, more than other social groups. After all, civil rights mean that people cannot deny other people opportunities, access, or treatment based on descriptive qualities or demographic characteristics.

The problem is that everyone is mistreated and a victim of some form of discrimination at some point. It could be because of gender, religion, color, or even age. Civil rights are not just a Black thing. Yes, white people face a modicum of discrimination too, just not as much as other racial groups. Nonetheless, the brave soldiers battling for justice are Black people. Because of the work of Black people to improve this country, so many others have benefited. If it were not for the freedom fighters and civil rights workers in the Civil Rights Movement, I doubt that Native Americans, Hispanics, women, and others would be able to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and privileges they enjoy now.

Because tolerance of any type of bias makes it easier to discriminate against others for any number of reasons, it is in everyone’s best interests to combat prejudice when they see it.

So why is it that we only hear Black voices when civil rights issues involve Blacks? Where are the white people? The Occupy movement cares about economic equality and equity. So do Blacks. Where are the Occupiers when Blacks seek economic justice? Blacks in North Carolina and the Dream Defenders in Florida are fighting unjust laws. It does not take much to notice the absence of white people (I know there are some, but a minuscule number).

Consider the issues that really chap the hides of white people. None of them involves civil rights. Sadly, we expect conservatives and Republicans (even Black ones) to be silent on matters of civil rights. However, where are the white liberals? Even among them, there is less passion to redress discriminatory practices and procedures than when there are threats to a public park or bike path, some whale or household pets.

Imagine the outcry if governments, businesses, and other entities banned wearing biker pants — you know, those skintight spandex pants people wear. Think of the outrage if people actually received fines or jail time for not cleaning up after their dogs did their business where humans walk. We cannot even imagine cities closing public schools that mainly educate white students because while it is possible, it does not happen.

Because most of the majority  population refuses to assist in remedying society of racism and discrimination, inequality exists and will continue to exist. Issues of civil rights are typically ignored by a majority of whites (and of course Black conservatives and Republicans) and to some degree non-whites.

When it comes to pointing out the injustices of various forms of discrimination and racism, the majority of the voices you hear are Black. This gives rise to the belief that civil rights are for Blacks, not whites. It gives rise to the belief that white people do not care about the plight of others. It comes across as if whites are indifferent about improving the country in which they live. It also comes across as if whites prefer Blacks to suffer.

All of these motives are rather sinister, so I will attribute white silence to not comprehending how they are affected, for they are at risk too; hence, the challenge of civil rights. The difficulty with eliminating discrimination and ensuring civil rights is not because civil rights are for Blacks; it is that white people just do not understand.

 Dr. Maruice Mangum is an associate professor in the department of Political Science at Texas Southern University.

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