Awakening the conscience of a nation

By Aaron Burton

America has come a long way from the brutal images of police
using dogs and fire hoses to prevent peaceful Black protesters from
expressing their discontent with racism and the mistreatment by
governmental powers.

Any person of history cannot forget the atrocities, which took
place under the Jim Crow Laws, forcing blacks into the shadows of
segregation on every level of life for nearly 100 years.

Our military once segregated its forces on radical lines in
order to “protect the morale of the troops.” Ironically, such same
old fears are echoed today over the current debate on allowing our
gay brothers and sisters to serve their nation openly.

Even after the Civil War, most blacks were unable to vote in
many parts of America. The Ku Klux Klan engaged in terror tactics
keeping blacks away from the voting booths.

Many State officials sympathized with the KKK. They enacted poll
taxes which blacks could not afford, and literacy tests impossible
to pass if one’s skin color was black.

African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, perhaps
one of the most unsung heroes of the movement, studied Gandhi’s
teachings and counseled Martin Luther King Jr. to dedicate himself
to the principles of non-violence.

Rustin served as King’s main advisor and mentor throughout his
activism, and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on
Washington, where King delivered his powerful “I have a Dream”
speech.

Many within the Civil Rights Movement asked King to distance
himself from Rustin because he was an open homosexual, however,
King refused.

Their work would produce two landmark bills signed by Lyndon B.
Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of
1965 transformed America by knocking down barriers for blacks to
cast their votes for the first time without fear of violence.

However, politically the Democrats suffered greatly for
supporting these laws. Richard Nixon would engage in the “Southern
Strategy” aimed at winning the “racist vote.” Sadly, this strategy
worked, and the Democrats lost the South.

During the opening of the first National Tea Party Convention
this past week, anti- immigrant and former Republican Congressman
Tom Tancredo stated the reason why Obama won the 2008 election was
because America doesn’t have a literacy test anymore.

More shocking was the applause from the Tea Party delegates.

The Tea Party Movement at its core has racist undertones because
of their clear discontent that America has a black president.

Who could forget the summer of the “Birthers” who backed the
conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya not in
Hawaii, therefore under the Constitution would not be allowed to be
president. Despite Obama releasing his birth certificate, the
Birthers called the document a forgery.

Many nationally elected Republicans openly supported the
“Birther Movement”.

However, there were many Republican officials who disagreed with
this outrageous claim, but hesitated to criticize their political
base. Such misdirection kept the fire of racism going for months as
the debate over Health Care heated up.

Sadly, there is still institutionalized racism in America, such
as our prison policy. In the 1930s, 75 percent of prisoners were
white, a representative of the overall population.

However, the so-called “get tough on crime movement” and the
“war on drugs” helped to change that. Now minorities account for
three-quarters of all new admissions and more than half of all
Americans behind bars.

By 2004, incarceration had cost 13 percent of all blacks their
right to vote.

In many states, one felony translates into permanent
disenfranchisement and the impact is devastating to our free
society.

We still have so much work to do to ensure that all people
regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation are seen as equal
under the law.

King once said, “An individual has not started living until he
can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns
to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

We must look within ourselves and ask: Have we all done
enough?

Reach Aaron Burton at: opinions@thepolypost.com

Awakening the conscience of a nation

Courtesy of Blacklooks.org

Awakening the conscience of a nation

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