|Stacey Walker (Source: Linn County)|
Addressing realities on the ground became a major challenge almost immediately upon passage of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Those laws--particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Housing Act of 1968--achieved breakthroughs that had eluded the civil rights amendments to the U.S. Constitution a century earlier, mainly by including enforcement mechanisms. But it quickly became apparent that middle-class whites, having built wealth and individual capacities with decades of better access to jobs and a variety of government programs, were far better equipped than other groups to deal with the economic changes ahead. One outcome of the marketplace is the winners can use their gains to buy advantages in the next round. Here's how it worked in housing:
Hence the emphasis yesterday on institutional responses to systemic racism and implicit bias rather than the explicit barriers of Dr. King's era. In a panel discussion before the event at which Supervisor Walker spoke, Jasmine Almoayed of the Cedar Rapids economic development office cited the need to facilitate access to resources for new residents; Ruth White, CEO of the Academy of Scholastic and Personal Success, the need for the city to address the housing stratification that directly affects resources for schools; and Rod Dooley, a local pastor as well as executive director of equity for the Cedar Rapids schools, the need for public schools to respond to changes in family structure and racial diversity that affect differentials in achievement and gradation rates.
Karl Cassell, CEO of Perhaps Today! Inc. and formerly director of the civil rights commission, urged his audience at Coe College to become politically involved in the struggle over economic inequality. Young people burdened by debt are understandably afraid to "upset the applecart," said Cassell, but while bearing such burdens are not truly "free to live your life." From the audience, long-time civil rights activist Bernard Clayton added "You may not like politics, but politics likes y'all."
|Karl Cassell (Source: Perhaps Today! Inc)|
Is it fair to assume that the removal of explicit racial barriers leaves nothing to judge between individuals but the content of their characters? The stories told over the course of yesterday point to barriers that remain and that require society-wide efforts to overcome, to life prospects that are dramatically different from birth depending on race and economic circumstance, to the need to reshape institutional and individual perceptions shaped by centuries of injustice before we get to a place where opportunity and justice are truly inclusive.
In this context it's useful to remember advice from another talk at Coe College, by Lauren Garcia of the University of Iowa center for diversity and enrichment. She reminded would-be allies to educate themselves about issues impacting the greater community, to listen before acting, and not to make the issue about themselves. The same advice could be directed at those who hear the whole conversation about these issues as attempts to make them feel guilty. To conclude with a point by Karl Cassell: as difficult as all this is, it's made moreso by economic dislocations that make everyone, even the relatively privileged, feel insecure.
|Lauren Garcia (Source: University of Iowa)|
Her talk at Coe College had a lot of solid advice for would-be allies
|Ellen and Allen Fisher accept the 2018 Percy and Lileah Harris Who is My Neighbor Award|
|Music from Johnson STEAM Academy, directed by Charrisse Martin-Cox|
|Book recommendations at Coe|
LAST YEAR'S MLK DAY POST: "Akwi Nji on Choosing Justice over Comfort," 18 January 2017