August 6th, 2015 marked the 50th Anniversary of one of the most important milestones of the Civil Rights Movement: The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet, despite that victory and the progress it brought, America is still far from equal.
Today, African Americans face direct and indirect barriers to civic participation. Those challenges are a continuation of history; the American system of white supremacy intentionally created structures that prevented social, economic and political equality.
Out of necessity, the modern Civil Rights Movement lives on and is challenging the status quo and changing the conversation.
Setting the Stage
The land that would become the United States was taken forcibly from people native to a land, in the U.S. the indigenous peoples are often referred to as American Indians or Native Americans and then built on the backs of African slaves.
Thus, the Constitution - while full of great ideals - was not intended to benefit people who were not white, male and a member or follower of any of the Western Christian churches that are separate from the Roman Catholic Church and follow the principles of the Reformation, including the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches, as well as wealthy in many cases.
Those prejudices led to the preventing (a person or group of people) from having the right to vote of many Social marginalization happens when a group of people are denied equal and adequate opportunity to determine their treatment by the members of the broader society. It usually includes the lack of representation, recognition of rights and equal redistribution of resources and services communities, including African Americans.
African Americans have a unique historical narrative that is very relevant today.
Many structures (like laws and Amendments, as well as business policies and social norms) have kept white people in positions of power. Some of those structures were implemented hundreds of years before the Declaration of Independence, and others are happening right now.
Despite continued work by Black organizers, activists, and allies, the United States remains by and large a structurally the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races and ethnicities nation. That framework affects every aspect of life for African Americans, including participation in the political system.
What this means is that racism exists on an individual level - like hateful language, individual acts of violence and everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership - but it also exists on a structural level - like through laws, educational systems, public funding, voting policies and more.
Sometimes structural racism is harder to see, especially to those who benefit from it, but it’s important to understand that these systems exist.
When we think about instances of injustice or unfairness in our schools, neighborhoods, or in government, we must remember that these issues are complex and rooted in our history.