Have We Moved Beyond Race

Figure 1

North Dakota in the 60s and 70s in my mind was a simpler time.
North Dakota in the 60s and 70s in my mind was a simpler time.

Have We Moved Beyond Race?©

Mark Monroe

May 9, 2011 updated March 14, 2014

Let me start this hub with a statement. I love this country. I think that I am extremely lucky to have the experiences and opportunities that I have had. With that as a starting point, I also recognize that as a country, we are a work in progress. We started this process with a lofty goal or mythology of liberty and justice for all that we are still working on and defining. Since we have been on this path for a long time, it becomes hard to see where we have started from or how far we have to go. In addition, being a physically large country, it is often hard to understand what is happening in other regions of the nation. We make assumptions based on our own local experience and beliefs about events in other parts of the country.

Growing up in rural North Dakota in the late 60’s to the early 80’s I heard about the Civil Rights movement, but I had nothing in my life experiences that would allow me access to the intimate details of the issues. In the small town I grew up in, there was very little exposure to diversity[1]. In my high school graduating class of 30 students, all were Caucasian, the only diversity that existed was gender or ethnic[2] based. Very little, has change in the 30 plus years since I left; even today 96.5 (U. S. Census State & County QuickFacts) of the county list themselves as White. Granted only 5,268 (U.S. Census State & County QuickFacts) people currently live in the county, so as you may have guessed it is not a major metropolitan area. I bring this up only to point out that I did not have the opportunity to interact with people different from myself until I went into the military. Still it was many years later that I actually took the time and expended the energy to research the issues associated with that movement. Even then, it was not until I met some key people that I began to have an appreciation for the struggle that this country went through. At the same time I began to grasp the idea that while we have traveled a long ways on our collective path, there is still more work to do.

This article is going to present four stories all of which happened within fifty years of each other. One event is fairly well known, to the point that some will claim that it helped direct the course of the civil rights movement. The second is a legal case, which had a limited impact. This is due to the short time the issue spent in the national awareness. The third incident, because it is so recent, only time will tell the impact it may have on history. While the forth has been written about many times, and has been a part of the national debate since the 1800’s, it is still not consistently taken seriously as a national issue of importance.

Figure 2

Greensboro Lunch Counter 1960 Day 2: Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Greensboro Lunch Counter 1960 Day 2: Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Story Number 1

The first story will show how a few people (four to be exact) can act as a point of change in this country. The tale starts out with a cup of coffee. Probably one of the most dangerous cups of coffee ever ordered and it took over six months before it was served. The reference is to the lunch counter sit-in movement (Figure 2), which began at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. The year was 1960; four young college students, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Ezell Blair Jr. dared to do something that I found hard to comprehend when I first heard about it[3]. My disbelief, did not question the fact that the four did the act, I had a problem with the fact that they had to do it.

The four young men dared to sit at a lunch counter and order a cup of coffee. In today’s world, many will not see this as an earth-shattering event. Placement of the event in a proper historical context is necessary to understand the importance of what happened that morning. February 1, 1960, the ethics of Jim Crow open segregation were the norm of the day and the section of the lunch counter these young men picked to sit-in was designated for “Whites Only”. It is difficult to believe that within the span of a lifetime [4], people were openly denied that simple service based solely on the color of their skin.

It is very hard for some people [5] today to put themselves in the position of those students, and I say this only because there is nothing in their life experiences could prepare them for that situation. Just understanding the simple act of ordering a cup of coffee was literally putting their safety in jeopardy is a mental challenge. They were standing up against the accepted norm and given the right provocation, the possibilities of being imprisoned, beaten or hanged for their actions were very real. In the days that followed the four and others who joined them, continued the protest had to endure all sorts of abuse, from being called names, spit upon, and physically abused.

Due to the ever-present threat of violence, and the fact they had the resolve to remain peaceful, the discipline these individuals display was tremendous. They had to delicately balance between challenging an unethical established socially accepted norm and not being perceived as a physical threat to the society. It must have been hard not giving in to the urge to slug someone. I can imagine the reaction of my childhood friends if they walked into the local café and told they would receive no service because of their skin color. At the very least, there would have been a fight.

A violent or a perceived violent reaction by any of the four students would have succeeded in accomplishing nothing. It would only serve to reinforce the existing stereotypes about Blacks and justify the continuation of the norms of the day. In this simple act, the four individuals started a revolution that aided in the evolution of American culture where the physical signs reading “No Colored People Allowed” (Figure 3) were eventually removed and found their place in a museum [6]. If it were not for their act, the attitude of this country towards segments of its citizens might not have changed as soon as it did.

In a sense, the ability to identify racism and take action has become increasingly difficult. The trigger events have become transitory. An event happens then fades or the event happens so far in the background of a society, that the connection to race is lost. The next three stories will demonstrate the translucent nature of race issues.

Figure 3

Sign of the Times
Sign of the Times

Story Number 2 and 3

The second in my chain of four stories is about a momentary event that represents the effort by some people to revive the “Whites Only” standard and the use of the sign. This is a narrative about an incident that took place at a Tyson Food process plant in Alabama in 2005. Some of the employees placed a “Whites Only” sign on one of the restrooms. Then they gave the key to that restroom to only White employees thus barring Black employees from using it[7]. When some of the employees complained about the segregated facilities they (the ones who complained) were subjected to disciplinary actions. The action of trying to revive a “Whites only” mentality ended up costing Tyson Foods money in legal fees and settlements ($871,000 was paid to 12 employees) it was damaging to their public image. When Tyson’s upper management heard of this incident, the order to take down the sign was given, but than it was too late, the damage was already done.

Due to the nature of the incident at the Tyson plant, people will say that it was an isolated incident. It is a popular myth, that as a nation, the overall problem of segregation has been dealt with. While it is true the constant wide spread use of the physical sign is practically non-existent, incidents such as this continue to happen without any public outcry, because the incident appears to be isolated. The mass public can ignore isolated events.

It should be noted, that I said only the physical signs were taken down. There exist today, many non-physical variants of the “Whites Only” sign that act as a barrier that separate our country. Let me give two examples of non-physical signs that force segregation. Segregation is the forced separation of people for the benefit or perceived benefit of one group.

This next example comes at a time when many people would like to think that the issues of Jim Crow and segregation have long since died and that they were a southern problem. On June 29, 2009, a group of more than 60 kids from the Creative Steps Day Camp, who paid to use the pool once a week at the Huntington Valley Swim Club, in Huntington Valley PA, were turned away shortly after they arrived for their first visit. Day camp had contracted with the swim club to allow the children to use the pool one day a week for the last week in June, all of July and part of August, 2009.

The makeup of the children from this inner city day camp was primarily African American, while the make up of the club is primarily Caucasian, which, by itself this fact does not pose a problem. The Camp paid the fee that the club required for the children before they arrived. However, once the children arrived at the club they found out they were not welcome.

The reports ranged from club members making racially charged statements, staff making racially inappropriate statements, and finally to the club manager making a written statement that states, “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club." Some are trying to claim that the word, “complexion” is taken out of context. The manager who said it, in a later statement admitted that it was a poor choice of words.

Club members claim that the expulsion of the children had nothing to do with racism. They were upset that the pool was now over crowded, they paid to be in a private club, and if the club was opened to these day camps, they wanted their money back. Later the club management presented a safety claim, how the number of kids was too great for the pool to handle. This was made despite the fact that the club knew the number of kids prior to their arrival. After the incident, two other day camps were refunded their money and told they could not use the pool. However, both of those camps had already visited the facility without incident. It was not until the kids from Creative Steps Day Camp arrived that the number of children became a problem. A few days after the story broke in the news, the Broad of Directors for the Swim Club voted to allow all the children back, thus invalidating their pervious argument about safety and too many children.

What I find most interesting about an incident such as this is the reaction of people to the allegations. This is where the real tension of race in the society can be seen. The following two quotes are just a sampling of statements that were posted on different internet sites.

Perhaps if these urban youths were not feral in their behavior, and had some kind of adult supervision, this would not be an issue. Sadly, to be a heathen is the norm in the ghetto. No personal responsibility, no sense of proper behavior, no thought of others: that’s the feral way, and it is near-universal in the ‘hood. It is the norm. (Free Republic)

The author of this post is automatically assuming a great number of things. The first claim is about how the behavior by the children was inappropriate. When in fact this was never reported, yet the author felt compelled to call the children “heathen”. His second claim is making a judgment about parents that he has never met.

Isn’t that the truth.

I DON’T WANT TO BE RACIST. I DON’T WANT TO PREJUDGE BASED ON SKIN COLOR.

But they’ve given us no choice. (Free Republic)

This person is saying, “It is not my fault” if “they” would act like a human. In other words, this person is equating humanity to skin color.

The difference in this story and the previous two stories is the transition that happened to the discriminatory event, which started to make the move from blatant to foggy. It starts to become difficult to remain focused on the event due to the sideshows that started to pop up. Some of the attitudes that surround the event are clear, as represented by the two (2) internet quotes, at best exclusionary, but at their heart, they are racist. Attitudes, as we have learned through out our history are hard to identify and adjust.

The first two (2) had a stories had a physical manifestation that represented the segregation, in this example there was no physical sign that said, “White Only”. An event happened, however as soon as it appeared it began to dissipate. The rally point no longer existed. The opinions that exist on the fringe demonstrate an existing attitude. Nevertheless, the event itself fades in the sense that the story changes as time passes from the event.

Figure 4

Paying attention to the little things like the make up of the marching band provides a reflection of the society.
Paying attention to the little things like the make up of the marching band provides a reflection of the society.

Story Number 4

My final story for this hub happened recently when I was in a city during a major celebration. There were parades and parties going on all over the city. The spectacle of sights and sounds that were engulfing me was almost an overload of the senses. During all of this, an interesting aspect of the parades drew my attention away from floats, and the crowds; it was the makeup of the marching bands that I found to be intriguing. Specifically I focused on the bands from the regional Middle and High Schools. Some were good; some needed work; some had nice uniforms; and other had, well you get the picture.

I was watching my second or third parade and there were two bands from different schools right behind each other. When the second band started to come into my view, I was able to focus in on something about the band. Most of the kids from the school were African American, while the participants in the pervious band where primarily Caucasian. I wondered if this was just an oddity of these two schools. Therefore, I began to watch the remaining bands more closely to see if a pattern would present itself. Sure enough over the next few days, every band that I saw followed this trend. In the schools that were primarily minority band members, I rarely saw a Caucasian student; in fact, with most of the schools, there were none present. While the bands that were primarily Caucasian students had a sprinkling of minority students. I also noticed the condition of the uniforms and instruments; again, the difference was consistent throughout the parades that I observed.

I asked my friend who was hosting my stay about what appeared to me as a sign of a segregated school system. Theoretically, the passing of Brown v Broad of Education abolished the separate but equal school systems. A quick history note, Brown v Broad of Education refers to a 1954 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the idea of separate but equal school systems, saying that such a system was inherently unequal. I was informed that what I was seeing was not segregation; it was in fact the difference between public and private schools. I was also enlightened by a person standing next to us who decided to join our conversation, that it was not the White people’s fault that the Blacks could not afford the good schools.

I have no problem with a parent wanting nothing but the best for their children. In most cases, this is a sign of good parenting. Not everyone has access to the means to pick the educational system for their children. The lack of means then becomes a systematic deterrent to quality education and it becomes a problem for all. In his book, Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol looks at this phenomenon. In the following paragraph he is talking about the schools in our nation’s capital.

If you’re rich in Washington, you try to send your kids to private school. Middle-class people sometimes put their kids in certain public schools. Parents in those neighborhoods raise outside money so their kids get certain extras. There are boundaries for school districts, but some parents know the way to cross the borders. The poorer and less educated parents can’t. They don’t know how. (Kozol Page 185)

The fact of the matter is, the school system in the United States is still a very segregated school system. According to the Department of Education; “In 2005, the majority of Black and Hispanic students attended schools with high minority enrollment (75 percent or more), while Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students were more evenly distributed across school systems with different levels of minority enrollment.(U.S. Department of Education Page iv) This statistic manifested itself in the form of the marching bands, where I could physically see the racial makeup of the schools.

We as a country have made great strides in race and human relations over the past 200 years, especially in the last few decades. We now have laws where there was none. There is integration of people where none was permitted before. I am sharing my observations to create awareness that a divide still does exist. Fifty plus years after Brown vs. Broad of education, we still have a very separate and unequal school system, which leads to a segregated society. As a result, we still find it very hard to work together, and that becomes an unnecessary distraction for the unity of the country. It adversely influences our ability, as a society to continue to be innovative and competitive on the world stage and it is degrading our ability to care for our own people. While we have made great strides, we have in fact a long ways to go.

What is sad is that the collective memory of this country is very limited. We fail as a society to see where we have come from so we forget the mistakes that we have made. For example, a recent panel discussion sponsored by the U. S. Civil Rights Commission tried to say the Supreme Court got it wrong in Brown v Broad of Education. “There is little evidence that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools results in significant improvements in academic performance.” (U. S. Civil Rights Commission Page 8) Commissioners Arlan Melendez and Michael Yaki wrote a scathing rebuttal to the report. They called into question the validity of the report and its findings. “Due to the hasty, ad hoc research process used to assemble this report; these findings do not accurately reflect the state of social science research on this topic.” (U. S. Civil Rights Commission Page 98)

What does the segregation of our school system have to do with the “Whites Only” signs? Segregation in our schools is symptomatic of our thoughts in action. The quality of education equates directly to a person’s ability to effectively compete in our system. Chart 5 looks at the unemployment rate by race and educational attainment. (U.S. Department Of Labor)

As you can see, in January 2009 the unemployment rate drops as the individuals obtains a higher level of education, until the rates almost level out at the four year or Bachelor level. For Blacks the unemployment rate goes from 12.8 to 2.8 as the educational attainment level increases, that by any measure shows dramatic improvement. However, it is still a significantly higher than other demographic group within the same educational tier. In addition, they had to overcome the greatest disparity to reach a level of general comparability. However, this information cannot be evaluated Chart 6[8] shows the drop out rate by demographic group. When you can see how the demographic groups’ unemployment rates compare with the statistic on drop out rate, it begins to demonstrate the number of hurdles the disadvantaged group has to over come. The statistics in Charts 5 and 6 will lead some people to say that the solution is simple, all we have to do is keep the kids in school and they will be able to compete.

It is not that simple. The quality or the perceived quality of the school plays a key role in how far a child can progress through our economic system. It is not the only element, but it is an important factor. As the recent debate of the school admissions policy at the University of Michigan shows, the competition for entrance into the quality schools is fierce, and people with degrees from these schools tend to make more money and have access to different career tracks. So when kids are coming from a poor quality high school their chances of getting into college become more difficult. According to recent census data, there is a direct correlation between a family’s income level and the chances a child will successfully progress through the educational system. Chart 7[9] shows the economic viability that each demographic group by educational attainment.

Economics, justice and equity are the non-physical manifestation of the sign. Poorer education equates to lower job expectation and economic possibilities. This situation helps to create the reality that in 2000 there are more Black men in jail than there are in college. According to the 2000 US Census, there were 744,755[10] Black males 18-29 in correctional institutions, compared to 579,000[11] Black males 18-29 in college. In short, even with the removal from the American landscape of physical “No Colored People Allowed” sign, the effects of the sign are still present. Today the sign manifests itself in the form of low educational attainment, high unemployment rates, high incarceration rates and poor economic conditions many people of color have to live in. These events as they relate to race have become socially invisible. They are not presented as a race issues or a segregation issue, they are looked at as social problems that have to deal with control and socialization of citizens. The argument is pressed that race does not play a role in the arrest rate, educational attainment or employment rates. Individuals are responsible for their own success and failure in these areas.

Figure 8

The Greensboro Four in 1990 (L to R) Joe McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain and David Richmond  Have things changed?
The Greensboro Four in 1990 (L to R) Joe McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain and David Richmond Have things changed?

I cannot deny nor should I ignore the progress we have made in the years since that lunch counter sit in, or the years since Brown v Broad of Education. To do that would be irresponsible on my part. At the same time, we cannot rest until we can definitively say that all traces of the sign are gone if we believe in the motto, “liberty and justice for all”.

Comments 2 comments

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Awesome Hub and a thorough analysis of the issue as always Mark. Many people said that the race issue was solved once Barack Obama was elected. It was a tremendous symbolic victory but much work still needs to be done. There still is a lot of bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination in this country. You are correct that we have come a long ways. But there is still far to go to fight this evil both overtly and below the surface. Schools are re-segregating with parents taking their children out of urban schools into alternatives. Everyone seems to justify their actions on economics, academics, logistics or whatever is handy. But much of it is still racism and no one admits it or wants to discuss it. I believe we will continue to progress but it will be slow and painstaking. Newer generations are more open and honest about it so the hope for this issue lies with them.


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Mark Monroe 5 years ago from Dover De Author

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    References

    Bibliography

    Free Republic. Swim Club Members: "Nothing to Do With Race". http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2289434/posts. (accessed May 7, 2011)

    Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992

    U. S. Census. State & County QuickFacts. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/38/38021.html. January 6, 2014 (Accessed March 17, 2014)

    U. S. Department of Education. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities.

    U. S. Civil Rights Commission. The Benefits of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Elementary and Secondary Education. Page 8

    U. S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey http://www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm#charunem accessed February 8, 2010

    Picture Source:

    Figure 1: http://www.ellendalend.com/index.asp?Type=GALLERY&SEC={B3E533D5-F60C-414F-86CA-BAD1AC0F951A}. (access April 24, 2011)

    Figure 2: The second day of the lunch counter sits at the Woolworth’s lunch counter GreensboroNorth Carolina 1960 http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/februaryone/. (accessed May 7, 2011)

    Figure 3: Sign of the time: An assortment of signs from the Jim Crow era. Photo by Rodney Hage

    Figure 4: Marching Bands: An abstract look at a marching make-up is a reflection of the make-up of the school system.

    Chart 5: Unemployment Rate 2006 based on educational attainment. http://www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm#charunem

    Chart 6: 1990 – 2005 US Department of Education. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities. Table 17.9. Page 88

    Chart 7: IBID. Page 130

    Figure 8: Greensboro Four in 1990 http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/februaryone/four.html. (accessed May 7, 2011)

    Footnotes:

    1. There was a large Hispanic population that worked in the fields in the summer, but I had very little contact with them.

    2. Russian, German, etc. different European decent

    3. I was in my mid thirties and working for Major General Joseph McNeil

    4. The event actually it happened two years before I was born

    5. Originally, I was going to say “White people” but I changed it to just “people” because the further away we move from the event the harder it becomes for anyone to relate to the event.

    6. None of the four men was the first to get a cup of coffee from that Woolworth lunch counter. That honor went to an employee of the store.

    7. See EEOC v. Tyson Foods Inc., CV-05-BE-1704-E

    8. 1990 – 2005 US Department of Education. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities. Page 130

    9. IBID. Table Table 17.9. Page 88

    10. US Census Group Quarters Population by Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000 (PHC-T-7) http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/grpqtr.html (Accessed February 8, 2010)

    11. US Census: 2000 School Enrollment. http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school/ppl-148.html (Accessed February 8, 2010)

    © 2011 Mark Monroe

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