The Summer of our Discontent...Again

Amaad Rivera

by Amaad Rivera, Racial Wealth Divide Initiative Leader

As we use our summer for reflection and relaxation, let us reflect on the injustices that have been inflicted on the people of this country. Let us stop blaming the victims and instead recognize that such severe inequalities are symptoms of a much larger disease. Let this be another summer of our discontent, and a rallying cry for change.

Many people of color have just celebrated our nation's 231st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The document, revolutionary in its time, elevated the inherent human rights and dignity of individuals that was lacking under British rule. It reads in eloquent language that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," a value especially appealing to marginalized communities.

But this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, nine brave young women and men who were met with bigotry, physical violence and threats as they entered a school marked for "whites" only.

And so, as we all kick off our summers with celebrations of the 4th of July, our aspirations for equality are tainted with the bitter taste of racism that still exists in our country.

As if to reinforce the point just days before July 4, the Supreme Court struck down the use of race as a tool for integration, essentially gutting the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

The rationale espoused by Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African-American member of the Supreme Court, began with "What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today." He went on to say "The plans before us base school assignment decisions on students' race. Because our Constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens, such race-based decision making is unconstitutional."

With a twist of irony, for added sourness to the bitter drink of bigotry, the nation's highest court revealed a convenient memory lapse about our Constitution. In fact, far from being colorblind, our original Constitution, clearly states that slaves, mostly Blacks, were to be counted as 3/5 of a person for purposes of representation, but denied the right to vote.

It was not until 91 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 that slavery was abolished. Then it took another 98 years before Blacks had full rights and abilities to vote in this country. Clearly our Constitution was worse than not colorblind, it helped create second-class citizens.

The failure of the Constitution to support the rights of African-Americans for such a vast amount of time affected their education, economic status and class mobility. To this day, we still see the results of these inequities, which are easily measured as unequal educational funding, disproportional poverty rates, wealth and income inequality and shorter lifespans.

The Supreme Court is attempting to turn back the clock by eroding the rights that people of color have struggled to gain over 400 years. It is on the backs and graves of activists, scholars, mothers and children that people of color have built what opportunities we have today - as limited and unequal as they are. Brown v Board of Education was the result of a movement and a time when people of color successfully demanded the rights they deserved.

As Americans reflect on our recent Independence Day celebrations, let us also recall the Little Rock Nine and reflect upon the deep injustices this country has inflicted upon its own people. And let us also remember that it is people who have demanded change and refused to wait for barely turning wheels of inevitability. We still have a long way to go to achieve the goal of equal opportunity, especially if our own Supreme Court rules against attempts to achieve it. But it is worth fighting for.

The Declaration of Independence says, "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes...But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

It is with this sentiment that Americans should celebrate our Day of Independence.