February 15, 2006
Opportunity Is Not Black or White
President Jimmy Carter said last week at Coretta Scott King’s funeral:
“The struggle for equal rights is not over. We only have to recall the
color of the faces of the people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi —
those who are most devastated by Katrina — to know that there are not
equal opportunities for all Americans.”
unfortunate snapshot of poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina is not an
accurate portrait of the equal opportunity available all across America.
Carter’s comment dismisses the millions of black Americans who ran
through the doors of opportunity following the signing of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, but he could not resist a chance to further stir
feelings of racial resentment.
nation was established on a concept once thought revolutionary, yet
considered by our founders as so fundamental that they described it as
“self-evident.” The concept is that “all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that
among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Although it
took America nearly 200 years to live up to that ideal, the fact is that
we are a long way from the struggle. Today’s challenge is to protect
equal rights and opportunity for all of us.
comments deny the successes achieved by leaders such as President
Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the late U.S. Senator
Everett Dirksen, who was the driving force behind the Civil Rights Act,
and the millions of anonymous heroes who fought for and achieved
equality of opportunity for all American citizens.
founders declared that all men are created equal, slavery was still
permitted until 1862, when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 1865, soon after the end of the Civil War, the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, banning slavery throughout
the entire United States. In 1868, the 14th Amendment was
ratified, which established citizenship for all persons born or
naturalized in the U.S., and guaranteed all citizens due process and
equal protection under the laws. Discrimination against blacks in the
electoral process still continued, and the 15th Amendment,
ratified in 1870, stated that the right to vote shall not be denied on
the basis of race.
barriers to blacks’ full participation in our nation’s educational,
electoral and economic processes continued through the 1960s. The famous
1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education
tackled the issue of forced segregation in schools. The 24th
Amendment, ratified in 1964, abolished poll taxes that had prevented
many blacks from voting. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited both
discrimination in employment and forced segregation in schools. The
Voting Rights Act of 1965 further empowered the federal government to
monitor voter registration and elections in counties and states with
histories of racial discrimination.
word race has lost much of the meaning that it carried just over
forty years ago when Congress passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights
Acts. Prior to the 1960s and the enactment of these historical pieces of
legislation, a person’s particular race determined where he or she could
attend school, whether or not they could vote and even access to
drinking fountains and swimming pools. Laws separated us by race, and it
was these racial barriers that inspired many to give their lives –
sometimes literally – to the cause of equal protection and equal
opportunity for all Americans.
of legislation such as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts did not
guarantee equal outcomes for blacks and other racial minorities, but
their passage did guarantee the opportunity for all to pursue their
economic freedom through academic achievement. Millions of blacks and
minorities took advantage of the educational opportunities available for
the first time and found economic success in virtually every
the absence of laws to segregate us and limit our opportunities merely
because of our racial ancestry, race alone is no longer a barrier
to success. Instead, academic achievement and making smart decisions in
our personal lives remove the barriers we may have been born with.
College entrance exams don’t care who holds the pencil, high school and
college diplomas are colorblind, and money doesn’t care whose pocket
it’s in. Today men and women of any skin color can compete for admission
to any college or university, compete for jobs in the private sector and
freely vote for their favorite candidates. Race itself is no longer an
impediment to achieving academic success and economic freedom.
American citizen who chooses to pursue and achieve economic freedom has
that opportunity today, regardless of his or her skin color. The current
metrics and trends of the current economy also prove Carter’s assertion
to be misleading. The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, GDP has grown
for over 4 years and most families are moving up the income brackets, as
they have done in each of the previous three decades.
matters only to those who want to continue to keep the nation divided.
Some individual Americans may from time to time stand in your way, but
America does not. America is defined by its ideals, not by its
young blacks and minorities must keep today – their debt for the
struggle that took nearly 350 years – is to capitalize on all the
opportunities available in the U.S. for academic and economic growth.
People create limitations. America creates opportunities.
© 2006 North Star Writers
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