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Civil Rights' Empty Nest

Natalia J. Garland

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The Civil Rights Movement has fulfilled its purpose in America, thanks to the brave and dedicated men and women who challenged America to apply the Constitution's promises of equality and the pursuit of happiness to all individuals. Racism, especially as regional lifestyle and as political reality throughout government, is no longer directed toward the whole population of blacks or other minorities. Although racism has not been completely eliminated, it is neither sanctioned nor passively tolerated by mainstream Americans. Moreover, there are laws by which to address intolerance.

Yet, there are still Civil Rights activists who talk and behave in a pre-Civil Rights or pre-1960 manner, as though nothing has changed. These activists seem to experience the Empty Nest Syndrome. Some parents experience this when their children grow up and leave home. The responsibilities and importance of parenthood are greatly decreased. Parents must adjust to a lesser role as their children become functioning adults, perhaps redefine their marriage, and also find meaning in other friendships and activities. Some parents look forward to the empty nest, some find it bittersweet, and some never manage the adjustment. The same seems to be true of Civil Rights activists regarding post-Civil Rights life in American society.

To describe contemporary America as a racist nation--regarding lifestyle as well as political tactics or policy--is to foster confusion, instigate interpersonal suspicions, create new racial divisions, force social stereotypes, and open old wounds that had healed or were in a process of healing. Why would anyone do this? And, is this being done unconsciously or intentionally?

It is possible that some older-generation Civil Rights activists have not managed the shift in identity, perception, and attitude to allow for the advancements of society. It must be difficult for some to acknowledge that America has changed. Some whites were never racists. Some used to be racists but no longer are, and their children and grandchildren have been taught tolerance. Some whites are still racists, but they are rejected by mainstream whites. It is also possible that younger-generation activists are resuscitating this expired identity because they are educated in hardcore-liberal school systems. They are taught about the Civil Rights Movement as a struggle against racist whites, but without appreciation of its legal successes and its positive impact on social interactions among the many races and cultures in America.

In addition, not all Civil Rights activists were or are humanitarians. Some are racists themselves, and this is something which many mainstream whites are just beginning to notice. Just because a black activist aligns with the cause of the Civil Rights Movement, that does not mean he believes in equality among the races. On the contrary, some black activists seem hostile toward whites and toward anyone who assimilates into mainstream America. Equality and assimilation mean the emptying of the old Civil Rights nest. It means that blacks can function on their own without the advocacy of black activists or the protection of racially-based organizations. Equality and independence can be felt as threatening--not only to racist whites, but also to activist blacks who have lost their importance and identity.

The result is political, cultural, and spiritual separatism justified by the allegation that America remains predominantly racist and only minimally changed. White America is blamed for 9/11. Whites are accused of infecting blacks with HIV/AIDS in order to bring about genocide. America should be damned and not blessed. America is nick-named the U.S.K.K.K.A. Such remarks will only serve to self-marginalize segments of the black population, pit blacks and whites against each other, and pit separatist blacks against mainstream blacks. It will ensure the perpetuation of racial conflict and a role for activists.

Black self-marginalization implies a failure of the Civil Rights Movement and of Martin Luther King, Jr. Could it be that some extremist blacks are jealous of King? Could it be that there is a type of black activist painfully aware of their lesser status in comparison to King, yet unable or unwilling to find their niche in the integrated America for which King gave his life? [For insight on this topic, see the works of Shelby Steele.] For such individuals, the only lifestyle alternative is to increase polarization and to instigate friction. In our current era of political correctness and hypersensitivity to racial discussion, we will again need brave and dedicated people to analyze and confront societal destruction in whatever form it presents itself. (Written 03/17/08)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland