Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri,
Staten Island, New York, and
Cleveland, Ohio have all shown that perhaps America has a ways to go in order to finally become a
post-racial society in which
all individuals truly are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
The unrest (as seen here,
here) that ensued was predictable. Sadly, if the goal of studying history is to avoid repeating the
mistakes of the past, I can only
hope that we have not failed to do so.
President Obama recently suggested that one solution to address the "simmering distrust" between minorities and police would be for Congress to spend $263 million to equip police with body cameras. Although
video did not help Eric Garner,
it did help another individual in the Tri State area.
But in this world of social media, 24-hour news cycles, and relentless scrutiny of even the most mundane of topics, I would like to add some perspective to just how far this country has come as a society. As always, I would like to draw a distinct tie-in to family law. Virtually everyone recalls the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that effectively outlawed the notion of "separate but equal" schooling for black and white children.
However, most are not familiar with the equally landmark case of
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), which dealt with "anti-miscegenation" laws (laws outlawing interracial marriages). The
Loving decision occurred over a dozen years after
Brown and most don't realize that even after desegregation was ordered by the Supreme Court, anti-miscegenation laws remained lawful for twelve more years under rationales like that of the Commonwealth of Virginia's trial court:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." Loving v. Virginia (1967) 388 U.S. 1, 3.
Another justification for anti-miscegenation laws was that they served a legitimate purpose of "preserving racial integrity of the citizens", preventing "the corruption of blood", as well as the creation of a "mongrel breed of citizens." See id. at 7. I repeat, as recently as 1967, over six years
after Barack Obama was born, trial courts were rationalizing a ban on marriage equality by arguing that God created continents as a way of ensuring races wouldn't "mix" and to prevent "mongrel" races from polluting the world. Not surprisingly, the
Loving court disagreed, and anti-miscegenation laws were outlawed for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the time of the Loving decision, over 15 states still enforced anti-miscegenation laws.
By stark contrast, today, nearly a quarter of all marriages in California are between interracial couples. Indeed, the leader of the free world is the
"mongrel" product of a Kenyan black man and a white Kansan woman. We truly have come extremely far as a society in less than half a century.
Today, the issue of marriage equality now does not carry the connotation of interracial marriages because the thought of black people and white people not being able to marry today sounds like some kind of weird joke. Now the term connotes the issue of same sex marriage, which has now been legalized in 35 of 50 states.
The point is, society has changed tremendously. Though it may seem that the past few weeks and months have exhibited the manner in which race relations seemingly have taken a step backwards, the reality is we need a bit more perspective. Just looking at the progression of society through the lens of family demographics provides just such perspective. The bottom line is, although we should never be content simply because things are "better now," we also ought to never lose sight of how fortunate we are to live in much more enlightened times.
My father retired as a director of Information and Technology for the City of Los Angeles; he was also born in New Orleans during the Jim Crow era. The legend in my family was he once tried to get a job as a janitor at New Orleans City Hall but was turned down because there was no way he could clean the "Whites Only" bathrooms in addition to the "Colored" ones. Given the drastic changes that happened just during
his lifetime, I can only imagine what this society will look like during my children's lives. So I remain optimistic for today's society.
So during this time of holidays, thanks and good cheer, perhaps we should all take a step back and reflect on how much society in general has changed; at the same time, we should also understand how all responsible citizens have an obligation to make sure that change never stagnates.