By moving forcefully against George Wallace, John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert -- as well as Richard Nixon and to a great extent Dwight Eisenhower before that -- set the stage for Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964. The body of laws changed the sociopolitical landscape forever for persons of color, north, south, east and west. By executive fiat, then later by legislation, racial discrimination was aggressively taken on in one form after another.
Is racial discrimination gone from the scene today? Does racism still rear its ugly head? No need to answer these questions. But have subtle new mutations of institutional racism taken root and form over the last five decades that may inadvertently reinforce the very thing they are meant to eradicate? Consider the legislative social engineering that occurred over the last 50 years and the many programs created to combat racial discrimination. And then take stock of where things are now.
Might we now have entered an era where we have passed a point of vanishing returns and are creating self-perpetuating institutions of charismatic racial splenetics? We have made institutions out of civil rights hustlers who need to find racial injustice in order to justify and sustain their well-heeled existence. Finding less and less, they make much up by stirring the pot, then railing against it. Profit driven Music Men rise up to jump on occasions that wrongly can be made to look like injustice, all the while their deft media manipulations keep tearing open older wounds that are better off left alone to heal. Yes, the rallying cry "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" has truth to it, but the constant scanning for occasions of supposed injustice can backfire badly and prolong suffering that might be better left alone for healing. Human nature is such that suffering has its own way of leaving in its wake its own serious warning signals without needing a cadre of watchmen constantly sounding false alarms. Moreover, twisting situations to make them look racist demeans and weakens both message and messenger and ultimately stifles true messages of urgency.
All these pied pipers, stirring the pot, create and reinforce a permanent self-selected following that would prefer to pin their lack of achievement on perceived ethnic slap-downs rather than on themselves or some other broad-ranging impersonal nonracial force like well-documented generalized diminishing upward mobility opportunities affecting everyone everywhere. These followers harden together into their own institutionalized self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing alliances that cast into permanence the very thing that should pass into oblivion. Yes, Martha, racism still exists, and probably for some always will. Sadly there will forever be those who love to hate, whose hatred spills over way beyond just race. And deeply that should bother us. But it's no longer behind every bush as some would have us believe. And no longer is it the unbreachable barrier it once was. We should all acknowledge and celebrate that. Let's recognize the progress that's been made and rejoice in it. The signs of its recedence are everywhere.
Institutions are man-made things, and if the will's there to do it, what's made can be unmade. But everyone must be on board to fight against racism. How do we do it? Call it every time you see it. Be willing to lovingly challenge friends when they show it. Exorcise it from yourself when it pops up. Make a rainbow of your friendships. Seek out and relish diversity. It's a big world out there and it's getting bigger and flatter by the day. People are moving around as never before, and we are being enriched by it. America is a magnet for students, engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs who bring with them new ways of seeing and thinking about things.
Let's drive facing forward, not backwards. Rear-view mirrors are handy things to be sure, but driving solely by them invites catastrophe.
Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.