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Civil Rights Act of 1968 and Today’s Racism, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1550

Research Paper

As Earth becomes an increasingly global society, human beings have the unique opportunity to redefine themselves as a single human race, a reality verified by science, and to see the world as a series of interconnected burrows and neighborhoods, upheld by the increasingly global economy and the technological communicative ease of the internet, rather than as a planet of closed societies.  Unfortunately, human beings also have the tendency to see change as the enemy, as a threat to their identity and their survival, and they rail against it.

Kathryn Stockett, in The Help, reveals the difficulty – but not the impossibility – of traversing the barriers of race and establish genuine human connection, empathy, and concern for the well-being and treatment of others previously seen as “one of them” (Streich 151). As the 1960s drew to close, numerous events suggested that the nation was responding seriously to the urban racial crisis. A month after the release of the Kerner Commission report (and four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King), the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed. It’s most important section, Title VIII, “prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex in the rental, sale, advertising, or financing of housing” (Galster 186). With the advent of twenty-first century, however, the world has witnessed a rise in fear on all sides of the globe, one that pits humans against humans, country against country, and religion against religion.

So it is the same old story that has been told and retold for centuries.  It is the same story, reframed in new terms, using new verbiage, yet the message and meaning are the same.  Yesterday’s racism becomes today’s supposedly “legitimate” concerns about the financial liability of the poor immigrant, the unpredictability and potential danger of the deranged religious fanatics, and the threat of pervasive immorality. Although this is a multi-faceted and complex issue, for the purposes of this paper, the racist perspective found in the 1960s will be addressed in the context of today’s racism, and its usage as a basis for justification for racist people in America.

At the heart of racism lie the instinctive fears and desires of human beings.  Whatever excuses people might use to explain their racist remarks and attitudes, the crux of the matter is that they fear that a foreign people coming into their land might somehow threaten their survival.  This fear is intensified by the basic human desire to create order, which is projected into national identities and societal structures.  These structures and identities are threatened by change, represented by the foreigner.  Furthermore, these self-definitions are maintained by the ability of people to define themselves as different and distinct from “the other”, the stranger (Stockett).  When these strangers desire to move across national borders or otherwise impact a country and its people, fear is often the result.  It is the fear of change, the threat to national identity, and the potential fear of being overtaken by the foreigners that drives people to reject immigrants and to deny them entrance (Doty 25).

Science has proven that there is no such thing as multiple races, yet the belief in race persists.  “Race”, being a social construct, “has no inherent or fixed meaning.  What “race” is emerges within specific historical, economic, and political situations and is whatever racists have the social power to define it as.  It is an open-ended political category constituted out of struggle (Doty 24).  Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of modern life that while race is a complete fiction, it continues to drive social structure and political action (Castles 167).  Furthermore, although it is no longer socially acceptable to be outright racist, claiming that a person of a certain color or country of origin is automatically inferior, human beings have not altogether discarded the boundaries they have built around themselves.  Likewise, it is no longer considered rational to be afraid of a stranger simply because they are unknown, a condition referred to as xenophobia, and yet the human fear of the other and the human desire to create national identity and order has not succumbed to science and rationality so easily.  So, in the place of xenophobia and racism a new kind of fear, racism, has emerged.  This fear, this “racism without race”, is “racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity, but the insurmountability of cultural differences. Ostensibly, it does not posit the superiority of certain groups of people in relation to others, but only the harmfulness of abolishing borders, the incompatibility of life styles and traditions” (Doty 24).  This new racism is legitimized not by a belief in the inequality of people on the basis of color of nationality, but by an underlying belief in the necessity of preserving a group’s identity for the sake of purity and economic success.

In the process of globalization, it seems that strangers no longer exist in a faraway land, but rather are no further away than one’s backyard.  Strangers in the form of immigrants (legal and illegal) and refugees “call into question established spatial images of domesticity versus anarchy and chaos, giving rise to intense desires for order and stability and an easily identifiable community” (Doty 26).  The irony of the refugees that have resulted from the war on terror is that the very countries who created the situation from which the individuals seek refuge are the very ones refusing to take any responsibility for the displaced people’s plight.

Nevertheless, the policies to keep out refugees continue and intensify.  How is this justified?  From a racist perspective, the mixing of cultures is perceived to be a mistake, because it breaks down one’s own identity and can lead to social conflict between cultures. In this sense, racism is a purist perspective, built upon the same thinking that drove Israel to build a wall separating two halves of a highway and drove US policy-makers in the 1960s to create “separate but equal” restaurants, facilities, and housing for blacks and whites.  The thought process is substantiated in the minds of those who adhere to it by the idea that in order to maintain its identity, a nation must isolate itself from the influence of “the other” (Balibar 60).

Thus, social conflict is believed to be inevitable if human beings of different cultures are thrust together in large numbers, thus justifying the claim that exclusionary policies are actually humane, and also implying that anti-racist stances are themselves a cause of racism and conflict, because they fail to appreciate the laws of human nature (Doty 20).  The significance of this phenomenon to recent invasion and extradition policies is evident.  While racism founds itself in the notion of culture rather than biology, its effect is no less separatist and itself is the main source of conflict in the war on terror. According to the logic of racism, however, “the creations of bounded communities founded on cultural differences are a natural result of human nature” (Doty 20). Thus it is believed that to break down those boundaries through accepting refugees or through communicating with suspected terrorists would be to force the coexistence of different cultural traditions and will itself, by the supposed laws of human nature, give rise to aggression and conflict.  By this reasoning, in order to avoid conflict, boundaries must be drawn and reinforced and defended at all costs.  In this way, racists feel that they are simply working within the boundaries and tolerance levels of human behavior and avoiding either annihilation by an aggressor or annexation through immigration (Doty 20).

Like the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the war on terrorism, insofar as it presents a perceived threat to the American people today, predisposes Washington to operate as if the accepted norms of international law do not exist, as if those laws only apply to Washington’s allies, and as if its cobelligerents can do no wrong so long as they are fighting on Washington’s side (Gareau 190). Worse than the civil rights movements of the 1960s in some respects, Gareau describes it as a “war of no negotiations with the enemy, no summit meetings, no compromise, and certainly no need to modify policies to accommodate the feelings and the policies of the enemy, or examine any just grievances that the enemy might possibly have (191).

The justification of racism and the aggressive acts of war and extradition of refugees has done nothing to bring peace to the world.  Quite the opposite, racism has further enflamed the fears and imaginations of American people. While measures such as making airports safer for travel and subjecting known terrorists to just and fair trials under international law make sense, the hysteria of terrorism has become little more than an excuse for prejudice and discrimination on all sides.

References

Balibar, Etienne. “Is There a Neo-Racism?” in Race, Nation, Class – Ambiguous Identities, Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein (eds), London: Verso, 1991. Print.

Castles, Stephen.  “The Racisms of Globalization,” Ethnicity and Globalization. Sage Publications, 2000.

Galster, George C. Reality and Research: Social Science and U.S. Urban Policy since 1960. The Urban Institute, 1996. Print.

Gareau, Frederick (2004).  State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror.  CA: Clarity Press. Print.

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 2009. Print.

Streich, Gregory W. Justice Beyond “Just US”: Dilemmas of time, place, and difference in American Politics, Ashgate Publishing, 2011. Print.

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