Civil Rights Issues, Essay Example

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That civil rights is an evolving issue in American society may be seen in how different aspects of it have emerged in different decades.  The mid-20th century is usually perceived as the beginning of all civil rights awareness nationally, and this is largely due to the immense movement of the African American population in the 1950s.  It is difficult for a modern mind to comprehend but, before this movement achieved its goals, discrimination based on race was essentially legal.  Blacks were not permitted to attend the same schools as whites, just as segregated facilities were ordinary in Southern hotels, restaurants, and public transportation.  This generated further racism, in a general denial of opportunity.  As civil rights movements would also later demonstrate, the black fight for civil rights was then largely reactive.  It was a response to a widespread and legalized inequality, and one going completely against the precepts of the national ideologies and government.  Success here came hard, as marches and protests often escalated into violence.  What finally rendered the movement successful was awareness, and this awareness could only be achieved by a consistent protest over time, and as reported by the new media.

While the black civil rights efforts would go into the 1960s, it seems the efforts of this one disenfranchised population spurred on others.  Homosexuals had long been subject to discrimination, if of a different kind.  More exactly, gay men and women were the “invisible” minority, usually not subject to bias unless they asserted themselves publicly as gay.  That the conditions were nonetheless oppressive was powerfully demonstrated in the Stonewall riots of 1969.  The New York police had long conducted random raids on places where gays gathered in public but, in June of that year, the gays overtly resisted.  Suddenly, a unified population was challenging harassment that had been allowed to go on unquestioned, and what enabled the gay civil rights success in this time and place was the hidden community behind it.  That is to say, Stonewall was an expression of gay solidarity that had been growing in New York City, and the actions then ignited gay protest in other major cities.  As with the black movement, it was visibility that would be key, along with a consistent expression of resistance.

In the 1970s, women emerged as an immense presence demanding civil rights.  While not as marginalized as other groups, women felt that their sheer numbers contributed to their oppression; they were so accepted in certain ways within the society that empowerment was not possible, except through overt demonstrations for equal rights.  The hallmark of this movement, in fact, was equal pay, which was seized upon as necessary to support a woman’s true equality as a contributing member of society.  Prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem used the media, in magazines and television, to broadcast the objectives.  While some, like the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, would fail, women made great gains in altering legislation that discriminated against women, particularly in fields of employment and legal protections afforded to men.  This movement continues, as do other civil rights movements.  In the 1980s, for instance, gays faced another hurdle in discrimination: AIDS.  As the disease was linked in the public mind to homosexuality, new forms of bias were evident.  In 1987, hundreds of thousands marched on Washington (echoing the black protests of decades earlier), demanding the government address a health crisis which, if it affected mainly heterosexuals, would have been immediately and powerfully addressed.  Not long after, another minority would demand justice, even while facing opposition even more forceful than that facing gays or women.  Immigration in the 1990s was a controversial subject, and tides of poor Mexican immigrants, seeking work opportunities, were openly castigated and/or abused by American employers.  Simply, the illegality of their presence made them vulnerable, and they were worked harder and for less pay.  This came to a head with California’s Proposition 187, passed by voters in 1995 and prohibiting undocumented immigrants from receiving health and education services.  A U.S. District Court judge overturned 187 in 1997 as unconstitutional, a great victory for the millions of Mexicans not yet legal citizens.  While the Mexican civil rights efforts have a character all their own, they emphasize how, over the course of decades, blacks, gays, women, and themselves can only gain rights through the consistent and unified demand for them.

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