The Equity Imperative
July 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fifty years after its passage, our nation continues to struggle with the repercussions of the legacy of discriminatory policies, practices and customs that were grounded in racial bias and prejudice.
Even with legal protections from discrimination in place, people of color continue to be left behind and excluded in record numbers. The consequences of exclusion have been dire, even deadly. Racial health disparities are well documented; the harsh reality is that people of color in the U.S. are sicker and live shorter lives than whites. Historic patterns of racism and disinvestment have created unfair obstacles for people of color in other sectors as well, including housing, transportation, education, and employment.
The civil rights laws adopted in the 1960s were bold – and unpopular. Advocates and activists endured intimidation and violence, protested and died to build momentum for the policies that formed the basis of laws designed to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, transportation and education, and voting. President Johnson, along with a handful of congressional leaders from both parties overcame substantial opposition and forged alliances to save the stagnant bill and get it signed in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy.
Notwithstanding the heroic measures required to enact civil rights laws, implementation has proven to be even more difficult. The protections offered by civil rights laws have been challenged in court and mired in politics, while stratification by race and class continues to grow. Income inequality has deepened, and residential and school segregation persist.
It is imperative that we take action now to reverse course and implement systems that will create equitable communities for all.