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Department & Division News

Be the Change

(This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

By Human Relations Director Sue Carney

Martin Luther King referred to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the second emancipation. It ended public segregation, banned employment discrimination, and forbids the use of federal funds for discriminatory programs.

The landmark legislation paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and other laws that collectively brought legalized discrimination to its knees. Yet more than fifty years later discrimination and racism persist throughout our country.

Two and a half centuries of slavery, ten decades of racial terrorism and a violent opposition to equality have left deep scars in many communities. A legacy of racial indifference handed down through generations continues to feed anti-equality attitudes. We cannot tuck the evils of our past away, nor can we ignore the injustice of today. We need to challenge our history and committo ending hate.

There are hundreds of private white-only schools that remain in existence – more now than we had in the 70’s. Federal courts have terminated desegregation orders reversing the integration that was achieved. Neighborhoods remain racially divided despite federal legislation. Following the election of our first black president, anti-civil rights actions reminiscent of the resistance mounted by white supremacists and the Jim Crow infrastructure increased.

We have a sitting president and a Republican Party whose rhetoric and intolerance fuels prejudice and animosity. We have a Supreme Court that eliminated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, declaring Southern inequality eradicated and protective legislation no longer necessary. It is a narrative that civil rights objectors latched onto – denouncing racial justice as a legitimate social goal and charging efforts to eliminate racial discrimination as actually anti-white measures.

We have a justice system that is infected with racial biases and fraught with economic inequities. In 1972, less than 200,000 people were incarcerated. Today there are 2.3 million behind bars – the highest rate in the world. Mass incarceration has had devastating consequences on people of color who have been impoverished and disenfranchised. 50-60 percent of our young men of color are in jail, prison, or on parole. It is a system that treats you much better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.

Latinos are twice as likely and African Americans 87 percent more likely to be subject to pretrial incarceration. African Americans and Latinos are less likely than whites to be sentenced to probation and more likely to be sentenced to prison. Black men are more than six times as likely to be incarcerated than white men. In states of the old south, a defendant is 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white and 22 times more likely if the defendant is black.

To quote Bryan Stevenson, attorney, law professor, social justice champion, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative (EJI):

"When people are going into synagogues and killing people because they’re Jewish, who are burdening and discriminating against people because they’re Muslim, when black men and boys are being gunned down in the streets unarmed because of a presumption of dangerousness and guilt, when women can’t work safely in the workplace because of harassment and sexual violence, we’ve got to end the hate…the road may be difficult but it’s not impossible...everyone needs to do their part…some of us are going to have to stand up when people say sit down. Some of us are going to have to speak when people say be quiet… I’m (we are) standing on the shoulders of people who protested, and fought, and bled, and died. They did so much more with so much less."

This is a problem we should all want to solve. Be the change. To learn more visit eji.org.