Saturday, May 17, 2014

An administration committed to civil rights

Ever since Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, I've wanted to watch every moment of his journey because I think something truly remarkable is happening. There are times when it is the relatively small things that often go unnoticed by our media that actually stand out to me.

For example, did you know that today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia? And are you aware that yesterday the President issued a statement commemorating it?
Tomorrow, as we commemorate the 10th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we recommit ourselves to the fundamental belief that all people should be treated equally, that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, and that no one should face violence or discrimination -- no matter who they are or whom they love.
This comes a week after Obama's Secretary of Defense said it was time to review the military's ban on transexuals. B.F.D!!!

And then, of course today we are also celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Brown v Board of Education. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and AG Eric Holder wrote this to commemorate the occasion:
...for all the progress our nation has seen over the last six decades, this is a process that continues, and a promise that has yet to be fully realized, even today.

While the number of school districts that remain under desegregation court orders has decreased significantly in just the past decade, the Department of Justice continues to actively enforce and monitor nearly 200 desegregation cases where school districts have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate segregation “root and branch.” In those cases, the department works to ensure that all students have the building blocks of educational success – from access to advanced placement classes, to facilities without crumbling walls and old technology, to safe and positive learning environments.

The Departments of Justice and Education are also working together to reform misguided school discipline policies that fuel the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Some of these policies, while well-intentioned, have resulted in students of color facing suspensions and expulsions at a rate three times higher than that of their white peers. And the Administration is moving in a variety of ways to dismantle racial barriers and promote inclusion, from America’s classrooms, to our courtrooms, to our voting booths – and far beyond.
This is happening because President Obama appointed people to these critical positions who "get it." For example, this morning AG Holder made some powerful remarks to Morgan State University graduates. In reference to the Sterling and Bundy sagas, he said:
But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents -- on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter -- we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done -- because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.
Holder went on to describe the "disparate impact" of things like zero tolerance policies in our schools, the racial disparities that persist in the criminal justice system and attacks on voting rights as the form of racism that is more subtle and cuts deeper.
This is the work that truly matters -- because policies that disenfranchise specific groups are more pernicious than hateful rants. Proposals that feed uncertainty, question the desire of a people to work [shoutout to Rep. Paul Ryan] and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outbursts might raise. And a criminal justice system that treats groups of people differently -- and punishes them unequally -- has a much more negative impact than misguided words that we can reject out of hand.
And in case anyone wonders where this administration comes down on the resent dust-up between Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor on the current status of racism in this country... Holder set that record straight.
Chief Justice John Roberts has argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether. This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn't need to be actively confronted. In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it. As Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote recently in an insightful dissent in the Michigan college admissions case -- we must not "wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society... The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race."
The Obama administration is clearly not in the business of taking the easy road when it comes to the matter of civil rights for ALL Americans. They're pushing the envelope on every one of these important issues. Sometimes the work that advances that cause catches the national headlines - like ending DADT. And sometimes it comes in baby steps - like this week when AG Holder spoke out against the excessive use of isolation in juvenile detention facilities. But regardless, the focus is clear and the determination is relentless. That's why I want to pay attention and not miss a moment of how it unfolds.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for always noticing, and appreciating, and bringing to our attention all the good things President Obama and his administration do.

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