Hijacking the civil rights movement


This past weekend our family had the opportunity to attend a college graduation ceremony. It was a proud moment in one of our family member’s life, and we were happy to support her and share with our children something to which they can aspire.

Unfortunately, the keynote speaker, who was a civil rights activist, made contradictory statements I would not want my children to emulate.

In one instance he stated that the graduates had a spirit inside that would enable them to overcome challenges through strength and love. But then at many points he injected racially divisive rhetoric by making such ominous comments like, “they” will come against them [the graduates] because of the way they look, just like they do our president.

It was also disturbing to me that he claimed his speech was not about politics, yet asserted that the civil rights movement is now a fight for social justice — which he implicitly defined as a fight for equal wages, universal healthcare, and education.

This claim was political, and unfortunately, many in the audience clapped. But all I could think was, since when did the civil rights movement become a call for socialism?

The civil rights movement was about holding our government accountable to the declarations of the Constitution. That is, the government could not have one set of laws for one people and a separate set of laws, or institutional structures, for another — as was the case with the Jim Crow laws and discriminating civil agencies.

Regrettably, people such as the graduation speaker have changed the definition of civil rights from people being treated equally under the law to people being treated equally in terms of resources and outcomes.

Additionally, and more insidiously, they imply that their view of civil rights should be mandated for everyone, and either through legislation or regulation, they view government as the agent for this change.

For them, once the government ensures resources are equally allocated, we will have a nation that is socially just. Rather than promoting civil rights, however, this way of thinking sounds more like an endorsement of socialism/communism.

Relative to this latter statement, I can just imagine some of the comments of my detractors. They will probably insist that there is racism today and that there is institutional inequality that places people of color at an unfair disadvantage. Consequently, government must correct this wrong by meeting the short-term needs of minorities — effectually legislating private individuals and entities follow policies that help advance those that have been at an institutional disadvantage.

To my detractors, I would like to say that I am one who has experienced both racial and financial struggles, yet here I am in strong disagreement with their policies, for our nation was never intended to make all people have and achieve things equally.

By virtue of the fact that we are a diverse people, there will be concomitant differences, and therefore, inequities. To some, obviously, this will appear to be unfair, but as long as there is one law that applies to everyone equally — white or black — we are seeing the civil rights movement being achieved.

I wish the graduation speaker spoke to this point as well as acknowledged how far our nation as a whole has come.

Although the graduation ceremony was not the inspirational experience I had imagined for my children, it was an important lesson that we were able to talk through, even at their young ages.

Sadly, I did notice one white family leave through the speaker’s race-laden speech, and I honestly didn’t blame them for doing so, since they were neither being strengthened nor loved.

However, I was encouraged that we were not the only African-Americans in the audience who did not appreciate the rhetoric and could see how the civil rights movement was being hijacked, for another family in front of us also did not clap during the resentful, racial rhetoric.

Seeing this family gave me hope that despite what we are told, not all African-Americans are being fooled by the bait-and-switch from civil rights to socialism that is being perpetuated in the media, schools, and even some churches.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the devastating effects socialistic policies and placing faith in a supposedly all-powerful government are having on our communities.

Rather than elevating individuals and families to strive and achieve more, a theoretical/utopian concept of equality robs each of us of our freedom, motivation, and dignity, and never truly holds the government-goliath accountable for the declining results.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]