By Marley K.
The Act That Used To Be For Black People
Most people lumped into the many protected groups and classes don’t realize America’s Civil Rights Act recognized and protected Black and descendants of Slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. America has watered the very Act so much that it erases the very people the Act was meant to protect. It began with White feminism, and from there, the diluting continued. With each new addition, came more Black erasure. Instead of Congress creating separate acts to address other issues and rights not tied to Blacks, they intentionally hijacked our Act to ensure we become less of a priority to America.
If you’re benefiting from the Civil Rights Act in any way, thank a Black person.
Well meaning White beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Act and all of its many Titles don’t understand how their recent protections come at the expense of Black people. Every addition to the Civil Rights Act subtracts protections from Blacks. When White, Non-Black, and other groups fighting for rights and recognition as us (Blacks) to join them, you’re asking us to join your cause and continue erasing ours. It’s imperative for other groups to understand why many Blacks are not interested in helping others fight for Civil Rights anymore.
It’s not that we don’t care about the rights of ours. We do. Blacks can no longer afford to help others when they engage in the behaviors and conduct similar practices America created the Civil Rights Act to protect Blacks from.
The Watering Down of “Our” Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 [14 Stat. 27–30], was enacted in 1866. It was the first federal law to clearly define citizenship and affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law. The Act was specifically created to protect the civil rights of persons of African descent born in or brought to the United States after the American Civil War.
America created this Act for to protect Black people because everyone that was not Black or of African descent already had some recognized rights. We did not. America created did not create the Civil Rights Act to protect Blacks until almost 90-years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and nearly 3-years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was intentionally left vague for broad and discriminatory interpretation by racist states and individuals who had the power to decide who should and who should not have rights. Freed Blacks were left to die because Whites wouldn’t employ freed slaves. Discrimination caused many former slaves to starve to death.
According to historians, during the legislative process, this provision to ensure there would be no discrimination of our civil rights or communities among the inhabitants of any State or Territory of the United States on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude was deleted several times before becoming law, which is why Black and Native America Indian people have always needed protections from White Supremacy.
It’s the reason Blacks have continued to fight against racial discrimination and racial injustice every generation.
America Had To Be Forced To Do Right By Blacks
The original Civil Rights Act of 1866 had to be amended several times to add protections specifically for Blacks several times throughout American history to address Black discrimination. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court made the segregation of Black and White students illegal in public schools 88-years after the original Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed. Blacks along with our allies continued to fight against discrimination. Like in many of the Civil Rights Acts Amendments, Blacks needed to be specifically mentioned to ensure Whites in power would address our needs and concerns. In 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was signed into law allowing federal prosecution of anyone who tried to suppress the votes of Blacks (not that prosecution happens much).
The Civil Rights Act 1964 was signed into law after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy guaranteeing equal employment for all, limited the use of voter literacy tests and allowed federal authorities to ensure public facilities were integrated. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders witnessed the signing of the Act.
Blacks continued to lead the fight for our civil rights. We moved on to addressing our inability to take part freely and equally in what they called a democracy by ensuring Blacks had the right to vote. Blacks knew in order for America to truly be a democracy, all the people had to have the power to elect who they wanted to govern them. Because many states and locales had White folks who didn’t believe in equality and equity, Blacks needed an Act to ensure they as citizens and taxpayers had the right to vote.
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, strengthening the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and banning all voter literacy tests and provided federal examiners in certain voting jurisdictions. Blacks in some Southern states had to take a literacy test to vote, with the knowledge Whites did all they could to prevent us from getting a quality education to read in the first place. While both Whites and Blacks were supposed to be administered the test, like everything else in America, it was disproportionately executed on Black voters.
How White Feminism Stole Our Protections
Gender (sex) was slipped into Civil Rights Act (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) when Rep. Howard Smith, a conservative Democrat (which is today’s GOP), introduced the one-word amendment (sex) to the bill in the House of Representatives. Smith was a huge opponent of racial integration and used his power as chairman of the Rules Committee to keep most of the civil rights legislation created to give/protect the rights of Blacks from coming to a vote on the House floor.
Representative Smith and White women from the suffrage movement are responsible for the watering down of the Civil Rights Act meant to protect Blacks. White women of the feminist and suffrage movements had been working with racist conservative Democrats since the 1940s to have the word “sex” added to the Civil Rights Act meant to protect Blacks. Just the thought of White women feeling as if Blacks had more rights than them and they needed to be included is quite a piece of narcissism for me to wrap my mind around, but it explains why Black women and women of color do not neatly fit into the feminism movement. Feminism has been deceptive from the very beginning, and its roots were never grounded in equity. Feminism went through racist White men to get their protections and power.
This amendment was supposed to prevent employers from rejecting job applicants because of his or her race, religion, sex or national origin, but we can all honestly say officially no amendment or law will ever stop racists, including racist White women and People of Color (POC), from acting racistly against Black Americans. We continue to be discriminated against because of the color of our skin, our ethnic names, and even because of the colleges we attend/don’t attend. I have done the ethnic name resume test myself as a job applicant, so I know discrimination is real. This amendment truly doesn’t benefit anyone except White women.
Understanding how White feminism worked behind the scene to steal some of our protections is understanding how White feminism works with White Supremacy to maintain the status quo while erasing Black power. Adding gender to protect White women (who were already protected because of their race) was the beginning of the end of civil rights and protections for Blacks in America. A new Act should have been created for work place protections instead.
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 everything and everyone has been added to the Act that meant to protect us. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 expanded previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 had several other Acts added to it, further watering it down for various reasons. Not all of those reasons had anything to do with Black people. Those Acts include the Indian Civil Rights Act, Indian Bill of Rights, Fair Housing Act, Open Housing Act, and Housing Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act also included nicknames for Acts which impeded Blacks from protesting and Black civil disobedience.
In 1974, the Civil Rights Act the expansion was gender. In 1988, the Act’s expansion included people with disabilities and families with children. As you can see, the Civil Rights Act went from being about the rights of Blacks to the rights of everyone, for all sorts of issues. I have always had a gripe with America for including everything and the kitchen sink in an act meant for Black people. While some may be offended by my gripe, I don’t particularly care. As I’ve said previously, Blacks are the sacrificial lambs for the world.
A Better Way To Prevent Black Erasure
I believe it would be better for America to create separate Civil Rights Acts to recognize and protect various groups/issues in need of such protections. Doing so would ensure it’s two oldest, least protected groups (American Indians and Blacks), receive the protections, supports, and rights we need to fully participate in this experiment called America. Lumping us protected classes and groups all together dilutes our issues and confuses our problems.
Some groups really don’t have serious problems anymore and should no longer be protected. Some protected groups still need protections, but they need fewer than they were originally rewarded previously. Some groups/classes/races/religions need more protections, what they have now just isn’t enough. I believe like federally protected species status are reviewed for progress, so should some groups included in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (i.e. White women).
For example, once a federally protected or state protected species in danger of extinction has recovered from near extinction/harm, it’s removed from the list. Handling protected classes, sexes, genders, and races in this way would ensure those no longer in need of protection wouldn’t get resources and preferences that others could benefit from. For instance, White women make more money than another other protected group, they are a part of the national majority group (White), they benefit from White privilege, and many engage in White Supremacy overtly and covertly which enables them to remain at the top of the food chain. Being included in the Civil Rights Act harms Black women and other protected People of Color who the act was designed to aid.
Having them covered under the Civil Rights Act makes it harder for Black women, because we must compete with someone who already enjoys White privilege. And while White women may not have the privileges, and wealth of White men, they mostly marry White, they inherit White wealth and money from their White families (where applicable), they benefit from legacy, and they can get better, higher paying jobs than Blacks and other People of Color. It seems unfair to me. An Act meant to uplift and protect me can’t because people are benefiting and protected who don’t need the cover.
Whether we want to admit it, protecting Whiteness erases Blacks. At this rate, Black people will never catch up without reparations or another thoughtful remedy to make Blacks whole. For those who fight for the civil rights of protected groups should note every time you ask for more, you take away from the people who the original Civil Rights Act was initially created for. I’m not saying don’t fight, and I’m not saying other groups don’t deserve protections. I am asking readers and social justice advocates to look at how America intentionally institutes inequity via legislation and look how we never make the connections. We need to pick our battles and our groups/causes more wisely. Everything and everyone that screams it needs protection doesn’t need it. Examine everything, especially if you are Black. You could be joining a cause that directly or indirectly erases Black people.
This gradual expansion of the Civil Rights Act illustrates how protections for Black people have been slowly erased. This explains why Blacks are so angry and tired of stepping aside, waiting for the future. Therefore, 2020 is important for Black voters.
The future is now or never. We can no longer afford to wait on America to do right by us. Black people must continue to fight for our own protections, rights, recognition, and that dirty word people love to hate, reparations.
America needs to make Black people who for once. If we Black folks don’t fight for us, no one else will. It’s time we stop fighting for equality. Let’s get real, equality doesn’t improve the quality of anyone’s life. Black people should demand reparations and equity from America.
If you enjoyed this essay, you may enjoy some of my other thoughts:
© Marley K 2019. All rights reserved.