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In Memory of Rosa

Lauded by many as the mother of the modern civil rights movement, Rosa Parks died peacefully last night at age 92. On December 1st, 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to stand up and offer her seat to a Caucasian person who stepped onto the public bus after her. When summoned to her arrest, she calmly asked the police officer why she should give up her seat. He answered that he did not know, but it was the law and he would arrest her.

She became a symbol in her time – of the struggle, the butting failures and successes of the distinctive American melting pot. After what was then a courageous act, and now would seem an embarrassment, the Civil Rights movement vaulted to the forefront of our nation’s political agenda and social restructuring. We have a federal holiday now devoted to its commemoration and its leaders.

Almost exactly 50 years later, should we be proud of how far we have come? Can we claim that we have broken the barriers of racism and prejudice in our nation? And along that vein, is it ‘bad’ that different cultural populations are self-isolating, as they often are in many forms of social organization? Some academics argue that progress in racial equality only occurs when a big event like a war highlights the contribution of our nation’s African American or other minority population. One wonders what Rosa would say now, and another 50 years from now. A salute to a woman who made many think.

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Almost exactly 50 years later, should we be proud of how far we have come?

I think the biggest thing helping this situation is time. If you were born in 1800, you likely thought black people were a lesser race and well-suited for slavery. If you were born in 1900, the word "nigger" was still in common use and it was socially acceptable for a white male to be in the KKK. If you were born in 1930, you thought nothing of segregated schools and special "colored" restrooms and water fountains. If you were born in 1950, you probably heard about or witnessed the great struggle/fight/work being led by black Americans like Rosa Parks, but depending on your parents, racism may have still been present. If you were born in 1970, Rosa Parks was something you learned about in school, and blacks have always had equal rights as far as you can remember, but your parents remember a few decades ago and may still be bitter about the whole thing.

And then there are the kids being born today. By the time they’re old enough to comprehend "racism," it’ll be 2015. Rosa Parks will be 60 years in the past and the thought of treating a black person like a lesser human will be foreign to them. At least that’s what we hope.

The recent hurricane in Louisiana has showed us that racial tensions still exist. In the middle of a natural disaster, there were widespread claims that many of the horrible things that happened were based on some sort of white/black divide. I think this magnifies the resentment that still exists in poorer and lesser educated communities. A kid from a wealthy suburb has led a great life and has learned about equality in school with no reason to think otherwise. A kid from the slums has led a miserable life and has probably heard his/her unsuccessful parents blame their poverty on something else over and over again. Unfortunately, all too often, the blame is on racism. When a kid grow up being told he’s led a poor life because white people hate him, there’s not much else you can say in school to convince him otherwise.

So, to wrap up, I think America made the right choices with legally making all races equal. Only time can erase the scars of the past, and many have been erased already. In the mean time, we should keep in mind that though racism is dying, it’s not dead yet. We must all do our part to ensure that racism is not something we teach our children.

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