Equality remains elusive

Mary Valencia Wilson is a member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the political action chair of the Reno/Sparks NAACP.

Since the abolition of slavery, racial discrimination has been successfully fought on several fronts, including the right to vote, equal access to public education and the right to a fair trial. In observance of the achievements made by valiant leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and many other African-Americans who helped spearhead the Civil Rights movement, we celebrate February as Black History Month. Although enormous progress has been made, the promise of fair and equal treatment remains frustratingly elusive for many people of color.

Segregation and discrimination in housing opportunities sustain what the Kerner Commission described in 1968 as “two societies, separate and unequal.” Our nation’s poor neighborhoods—overwhelmingly populated by people of color—are wracked with poverty, violence, illness and police brutality.

Some U.S. schools are even more segregated and more profoundly unequal than before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. Minority school districts have substantially fewer resources than white public schools.

A backlash against affirmative action slams the door of opportunity in the faces of those who need it. Prejudiced, anti-immigrant legislation strips away basic civil rights for many of our nation’s minorities.

Voting districts, created to provide equal electoral opportunity and fair representation, are negated by Congress. The recent presidential election made it clear that, 35 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, African-Americans still face discrimination in voting. In several districts with large minority populations, antiquated equipment and faulty voting machines caused thousands of votes to be misconstrued or discounted. Many African-Americans were turned away from the polls for invalid reasons.

A compelling body of evidence proves racial profiling has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The war on drugs has allowed the police to seek out people who they think fit a “drug courier” or “gang member” profile. “Drug courier profiles” disproportionately target people of color.

The obstacles ahead in the struggle for equality are high, but not insurmountable. We have come a long way since Jim Crow ruled the South. Unfortunately, deeply entrenched discrimination and racial violence still exist. The sense of moral urgency that fueled the Civil Rights era is just as imperative today. Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, the Civil Rights movement and the victories of the past, but it is also a time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that America truly is a country with liberty and justice for all.