How Far Have We Come?

A panel discussion on “Lessons from the Past: Civil Rights Today” will take place tomorrow, March 12, at Birmingham Southern College at 6 p.m. in the Bruno Great Hall. Odessa Woolfolk, president emerita of The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, will moderate.

Panel includes the Honorable William Bell, mayor of Birmingham; Carolyn McKinstry, eyewitness to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing; Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries; Isabel Rubio, founder of the Hispanic Coalition of Alabama; Howard Bayless, LGBT civil rights leader; and the Honorable Helen Shores Lee, judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit.

Many will agree that blacks in Birmingham, and the U.S., have made great strides in 50 years, but we are far from a post-racial society as some would have us believe. Read the comments that follow any story related to race or one that features a person of color in the Birmingham News, New York Times, USA Today, etc., and you could see that this country is far from being color-struck.

In an editorial for The Minnesota Daily, Trent Kays said the last presidential election proved to him that our country was still in the throes of racism. “Equally disheartening is that we still don’t know how to deal with it. This sickness is symptomatic of a culture and society beginning to embrace 1950s ideologies again rather than moving forward with an eye on the future horizon,” wrote Kays.

I think conversations about race, like the one scheduled for tomorrow, help to foster meaningful interactions, but do these talks reach the people who are holding fast to their antiquated thoughts on race and diversity? Do they help us move a step closer to “dealing with it?”

I doubt if the person who commented on AL.com that giving blacks the right to vote has been the downfall of this country will be in attendance. I doubt if the many commenters who routinely disrespect President Obama for any little perceived offense (but swears they are not racist) will want to have this conversation.

I am all for people sharing their opinions, and so be it if they don’t line up with mine, but the racial discourse in this city, in this country, has taken an ugly turn. (Look at this awful attempt by Philadelphia magazine. The writer says he wanted to have an honest dialogue about race, but ended up with a story that’s full of negative stereotypes and the worst kind of race-baiting.) I pray that tomorrow’s discussion can do some good in getting us to talk about why are we still talking about race in 2013.

What do you think?

How far have we really come?

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