Did the Civil Rights Act Spur Racist Progress?


Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.  According to National Book Award winner and historian Ibram X. Kendi, the Act “spurred all sorts of racial progress–from desegregating Southern establishments to driving anti-discrimination lawsuits, to opening the doors of opportunity for the new black middle class.”

But Kendi’s recent piece in The Washington Post also calls our attention to what he believes to be an overlooked aspect of the Civil Rights Act.  He argues that the Act “also spurred racist progress.”  He adds, ”

Here is a taste:

After the passage of the act, Americans quickly confused the death of Jim Crow for the death of racism. The result: They blamed persisting and progressing racial disparities on black inferiority. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had been complaining throughout the 1960s about those “dependent animal” creatures on welfare. Criminologists like Marvin Wolfgang were writing about urban blacks’ “subculture of violence.” Sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Johnson’s assistant secretary of labor, pointed to the black family as a “tangle of pathology” in a 1965 report.kendi

As new racist ideas and anti-racist demonstrations spread in the late 1960s, first President Johnson and then Richard Nixon turned away from civil rights toward “law and order” — a phrase that came to symbolize and pardon the progress of racist ideas and policies. The Nixon White House branded black people as the real source of the racial problems, rather than the Americans who quietly responded to the 1964 act by backing “race neutral” policies that were aimed at excluding black bodies.

For many Americans, it was this violent subculture, emanating from the weak and dependent black family, that caused the hundreds of urban rebellions that followed in the days, months and years after the Civil Rights Act. As the Wall Street Journal headline on Aug.16, 1965, explained: “Behind the Riots: Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sow Seeds of Race Violence: Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms.”

Read the entire piece here.

One thought on “Did the Civil Rights Act Spur Racist Progress?

  1. Of course the Civil Rights Act ‘Spurred Racist Progress’, if one can call it progress. In fact it motivated those with racist beliefs to step forward as their rights to discriminate were curtailed. But that was predictable. When a dangerous animal is cornered, it fights back. And so it is with racists and bigots. Some might even say that freeing the slaves created racism in the US. It is a rationalization and blame-projection which many bigoted people would support. I’m not assuming this perception; i have actually heard such words. This is an important conversation and a valuable article. It means that to normalize universal acceptance of diversity and ultimately eliminate racist behaviour in our societies, or at least force it underground, we must still confront racists act and overt bigotry wherever they spring up. We need to protect the victims of racism and bigotry, especially the most vulnerable, while always trying NOT to demonize those who behave inappropriately and harmfully to others. But we must always demonize and confront any acts which harm or discriminate against others. That is what being human means. And one day, our societies may actually reach that stage of emotional and societal evolution wherein everyone is respected and treated equally. Not in my lifetime, but one day. That is my prayer.


Comments are closed.