restricted access 111 A Civil Rights Agenda for the Year 2000: Confessions of an Identity Politician
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111 A Civil Rights Agenda for the Year 2000: Confessions of an Identity Politician FRANCES LEE ANSLEY I am not an African-American, and I will not be speaking from the perspective of the African-American community, although I am firmly convinced that my own well-being is intimately bound up with the well-being of that community. I am a European-American, a female, someone who has counted myself a part of legal and social struggles for justice-for people of color, for women of all races, and for individuals from all races and both genders whose economic resources consist only of their increasingly uncertain ability to sell their labor to others. I have less to say to and about the AfricanAmerican community than to and about the white community. As we near the end of the millennium we seem to find ourselves at a "crossroads" in civil rights theory and practice. For members of many communities of color there is a crisis in quality of life, in education, in unemployment, and too often a crisis in survival itself-all this despite the many successes and breakthroughs of the civil rights decade of the sixties. Why might this be so? First, in far too many cases, the "victory" of formal equality is yet to come. I believe it is crucial, especially for "us white people," to realize just how much racial bigotry and unequal treatment is still with us. Such a realization is something we will have to work at, because in the absence of special effort most of us whites simply don't have equal access to adequate information on this score. We can, of course, seek such information out, through reading and study and moviegoing and cross-race conversations and through engaging in efforts to change things. Sometimes, through some association with people of color, we stumble onto information about persistent racist beliefs and disparate treatment. I find myself remembering particular incidents. One is the racism my brother-in-law found among teachers at the local high school in the district where he and his family live. This racism never came to his attention when his two older boys, who are white, were attending the school. It became all too evident , however, in his dealings with the school when his third, mixed-race child came along. One of my white students, who had been an undergraduate at Ole Miss, recalled inviting an African-American friend down from Nashville for the weekend. He left the friend at home for a couple of hours one afternoon while he went out, returning to find his friend shaken and enraged. Apparently the friend had made the mistake of stepping out of the apartment, where he was accosted and questioned exhaustively by security guards who simply couldn't The complete text of this article appeared originally at 59 TENN. L. REV. 593 (1992); this edited version appears by permission of the author and the Tennessee Law Review Association, Inc. The article is based on a speech given in February 1992 at West Virginia University as part of the Franklin D. Cleckley Civil Rights Symposium. Copyrighted Material A Civil Rights Agenda for the Year 2000 647 believe he might "belong" in that apartment complex. My student's friend was angry but not surprised, whereas the student, a young white man, had learned a brand new lesson. I had a similar opportunity myself last summer when I made a trip to the United States-Mexico border with a group of women factory workers from Tennessee. We were visiting the border area to see what is happening in the industrial zones where so many United States companies are moving. Our group was mostly Anglo, but one member of the delegation was a black woman, and during part of our trip we traveled with a Latino man who served as our translator. When we stopped at the border the whites in our group watched in amazement as the Latino man was taken off by u.s. border guards to be interrogated alone at length, the black woman was questioned extensively and with evident hostility and distrust about her country of origin, and the rest of us were waved through without a hitch. Had we been traveling without these special" tour guides," my guess is our impression of the border would have been quite different. We white people thus may have to work at obtaining information and perspectives that others are in a position to experience on...


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