I have been pondering the euphemism ‘Sitting at The Lunch Counter’. I term the statement a euphemism, because allegorically, the term represents the struggle of African Americans in its early days that included discourse and demonstrations centered around the exclusion of BlackAmericans at public locations including restaurants (lunch counters), hotels as well as preferential (reasonable) seating on public transportation to name a few areas as well as the wider civil rights violations that these practices represented. As a young student of the Civil Rights movement, I was able to read about and to observe the struggle of my Southern sisters and brothers as they braved the long marches, racial epithets, dogs, fire hoses and mortal danger of being activists in the era of change. As a Bostonian, my own activism was less intense than much of the Southern based activism, but make no mistake, Boston was also a city that allowed one a strong base with which to build the consciousness to recognize and reject the boundaries of a more subtle (and often not so subtle) form of racial stratification and separatism. In Boston we faced issues of school busing in the 60’s, rioting, and a civil service system that admitted few blacks in any meaningful way before the mid seventies.
Most of us are aware of the historical progression of the Civil Rights movement and it is not this tremendous effort that I wish to question or elaborate on. Actually, I am experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction with today’s policies, politics and practices that still exist since the so-called ‘integration’ that resulted from the Civil Rights era. First of all, let me say, that we, African Americans, have clearly made progress. Our progress can be cited in the data that indicates how much money we make, how many of us have migrated into the much-desired middle class, our ratio of college graduates, our stellar successes in almost every industry and discipline as well as the country’s election in 2009 of it first African American president.
So why, you may ask, “are you dissatisfied”? With all of the tremendous successes that we have realized, my sense is that there is still an underlying inequity in policy, politics and practice that permeates American society. There are still a lot of people grappling in the daily struggle for the advantage of money, power and position. There are still too many people who have been disadvantaged by this same system that proclaims that ‘anybody can make it in America’. I know that this is not a ground breaking observation, but unfortunately, I still find the social inequities that are present in the 21st Century to be highly disturbing.
I still find the occurrences of the power of the old boy/old girl network to be stymieing as I continue to look for opportunities in the various strata of professional and educational settings that I find myself. Although today’s business hierarchy is rich with diverse faces (black, brown red and yellow) from multiple cultures and countries, I still see young African Americans lagging behind when it comes to academic excellence and general character development. I’m sure that this is an instance of rights and civility. Although I attempt to tackle some of these disparities that I witness through my role as an educator, I find myself battling a public education system that was never re-designed to promote equity of education or of outcome. In addition, as a vocal, aware, highly experienced and purposefully driven African American professional, I am often all-too-threatening to those who manage the various systems that keep things status quo.
In 2010 I find myself ironically, living in the Southern United States. I migrated here in 2003 from Northern California’s Silicon Valley where I was having difficulty finding meaningful employment after an absence of four years while working on an international teaching contract . In terms of employment, I believe that the city of Houston has a better outlook than many cities in California, north or south. I have seen a high number of African Americans here in prominent positions and stretching the seams of the middle class as well as the upper middle class. And while twenty-first century Black folks speak of wealth creation and opportunity there is still this disparity—this inequity that presents itself in subtle and not so subtle ways.
I am speaking of the inappropriate and heinous slights and insults that our President Barack Obama has had to endure as well as the somnolent attitude of fat and happy Americans of African descent and other ancestry that believes that watching the Super Bowl on a 64-inch plasma TV is heaven on earth. I’m sorry, I actually don’t know what the standard is for TV’s these days, I am just attempting to make a point. And I am certainly not wishing to assault the intelligence or values of many who have worked hard to earn such luxuries as large screen TVs and the like. While I am tempted to make this journal entry a diatribe against the softening of our values and commitment to stand firm against inequity, discrimination and oppression, be it personal, local, national or international; I am reminded to be balanced and congratulate us on our successes while cautioning us against becoming complacent.
Many of us still have valid complaints about our treatment in the workplace or in the general society. Others of us have advanced satisfactorily and are reaping the benefits and rewards of our education, experience and hard work. In whatever category we fall, I’d like to caution us not to become complacent. I’d like to encourage us to remain vigilant in the struggle as it exists in its 21st century iteration. I’d like to ask us not to accept our place ‘at the lunch counter’ without remembering the sacrifices of those before us and even our own sacrifices to get us there. And I’d certainly like to suggest that we continue to educate ourselves and continue to take risks to challenge inequity, 21st century plantation politics, and outright disrespect for our abilities, our leaders, our heritage and our contributions to The United States of America and to the world at large.