I just don’t understand

This past July 2 marked a significant anniversary in the history of this great country. But I’ll bet not many people heard, saw or read about it much.

It was the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It was meant to eliminate segregation in public places. It was meant to end the horrific, and often violent relationship between some whites and African-Americans in this country.

Just because a law is passed doesn’t mean it will change hearts.

As a young boy growing up in the ’60s, I witnessed on television the race riots and inhumane ways many whites treated blacks in this country. 

It left an impression on me that I will never forget, nor do I want to. As a young boy I couldn’t understand how people could be so hateful to others because of the color of their skin. Fifty years later, I still can’t.

I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, with all my friends being white. But I would watch the news and read other media outlets and learned that black children my age didn’t have half of what I had — and I wasn’t well-to-do by any stretch.

These children and their parents were killed simply for being black. They were ostracized simply for being black. They were banned from using the same doors and seats as whites, simply for being black.

I couldn’t comprehend that as a young boy. I couldn’t understand how some people I knew didn’t like blacks simply because of the color of their skin. I don’t understand today how some people I know still feel that way.

I cried when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Others cheered.

I will never know what African-Americans went through since they were “freed” by President Abraham Lincoln. I will never know their suffering, and I wish I could apologize for all that my white “brothers and sisters” did to them.

I had a few black friends in high school, and none in college. In the work field I became good friends with several black people. And you know what? They were just like me, even though they were black. Go figure.

I did feel the sting of prejudice once. While working in Providence I became good friends with a black co-worker. We played ball together, and he came over to my house to eat with Denise, the kids and me. We were always together at work.

Then, out of the blue, he accused me and another co-worker of saying racist things to him. We were reprimanded at work without even a chance to give our side.

I soon found out from another black friend that he had been going to meetings where the agenda was anti-white.

I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet was treated totally unfairly. A small dose of what our African-American brothers and sisters went through — and unfortunately are still going through today.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did change some things, but not all. This country is still inhabited by too many ignorant, arrogant white people — a race that feels entitled and I don’t know why. Whites weren’t the first race on earth — what makes them so special?

I recently went to a Blues festival featuring mostly black Blues artists (including the legendary B.B. King, who has seen more of his share of back doors and the back of buses). Shemekia Copeland sang a song her Blues musician father wrote and recorded in 2003, “Ghetto Child.” She sang, “I’m just the ghetto child. Somebody, please, please help the ghetto child. I’m just the ghetto child. In this so-called, in this so-called free land.”

Too many things haven’t changed since the ’64 CRA, and that’s a shame and a crime.

Prejudice and racism don’t come naturally — they’re taught and learned. America is still the greatest country on earth, filled with millions of good, honest people — of all races, colors, creeds and nationalities. Unfortunately, the hateful heart still exists though. And as long as that heart lives, so too, will evil — in this so-called free land.

But God sees what’s happening — here and across His good earth. Evil hearts will have to answer to Him. Meanwhile African-Americans, Mexicans, other Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and others who are “different” will continue to feel the deep, hurtful sting of hateful hearts no matter what act is signed by whom. And that makes me sorry for us all.

Dave Jolivet can be reached at davejolivet@anchornews.org.

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