Let’s Finish Rosa Parks Journey Together
December 1, 2010
(Chattahbox Op/Ed) – 55 years ago today, a 42 year old, slight figured seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, stepped onto a bus and forever changed the lives of every American from that point forward. Rosa Parks, now dead five years, will forever be remembered for her refusal to sit in the back of a bus creating a wave of change so singularly critical to race relations in this country and it was that simple act of defiance that prompted the end of segregation in the South.
Her refusal to move to the back of the bus so a white man could take her seat resulted in her arrest and four days later a conviction of disorderly conduct. The Rev. Martin Luther King organized what became a 381 day boycott against the bus system and a legal challenge that led to desegregating of public transportation in Montgomery. That was in 1955 and by 1964 the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Considered the Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks, is remembered for a great many things, but her gentle, soft voice and her ability to speak loudly without raising her voice was remarkable at a time when the noise was all that mattered. It was her example, to me anyway, that taught that sometimes in order to be heard you need to talk quietly. She is a shining example.
I met Rosa Parks once at an event at the Motown Museum in Detroit many years back. I was able to say hello and shake her tangled hands softly as I was mesmerized by her sweet smile and young and vibrant eyes. I was smitten.
Over the course of my radio career, the subject of race never stayed away very long. Living in Detroit where race is still an important issue and the idea of equality is still a mockery in many parts of my part of the world, I have always tried to be fair and honest while exploring the myriad of issues that continue to prove that being Black in America is still a struggle and that the color of one’s skin still matters to too many. We still see with stark contrast the economic disadvantage of Blacks in today’s society and from issues ranging from unemployment to jail populations, Black America does not experience equality or fairness, whether we want to own up to that or not, it is still very real.
The election of Barack Obama was a major milestone in theory, as the first Black President of the United States of America, but in practice I don’t see how it has changed race relations in this country or more importantly I don’t see attitudes changing. And, sadly, our President is in a no win situation. Depending on your own set of priorities and biases he is either too Black or not Black enough. What’s telling there is that we never talk about a President as being too White or not White enough. We are not living in an equal or equitable society yet and we may never.
And 55 years later the ride Rosa Parks took that fateful day is as important as it has ever been. Her causes, which were color blind; unemployment, wages, and crime, are still central issues of society and are prevalent in the Black community. Yes, we have made progress and yes, we have become much more accepting and inclusive, but we also are still having the same conversations today that we have been having for decades.
Profiling is a major insult to Black men. Paranoia is still white person’s symptom, and fair and equal treatment are still processed through a person’s racial filter, as unfair as that is, but it is real, make no bones about that.
I clearly recall three days after 9/11/2001 a Black man calling my show one night and exclaiming that he had noticed a little less attention to himself after the attacks as the proud and patriotic American Society shifted their more immediate prejudice to Arab-looking people. He said it was nice to walk in the mall without getting stared at. If you think I’m being extreme, think again.
We are evolving, to a degree, but we have not come close to arriving. I do not have the answer to hatred and prejudice. I do not have the influence to move momentum toward something more glorious and righteous as we continue to try and create a more equal world. I have made every effort to raise a responsible and respectful family that is as inclusive as we can be, but not because I wanted to demonstrate that we are not prejudiced but because we are not prejudiced.
In your heart you know your truth and in that truth lies the solution to what will heal society. Until writing something like this seems odd and wrong, we cannot say we have arrived, can we? And I also believe that this is an issue that in order to be changed it must be from all sides not just one side. But bad habits are hard to break and no matter the color of your skin, we all have a responsibility to shape change, and the cliché that change begins with us could not be truer here.
Let me pay homage to a woman of remarkable courage and vision. 55 years after forcing a country to see truth we should be thankful that things are better but we should also be mindful that there is still so much more work to do. Let that work begin with you.
Tony Trupiano is a former national syndicated progressive radio talk show host, author, and a former candidate for Congress. He is also a nationally recognized media trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can read his Blog at http://www.mediatraining.me.