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We are not yet living in a post-racial society

The recent actions of the University of Missouri football team brought back so many memories of the 1960s and ’70s, and how instrumental young people were in their fight for social justice, educational equality and the ordinary right to participate in a democracy religiously touted for all.

Where education is concerned, I tend to think that those decades were the most exciting times in which one could possibly have lived. They were times when many universities were forced by their students to engage in dialogues, discussions and even direct action when it came to the presumed needs of society.

After all, what was education all about? With their hopes and dreams, the students truly believed they could make a difference, and in many ways they did, despite their idealism.

So when the members of the Missouri football team decided – backed by their coaches, faculty, staff and other students – to take their stand, they were making the most mature, most dignified statement against social injustice and racism that young people have expressed in years. And they did it in the simplest, most decorous of ways: They refused to cooperate; they just “refused to play the game.”

While thinking about this recent event, I was set to wondering how much these young athletes really know of their social history, or whether they are aware that this same act of self-respect occurred many times in the South and during the civil rights era.

It happened when the black citizens of Memphis, Tenn., refused to shop in the city’s downtown stores, preferring, instead, the gentle hand of the boycott to avoid confrontation, and also as a reminder to all concerned of the purchasing power of the Memphis black community.

Then there was the Montgomery bus boycott, in which members of the black community opted to ride in cabs, or to walk with pride, rather than to sit on buses segregated by race.

Indeed, if the athletes know any of this history, then they know of the threats to life, limb and jobs to which members of the black community had been subjected.

Perhaps they were not so unlike those early avatars of dignity, because they knew what they themselves were about to sacrifice – the possible loss of scholarships and the loss as well of an educational opportunity. However, it doesn’t seem to have mattered. They decided to take that honorific stand anyway, and in so doing knew how and where to hit the institution and also the sports world where it would hurt the most – the loss of revenue.

In addition to the hope that prevailed in those early decades, one could sense the belief in some hopefuls that race and racism were elements that could be confronted and finally vanquished. Unfortunately, those hopefuls were wrong, as are those today who insist that we are now living in a “post-racial society.”

I think we fail to understand that race is not just an amorphous principle to be discarded at will. We are all race conscious, and that is despite our inclinations to be either positive or negative.

Finally, we tend to think of race in terms of our laws and their effective control of human behavior. But can we legislate kindness? More than laws, what makes race so difficult is the depth to which it reaches our feelings and emotions, both of which are powerful enough to lead one to sympathy and understanding or to discrimination and violence.

Once again, we are all affected by the myth of race, and if such is anathema to all we religiously believe, then what might be a healthy, emotional response to the myth?

Wes Carter, now retired, was an assistant dean at Canisius College and an adjunct faculty member and a career developer at the University at Buffalo. He lives in Clarence.

I think we fail to understand that race is not just an amorphous principle to be discarded at will. We are all race conscious, and that is despite our inclinations to be either positive or negative.