On this day fifty years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, sex, color, creed, and national origin, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson— less than eighteen months after John F. Kennedy called for such a law in his Civil Rights speech on June 11, 1963, a speech given on the heels of the biting police dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham that Spring. This landmark civil rights legislation outlawed racial segregation in schools and at lunch counters where I grew up. It added a richness and breadth to my school day experiences.
It is the American dream to have the freedom for self determination, not subjugated by predetermination. Neil Altman writes: “Problems arise…when one loses the dialectical relationship between being free and being determined, when one fails to take account both of our human capacity for freedom and the ways in which that freedom is limited.” Foucault reminded us how society, its institutions and history, organizes our thinking around constructed power structures. Damaging others through subjugation of their capacity for self determination, whether talking sex or race, ought to generate guilt. But operating in the paranoid-schizoid position we split ourselves (good me - bad me) and split others.
Separating ourselves is antithetical to healing, whether done from within— through dissociation, disavowal, projection, and denial— or from without— through racism, misogyny, contempt for others. To address our dis-integration by these mechanisms we must first acknowledge our participation in them. Once acknowledged, a public (that is, explicit) dialogue can happen. Traumatic experience otherwise remains split off, unspoken. The Fourteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, and subsequent Civil Rights legislation, came about through dialogue, sometimes waging.
We organize ourselves not merely around drives, but more over around attachment and belonging. When excluded and left out we feel ashamed.
There is security in finding others like ourselves, but there is joy in finding like-mindedness amongst difference.
Happy Independence Day, USA.