Why the ‘Race Discussion’ Isn’t Over 50 Years Later

CVS Caremark Chief Diversity Officer David Casey hopes the celebration will remind younger generations that more work needs to be done.

By David Casey

David Casey of CVS on the 'race discussion,' 50 years after the March on Washington.I believe America is the greatest country on Earth. That was part of my motivation to voluntarily serve her as I did for eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, our celebration of America’s broad stripes and bright stars should not preclude us from challenging our country and ourselves to be better. To me, that’s what the upcoming March on Washington represents—an opportunity to be better.

Although I was not yet born when Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago, I do know that many of the convictions and social challenges he laid before us are just as relevant and malignant in 2013 as they were in 1963. To be sure, we have made real progress in many respects, but in many others, we have not only made little to no progress, we have regressed.

Remove the date from any number of recent news stories and they could have just as well been time-stamped during the apex of the original civil-rights movement—challenges to voting rights; racial tensions due to social inequities and civil injustices such as racial profiling; socioeconomic disparities; unequal access to affordable, quality health care; unequal access to quality education; and unequal pay for equal work, to name a few. I heard it said recently that this moment in time and these issues are this generation’s defining moment, as persuasive a call to action as the segregated lunch counters and back-of-the-bus Jim Crow laws were for past generations.

That may sound counterintuitive to some in 2013. After all, there were numerous declarations that President Obama’s 2008 election was the dawn of a new day, what was deemed a “post-racial” America. With a Black (as he defines himself) President, hadn’t Black Americans achieved the ultimate in equality? Good grief, aren’t we done with the “race” discussion? Not hardly on either point. While having the race discussion may be a matter of convenience for some, it’s a matter of everyday reality for me. For example, I can’t simply decide when I wake up in the morning whether or not I’m going to be Black today. Instead, I am automatically in a cohort that’s 80 percent more likely to be stopped and frisked for no other readily apparent variable than the color of my skin.

This is in no way meant to imply or endorse a victim mentality. As the hundreds of thousands expected for this year’s march look to reinvigorate the movement ignited in 1963, I sincerely hope that the march inspires a younger generation not only to continue their social-media activism, but also to get personally involved within their communities. I trust that those who attend the mass gathering will walk away knowing the real work was not simply making it to Washington, D.C. Systemic, impactful and lasting change happens each and every day as we make conscious decisions about what actions we decide to take. Dr. King spoke of “unearned suffering,” and it is how we choose to react to this oppression that changes our lives and the lives of others.

I do believe that my dream is the American dream. I do believe that America has the potential to one day embody the true meaning of its credo: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I certainly hope these challenges that have endured for the past 50 years aren’t the same challenges being vetted on the 100th anniversary of the first March on Washington.

America—the greatest country on Earth, with an opportunity to be better.

David Casey is Vice President, Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Caremark, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies.

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  • Darned straight! One thing you missed saying straight out but implied – don’t let the jerks of this society keep you from fully participating in your rights. AND PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – VOTE!!!! Every election, every time. There is little to say about what you get when you didn’t make your vote count. I was shocked in 2008 at all the people who suddenly showed up at the poles – it was wonderful! And then so many of them weren’t there come 2010 and we got what we got with the people in Congress and the re-districting in the states that might make it pretty hard to change who can get elected now. Voting counts every time, not just the Presidential years but all the years in between. The President can only work with the people sent to Washington, the Governors can only work with the people sent to the state capitals. If you don’t like what you have, check your voting record. Maybe you and a few other like minded people who showed up to vote could have changed that outcome…

    • Good point Sue, and I have never missed a vote. I can’t say that I am Republican or Democrat, since I normally vote conservatively, but I voted for Clinton both times and feel that he was the better choice. It’s kind of ironic that when Clinton was president, he had a Republican Congress and they worked together fine, but when Bush was president, he had a Democratic Congress and they did NOT work together. I have never and would never vote for Obama, as I feel he has an agenda to ruin this country and put everyone on equal ground so he can build it back up from scratch on an equal playing field. That makes sense in his little mind, but that is not how this country became great and will take a longer time than he bargained for to reach that point. I would not say I am racist because I don’t like Obama, because I can’t stand Biden, Reid, Pelosi or Hillary either, but some would link race to my political bias of Obama.

  • I beleive that America wants to continue the division of classes and culture based on 50 years ago with the likes of race-baiters such as Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson. Their rhetoric stirs the pot of racial tension, and then funnels through the media, education system, judicial system, church, and on and on. I’m 53 years old and have been in the military, college, business world and I always get along with everyone I have met or worked with. There were times in my life that I would come across a black or hispanic that was acting negatively towards me, but I would either try and communicate socially with them or inquire what the problem was. I’ve dated black women, white women and a few hispanic women. We all treated each other as equals and did not judge on racial boundries. There was issues where their freinds didn’t agree with our relationship, but we overcame and adapted. Here lately, with the media reporting only what they call white on black crimes and disregarding anything related to black on black, or black on white crimes as racial and only report it as gun crimes, this does not do our country any good. Martin Luther King would probably agree 50 years later that his dream has turned into others meal tickets for abuse to racial equality, and I’m sure he would be pissed off. I’ve got black neighbors who I’m freindly and neighborly with everyday. President Obama is not helping this country with any race relations with the black and white culture, and now wants to bring millions of hispanics into the country to make the black unemployment rate even go higher, due to him not being able to take care of business today. I have a daughter and feel so sorry for our next generation, and those generations that follow, because a child born today is going to owe tens of thousands dollars prior to even taking a breathe. America used to be a powerfull respected super-power, but the last two presidencies have really turn from a super-power to a nation of wimps and handouts. Wake up America and smell the freedom slipping away.

    • Luke Visconti

      I think Dr. MLK would be upset at voter ID laws, restricted polling hours and persistent poverty. I think he’d be disappointed by the last two presidents as well. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Luke, I agree with you to the point of MLK being upset about the last two presidencies, but I think he would have the common sense to agree that an individual black, white or green should possess identification to prove the voting process is handled in a legal diplomatic order. The polling hours are advertised (or should be), in advance to give people the opportunity to get proper identification and allow them time to make arrangements to arrive at the polls. This is a legal right to vote, and employers can not keep any citizen from accomplishing that right to vote. As far as poverty goes, that is not just a black thing and involves some percentage of personal responsibility. I just cleaned out my brothers belongings in a hotel room, as he was arrested for a felony crime, and won’t be needing anything for several years. I don’t feel sorry for him and could care less if he spends the rest of his life in prison, but he had a choice of what to do and what not to do. Society can not be responsible for the decisions people make, and if they are bad decisions, they can’t be set as a stereotype of the person’s skin color!

  • william b. harvey

    I have taken the position that a big part of why the race discussion isn’t over is because it hasn’t really occurred in the predominantly white colleges and universities throughout America and so the opportunity to share perspectives of future leaders is being missed.

    Bill Harvey

  • On Wednesday, August 28, thousands of people will go to Washington D.C. and commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This first march focused on civil and economic rights for African Americans and has been credited with advancing the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

    Since the 1963 March on Washington, there have been many notable accomplishments made by African Americans in business, sports, education, science and politics, including the election of the first African-American president, President Barack Obama. However, given the status of Black America, how far have we really come?

    As many prepare for the March on Washington 2013, African Americans are still fighting for a rightful place in American society. Issues of voting rights, affirmative action, incarceration, health disparities, unemployment rates, racial profiling policies of stop and frisk, and gun violence continue to plague Black communities. And ultimately, the George Zimmerman verdict of not guilty reinforced the generational trauma that African American people have suffered for centuries at the hand of a racialized system that aggressively maintains a particular racial order.

    When the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world is compelled to show his “citizenship papers” we see the racialized system at work. It is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era that required Blacks to prove their status, when traveling or doing anything that whites considered questionable. One’s educational accomplishments, content of character, or law-abiding status did not matter.

    Over the years of I have seen made for TV series (Alex Haley’s Roots, Eyes on the Prize) and movies (Glory, The Long Walk Home, The Help) that have documented and portrayed the African American struggle to change America’s racialized system so that Blacks are treated as full citizens. I have learned a great deal and have been moved to tears by this work.

    However, with the recent movie release of Lee Daniel’s The Butler, I paused. Why? Because ironically “The Butler” is a reminder that whether you are an African American butler in the White House or the African American President in the White House, the system of racism negatively impacts us ALL, regardless of our station in life.

    So, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the battles that were fought and won, must be fought again.

    “I know one thing we did right,
    Was the day we started to fight.
    Keep your eyes on the prize,
    Hold on, hold on”.– From a traditional civil rights song, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

    Now that I live and work in Canada as a chief diversity officer at a postsecondary organization, the idea of citizenship and having a rightful place in a country that prides itself in the notion of equal rights, freedom and citizenship, it much more relevant for me. This occasion is historic but also a reminder of the work that needs to be done and redone.

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