Happy Birthday, Civil Rights Act of 1964

Happy Birthday, Civil Rights Act of 1964

Yes, today is the day: the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A foundation piece of President Johnson’s Great Society, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. The law’s remedies have been enhanced, but the basic principles remain the same. Employers, employment agencies and unions cannot use one of the protected categories as a reason to make a hiring or firing decision, to demote or promote someone, or to determine the terms and conditions of employment.

Courts have taken various strategies to make proving the cases difficult, true. And one can sense some weariness with discrimination complaints, as though we should have equality and people who continue to complain are making excuses. Interesting psychological experiments show that we all have some unconscious or subconscious bias, however, including members of the disadvantaged group. Racism and sexism continue to underlie many of the ways we look at the world.

Nevertheless, we know we should root it out, and many people have good intentions. In 50 years we have added the ideal of color and sex-blind workplace decisions to our cultural understanding, even if we do not always achieve the goal.

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