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Author Myrlie Evers-Williams is a trailblazer as an activist for civil rights

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Current issues facing African-Americans

February 21, 2001
Web posted at: 5:36 PM EST (2236 GMT)

African-Americans are no longer fighting for equal access or the right to vote, but many people still feel that several battles remain for racial equality. Social issues such as racial profiling, affirmative action and the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag have replaced the issues of the past with a mission for the future.

Racial profiling

Laws exist requiring businesses, employers and government agencies to treat people of different races equally. However, decades after authorities implemented those laws, two federal agencies -- the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Department -- have admitted that they rely on racial characteristics when deciding whether to inspect someone's bags when they enter the country or detain them when they cross the border. And the United States Commission on Civil Rights has determined that New York City police do the same thing. That practice, making a person a suspect based on skin color, is known as racial profiling.

Many African-Americans consider racial profiling to be the 21st century version of Jim Crow. After slavery, segregation laws known as Jim Crow, required African-Americans to use separate water fountains, bathrooms and public facilities. Equal access is now the law of the land, but the new discrimination of racial profiling has replaced it. Skin color, not evidence, is now cause for suspicion.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have asked for a federal review of the practice which violates a person's civil rights. The effect of concentrating law enforcement efforts on a particular race has created disparities throughout the judicial system. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights found that minorities are more likely than whites to be put to death, imprisoned and pulled over by traffic police. For example, African-Americans comprise 12 percent of the nation's population and 13 percent of the drug users. Yet, they constitute 38 percent of those arrested for drug-related crimes and 59 percent of those convicted of drug crimes.

Confederate flag

Many African-Americans view the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of bigotry and a reminder of the degradation and horrors of slavery. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups fly the Confederate battle flag -- white stars on a blue X with a red background. Organizations have fought to have state agencies remove the symbol from places of prominence and honor.

The NAACP initiated a boycott of South Carolina and requested legislators remove the battle flag from atop the state capital. Legislators moved the flag to an area on the capital grounds and the agency plans to continue the boycott which has cost the state more than $100 million. Georgia replaced its state flag -- which bore the symbol prominently -- with a state banner that makes the emblem less visible.

Many white Americans believe the flag is a symbol of southern heritage and is not racist. They have fought to maintain the battle flag prominently on state grounds and emblems. In 1997, a group of white people in Maryland argued in favor of keeping the battle flag on specialized license plates. A judge ruled in their favor.

Affirmative action

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first to use the phrase affirmative action in 1965 in Executive Order 11246. It stated that federal contractors needed to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated equally during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. Contrary to widely-believed myths, the law does not require the use of quotas or the employment of unqualified people.

A federal fact sheet on affirmative action states plainly that "Affirmative action is not preferential treatment. It does not mean that unqualified persons should be hired or promoted over other people. What affirmative action does mean is that positive steps must be taken to ensure equal employment opportunity for traditionally disadvantaged groups."

Under affirmative action, employers and universities sought qualified minorities to offer them the same opportunities that white people traditionally received almost exclusively. Many African-Americans are concerned that court rulings have weakened affirmative action policies and those organizations will no longer seek to employ, retain or admit African-American employees and students.

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