On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama after refusing to cede her seat to a white passenger on the bus. This wasn’t the first time this happened in America, but Parks’ refusal to get up created a spark. The spark led to the Montgomery bus boycott. The bus boycott paved the way for an even bigger event: the Civil Rights Movement.
Overall, the civil rights movement lasted over a decade. Along the way there were sit-ins at the ‘whites only’ lunch counter at Woolworth’s in North Carolina, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and several pieces of civil rights legislation.
No doubt, it was a long struggle, so much so that many would argue we are still fighting it, albeit in different ways.
Over the past few months there have been three high- profile incidents that have harkened back to the days of that important movement.
First, Paula Deen admitted using a racial slur in a court deposition. Second, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin and third, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video angrily using the same racial slur as Deen.
Much of the nation was rightfully outraged even if the outrage has become completely predictable.
Deen’s cookbooks and cookware were taken off store shelves. Twitter was filled with vitriol after the Zimmerman verdict and Cooper was excused from team activities this week so he could attend counseling.
But within a week that outrage has already died out.
Deen just turned down a chance to be on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” This is significant because the network was apparently willing to give her a prime spot on its hit show just weeks after the controversy surrounding her.
In other words, they didn’t fear a boycott or protests. Cooper’s teammate, Jason Avant, said, “As far as our team, guys are definitely over it.” So too, it seems, is America.
There are two things to glean from this.
The first is shortened attention spans. If Martin Luther King had to give his speech today instead of 50 years ago, he’d probably have to limit his text to 140 characters or less if he wanted people to pay attention.
Back then it took years to finally put an end to those despicable “whites only” signs. Today a Facebook page would be created to generate “likes” and share outrage. After clicking “like” people would mostly just move on.
That’s the second thing to glean: America’s addiction to outrage. Outrage at Paula Deen. Outrage at Riley Cooper. Outrage at George Zimmerman. Outrage at the Zimmerman jury. Outrage at the Zimmerman family.
It’s all outrage all the time and because of that the search is already on for the next subject to be outraged about.
It’s a shame, too. These stories have left behind important questions.
Questions such as:
Why do so many Americans lock their car doors when young, black men walk by? Why are people afraid of hoodies?
Does saying one racial slur make someone a racist or just racially insensitive?
What does it mean to truly be a racist in 2013?
Is it still acceptable for rappers to use the same word in their songs that outraged millions? If so, why? Jay-Z thinks it is acceptable, Oprah does not. Why?
Quentin Tarantino seems to always find a way to work it into the dialogue in his movies. What makes that different from Paula Deen’s use?
These questions will never be answered. Which is a shame. They’d make for some great debates. But, they’ll never be answered because America’s outrage culture can’t stand still long enough.