When social, political and racial tensions arise, leaders tend to make calls for civility. Civility calls for a formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech. The reason why civility so often fails is because polite behavior is tossed by the wayside in instances of hatred, violence, and mean-spirited actions. Civility cannot prevail under those conditions. We are living in yet another historic moment in our nation’s struggle to work through the legacy of racism. Civility appears to have ended. We are seeing civil wrongs, not civil rights, and disrespect, rudeness, arrogant, blatant inhumanity.
Civility is incompatible with evil actions, racism and foul behavior. If civility is about showing respect, there is nothing respectable about racism, foul behavior and evil actions. Because racism is not supposed to be civil or kind, there cannot be civility with the existence of evil actions and foul behavior. These actions turn civility upside down. Inappropriate actions and racism are not courteous. It is not polite. It is not just, kind or inclusive. The call for civility often means just a perpetuation of “business as usual.” The problem with “business as usual” is evident in the continuing oppression, destruction of people of color in the United States, and the actions and behaviors of political parties and candidates, and many individuals. Civility cannot excuse any of this. If civility is to mean anything, it must be coupled with restraint, facts, compassion, and justice.
We are facing a historical, extremely low period of lack of civility. Our cities, states and nation are going through what appears to be a continuous cycle that happens over and over again. Civil rights movements and protests, violent altercations, various protests, many calls for order, and simple decency towards one another. Re-rinse and repeat. Again, and again, and again.
The NAACP is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization in America. We know this pattern all too well. Yes, we need civility now. We need politeness in speech and behavior. We always have. Addressing power, greed, racism can be a precondition to civility. We must create a new civility by eliminating the incivilities of intolerance and hatred. It is time for a civility rooted in civil rights and not civil wrongs. I believe we are all better than what we are currently experiencing in our cities, states, nation and the world. We must be civil, or we will be lost and destroy our humanity!
~Naomi Rainey-Pierson, President, LB Branch NAACP & 3rd Vice President, CA/HI NAACP State Conference