Civil Rights Act Turns 50

Questioning the end of racism

The weirdness comes after dessert.

Micah and Schylon Kubic were born after the Civil Rights Act was passed, so the couple have never known the degradation of being refused service in a restaurant or the stomach flutters of wondering if they might be, even though he is white and she is black.

But no matter which restaurant they are in, in which part of town, or which server waits on them; no matter how often Schylon rests her left hand, the one with the ring, against her ear or cheek for everyone to see; and no matter how hard she wills the question away in her mind, it always comes:

“Separate checks?”

Every single time.

“I hate it. I absolutely hate it,” Schylon says, sitting on the couch of the couple’s Northland home. She is smiling, because she always smiles, but her hand creeps across a cushion toward Micah’s. “It always happened when we were dating. When we got married, I thought, ‘Oh good, I’ve got a ring; it’s going to stop.’ It didn’t stop.”

The Kubics are not bitter. It’s not in their genes. They were both raised by parents who were dreamers and who believed a better, colorblind society was dawning.

Schylon’s parents seized the opportunity afforded them by anti-discrimination housing laws and bought a home in a white neighborhood in the Raytown school district when she was in second grade.

“My parents worked really hard so they could move to a suburban area. They wanted us to go to good schools. I’ve only ever known integrated schools and being around people that didn’t look like me,” Schylon says.

Micah’s family lived in a good school district, North Kansas City. But when a federal judge ordered the Kansas City School District to enact a desegregation plan that resulted in magnet schools being built to entice white students from outside the district, Micah’s parents enthusiastically enrolled their first-grade son in an urban school. He rode in a taxi, paid for by the district, to and from school.

“My parents thought the desegregation was important and that it would give me exposure that I would otherwise not have,” Micah says.

Like Schylon, being in the minority seemed normal to Micah. He stayed in urban schools for eight years, until 1997, when the Supreme Court deemed the Kansas City plan a failure and threw it out, forcing Micah back into his own district.

“The first day of ninth grade, I walked in and everything looked suddenly, dramatically different. That’s when I noticed what life had been like before,” Micah says.

After graduating from North Kansas City High, Micah got his undergraduate degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then went to historically black Howard University to get a master’s and a doctorate in political science.

“African-American politics was my specialty, so where better to do that than Howard? Or, more to the point, it is about the only place to do it,” Micah says.

Schylon earned a bachelor’s in political science at the University of Missouri and got a job working for the Kansas City Council, where she met Micah. They are both still at City Hall; she is in Public Works, and he leads planning at the Full Employment Council.

Reflecting on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act, Micah says, “Racism isn’t as personal and vitriolic today. It’s not ‘I just hate you’ like it was before. Poll after poll shows that people, particularly young people, don’t think that racism exists at all anymore.

“If that is your mindset, it is noble, but it also stops you from doing something about the inequalities that are baked into the system. That’s why you get the Supreme Court last year getting rid of the real teeth of the Voting Rights Act.… We can say we are equal under the law, and it’s true in this big, purely legalistic sense, but in terms of what real people go through every day — it’s not.”

For Schylon, the idealism behind the Civil Rights Act is worth striving for, despite setbacks. Even though the expensive Kansas City desegregation plan failed, attending integrated schools enriched both their lives.

“In our formative years, we had to learn to get along with others, not as black or white, but simply as people. I think that is what allowed us to be open to a friendship and eventually marry.”

She is also optimistic that, one day, a single check will get dropped on the table after dessert.