Our American values have changed over the years. Although we have always lived by the iconic phrase, “All men are created equal”, that has not always been entirely true. This piece will be using three articles to detail how far we’ve come since 1776, and how far we still need to go to achieve true equality.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This line from the Declaration of Independence (US 1776) is one of the core ideas that our country was founded on, and continues to influence us even today. But when this line was first written by future president John Adams in 1776, it was not completely truthful. African American slaves were considered less than human, as property, even as the founding fathers sent this document of independence over the sea to King George III. Abraham Lincoln tried to change that on New Year’s day in 1863, by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the southern states. The fact that Lincoln chose to issue this executive order in the middle of a civil war over just that shows how important he found it, so important that it had to be done as quickly as possible.
Even with this executive order put in place, it would be another 100 years before true equality was created under the law for blacks. But African Americans were not the only minority group being repressed. Native Americans have been attacked and looked as a lesser people ever since the US started to expand westward, and before that with the spanish explorers. Sherman Alexie’s article “Superman and Me” talks about how difficult it was for him to succeed living on a reservation, as he was not expected or pushed to. He talks about how it was rare for an indian to leave the reservation to go to a white school, and how the native american schools were poorly run with old supplies. I feel like this line sums it up the best, when Alexie talks about his childhood in the third person, “If he’d been anything but an Indian boy living on the reservation, he might have been called a prodigy. But he is an Indian boy living on the reservation and is simply an oddity”(Alexie, para 4). He also talks about how “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non Indians alike”(Alexie, para 5). These lines show how becoming smart was not only not encouraged, but rather looked down upon and made out as if it was a bad thing, even by the Indians themselves. This is the key point from this article. If neither the minority or the majority feel like they are equal to one another, then how can anyone else consider so?
My final point revolves not around discrimination based on race, but discrimination based on the way someone speaks or acts, a type of discrimination that we have seen too many times, whether as a victim, a bystander, or even as part of the guilty party. Bullying has become a big topic across the United States and the world in recent years, and with good reason. People tell others to stop being mean, but also the say to the victims to not let their words get to them, to know that they are not actually what they are being called. But in our modern world, many people know that this is not possible. “To This Day”, written and spoken by Shane Koyczan, tries to explain how words really do affect people on a deep level, as evident when he said, “That rhyme about sticks and stones, as if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called” (Koyczan, 38-40). This, I believe, is just as important as discrimination based on race or gender, as it it mostly experienced by children, whose young, impressionable minds allow for these insults to impact them for the rest of their lives. Koyczan talks about this very thing when speaking of a woman who was bullied for having a large birthmark on her face, “To this day, despite a loving husband, she doesn’t think she’s beautiful” (Koyczan, 70-72). It’s truly sad that people will never see themselves as the good people they truly are just because they look or act a little different.
Alexie, Sherman, “Superman and Me”, LA Times,19 Apr. 1998
Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.
Koyczan, Shane “To This Day” Youtube, 9 Feb. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltun92DfnPYTags: bullyingEqualityOkemos High School
The Fight for Equality by Conor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.