Sunday, March 16, 2008

How quickly we forget

In the United States, women were not given the right to vote until 1920. That was eighty-eight years ago. I know living people who are older than my right to vote. It took until 1968 for the U.S. to declare all forms of racial segregation to be illegal. A mere forty years ago and my African-American classmates would not have been my classmates. Forty years is a blink of an eye.

Today, many people act, think, and speak as if this is ancient history. As if, now that it is legal for women to vote and for black people to drink from the same fountain as white people, now that the law supports equality, there are no more problems. But these problems still exist. Power, money, and representation remains unequally distributed and we continue to live in an unjust society, even if the laws are now just.

There exists entire political ideologies dedicated to turning a blind eye to the inequalities around us. When one refuses to see the non-legal impediments to success, it's easy to believe that anybody can do anything.

And at this point, technically I suppose anybody may do anything. Laws no longer bar me from the voting booth or public office yet when I look at my representatives, most of them do not look like me. Why should I believe that they are the best people to serve my interests? Am I really to believe that the people who do look like me are less competent, less able to act in my best interest?

I know that there are no longer laws blocking people like me from influential positions. I know that people like me are capable and meriting of holding these influential positions. So I have to look elsewhere, away from laws and merit, to explain the fact that people who look like me are usually not the people in power.

And the answer that I find when looking elsewhere is that we live in a prejudiced society. Things do not appear equal because things are not equal. People who look like me have to fight twice as hard and be twice as good to get half as far as the people who look like my representatives. It's not the law, it's how we see people, treat people, and think of people. We cannot ignore the fact that, while our constitution does say that all humans are created equal, we frequently act otherwise.

We will not live in a just and free society until we recognize that laws are not the only burdens placed upon the traditionally marginalized.


Adam said...

Hear hear!

Demirep said...

Great post. I am absolutely sick of people ignoring inequality and injustice just because the law says it doesn't exist. That is a cop out that people use to preserve their own privilege while keeping up the appearance of liberalism. In fact, I would argue that because of the laws in place to create a more egalitarian society, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, ablism and any other forms of discrimination that I have left out have just taken on more insidious forms in order to circumvent those very laws that allow hypocrites to say that anyone has a chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they so choose. I'll stop here before I get tangential (oops, it appears I already have).

Ann Thrope said...

Demirep - I think you make a good point regarding the transition to insidious -isms now that the laws of the land are more or less just. You're welcome to get tangential in my comment section any time, that's what it's here for =)