“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
–U.S. Declaration of Independence
For one of the richest men in Virginia, owner of the Monticello plantation and six hundred slaves, the term “equality” went only as far as his interests allowed. The United States is a melting pot of cultures, all of which pursue a better life and happiness. Yet, the terrible diaspora and slavery that left an indelible mark in the history of mankind was left out of Thomas Jefferson’s definition of equality that was lauded in the Declaration of Independence of United States.
Brick by brick a great nation was erected, and its official discourse would describe the United States as a proud, multicultural nation. A promise was made that no matter your skin color, religion, or past, you could create a new future for yourself.
The American Dream has attracted millions in what is seen as the most benign migration, a natural movement to a better life. Hundreds of ships set sail to Long Island in the first decades of the Twentieth century, all bearing dreams for a better future. There were other ships, however, in the previous centuries, enclosing within thousands of anguished souls taken by force and away from their homes and family. Vastly contrasting histories are intertwined, and to this day prejudices continue to hold sway and wounds are yet to be fully healed.
In sweeping terms, the end of the Civil War brought about the abolishment of slavery and inequality; however, segregation stepped in to fill in that divide and feed the foolish thoughts of race superiority.
The lines were drawn, and nothing was left untouched: cafés, highways, schools, underground stations, taxis, toilets, and all other establishments were marked with “White” or “Colored Only.”
“I wonder how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own.”
― Howard Zinn
This divide is deeply rooted in the psyche of the United States, and it created a code of conduct where everyone knew their place and everyone obeyed. Cities were neatly divided up, and the personas non-gratas were tucked away, hidden from sight.
The Civil Rights movement surged forth with such strength that is shook the very foundations upon which United States stood. Men and women followed the steps of Martin Luther King and others who marched for their rights to be respected and their voices to be heard. Finally in 1964, the Civil Rights law was enacted, which put an end to three centuries of inequality and racism.
Inequality continues to hold sway, and racism lies seething under the surface of the country. We have begun to see movements such as Black Lives Matter rise up in response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates the country. It points fingers against the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes and actively resists their dehumanization.
Howard Zinn rightly said, “Historically, the most terrible things –war, genocide, and slavery– have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.” It is by obeying these anarchic, terrible, and racist beliefs that we fall into the darkest pits of humanity. We need dissenting voices in a Democracy to fearlessly pursue what is right, and most of all, what is True.