Imagine the following scenario: a gay black woman runs for office and actually wins the presidential elections in the United States. At the current state of affairs, this is pure fantasy, but the general feeling is that we are, slowly but steadily, inching towards equal rights and liberty and justice for all. In the past, and to an extent even today, these are merely nice words that have not always been supported or backed-up by facts or deeds, underscoring the wide gap between theory and practice, wishful thinking and reality.
In fact, the issue of human rights has been a veritable struggle: It seems that throughout American history, equality has gained legal and social recognition and acceptance only one issue at a time. Let us look back at the founding years. In that time, slavery was seen as a common practice, at least until the Civil War broke out. That it took a war and internal bloodshed and strife to set the foothold on the path of equality for members of the African race is indeed a black spot in American history.
To be considered equal in the eyes of the many, African Americans had to struggle through various years and decades of civil conflicts, which reached its climax in the 60s; that it took another 50 years for an African American to become a president of the nation shows that the fight against bigotry and racism still contains many hurdles. There is, however, a positive upward trend and continuous hope since Obama managed to get re-elected despite fierce and passionate opposition, by, if the sources are to be trusted, mainly white rural Americans.
As I am considering that equal rights are fought over strongly and bitterly and that it is mainly achieved one step at a time, I want to emphasize two points. One, that any fight for human rights is filled with both perils and rewards, and two, that once granted we need to ensure that it is never taken away again.
We want to move forward not retrace our steps, so we do not go back to the period of ignorance. Nothing is for free nor given out freely; it took wars and bloodshed, pain and suffering to get there. Yet evidently we still need to make much more headway for true equality among the races and ethnic minorities to occur in everyday life.
In fact, I want to give the “benefit of the doubt” to some but not all white Americans. I do not think that it is necessarily fair to point fingers and lay blame on people's attitudes in the past.
Particularly, if you were living in the Pre-Civil War years and believed that slavery was acceptable because you in your ignorance and lack of scientific knowledge were under the mistaken assumption that black people were inferior, I may in my most forgiving and benevolent mood give you not the finger but the benefit of the doubt.
I am mentioning this for two reasons. One because we may stumble upon people and writers and thinkers who were considered enlightened and good at heart but who were trapped and wrapped up in the bigotry of their times and society.
To blame that great philosophers of those times were racist and sexist is an anachronistic way of looking at culture. By the standards of the times, they would have fallen into norms of that culture and society, their epoch or zeitgeist, and it would be not entirely fair to blame them for that. To illustrate this point, we may look at Thomas Jefferson, who may have ensured and documented freedoms and liberties by declaring “all men to be born free” (which was by some interpreted as only referring to “freemen” automatically excluding slaves), but who himself owned slaves. Although Jefferson opposed the practice of slavery, he also generally objected to masters freeing their slaves.
This rather stands in some contrast to other American presidents like Washington, Adams or Lincoln who clearly and unequivocally condemned the practice of slavery both in theory and in deed (although even that claim may be debatable). But again, we may forgive Jefferson's lack of clarity or clear perspective on the issue since his idea of equality among people was revolutionary in itself and since he was caught up in the economic fabric of the slave trade, a common practice of his times.
Two, any "benefit of the doubt" that I grant people in the past I revoke (with a vengeance) from current times. In fact, I double the blame. We cannot plead ignorance in modern times. Progress in science and rational thought have presented us with factual proof that racism is not only immoral but downright harmful and wrong. Experiences of the past including Nazi ideology and the persecution of the Jews or the atrocities under the Apartheid in South Africa clearly show us that there is nor should be any kind of tolerance or leeway for racial discrimination.
If writers and thinkers have racist beliefs in modern times, they belong into the same category of ignorance and stupidity that characterizes people who claim that the Earth is flat and the center of the world or that our planet is merely 6000 years old.
Out of the civil rights gains, another group, also heavily discriminated against, managed to effect a change in our consciousness and society: women. The feminist movement ensured that women be treated with the respect they deserve and that gender equality become steps closer than ever before.
Again, we are surely not fully there, as long as certain people believe that women can be condensed and enslaved in a “binder,” but only on the day when not just pay but also social status and respect be equally spread out among both genders will true equality become a flat fact.
This fight is definitely not over yet, and we must be careful of gender stereotypes as portrayed in media, culture and our surroundings and openly object to and denounce those practices. Both men and women need to do their part to ensure gender equality in our every day lives and for the future of our children.
Finally, last but not least, we need to look at gay rights. Again, there is significant progress made on the issue, one of them being the acceptance of gay marriage in certain parts of the nation. Although many are still opposed to this idea, state authorities need to ensure that gays receive equal stature and protection under the law.
This is our most recent struggle for freedom and equality. It is an essential step and the fight of our generation to make sure that people are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation.
Once gay people are fully integrated into every aspect and fabric of society, on Wall, Main and Sesame Street, in the military and in political office, then we can feel coming closer to true equality for all.
And by ensuring that, we can continue to move forward giving more rights and protection to our minorities and accepting that regardless of race, sexual orientation or religion, we are all the same. Once these ideas are not only protected and enshrined but built and lived upon, the opening scenario of a triply discriminated person – black, female, and gay – may not be just a figment of our imagination but may become a real possibility one of these days.