Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Equality . . . For All

Throughout the history of the United States, equality for all people has been fought for and won time and time again. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence ”that all men are created equal,” and over time equal rights have been gradually extended to different groups of people. However, equality has never been achieved without heated debate, despite our country’s founding principle that all people are created equal in the first place.

The language used to seek equality has remained familiar over time. Posters demanding equal rights (pictured) contain messages we have all seen or heard. One of my theories is that since the human life span is finite, the message of equality has to be relearned by each generation as it comes to realize that more work needs to be done.

If humans lived longer, would full equality across racial and gender lines have been acquired by now? Ask yourself: Would women suffragists from the 1920s, who so anti-semitism is anti-mevehemently demanded the right to vote, think it was fine for African Americans to be denied this same right? It depends. My theory also includes the caveat that empathy for others does not always translate into citizens banding together for the greater good. Then again, the social evolution of the United States is progressing. This progression is the reason the language and message of equality remains relevant.

Equality is a shared goal that not everyone enjoys. Racial intolerance for one group is no different than bigotry for another. Denying equality for a particular group plays into the kind of discriminatory trap that makes no sense if one applies the very same principles of equality indiscriminately. All people are created equal, period.

The Declaration of Independence was written with the hope of possibility. Think about it—the signers of this document were declaring a new and independent country! separate is unequalJefferson’s words made a statement about human rights that became the foundation for a country unlike any other in the world. The signers never anticipated that their vision would eventually embrace so many different kinds of people, but that is the beauty of it. The Declaration was groundbreaking because it provided a foundation of principles and moral standards that have endured to modern times and that accommodate human evolution and its capacity for acceptance.

Stepping back and viewing all these posters as a whole, one could come to two conclusions. First: the human race does not learn from history. Second: humans love unitesrepeat the same mistakes over and over. However, I believe that the preservation and repurposing of the messages of protest in all their different forms are evidence that we do learn from history, and that we apply these tactics when the moment calls for them.

Similar to my previous posts on Race-Based Comedy and Race in Advertising, this post is a small glimpse into a bigger topic that welcomes further discussion. These subjects would be commonplace in a college syllabus, but is there any reason why we shouldn’t introduce dialogue about such issues into our daily lives? At the dinner table, instead of asking your kids how their day was at school and receiving a one-word answer, try bringing up issues that are important to you. If you care about some form of injustice and you voice your opinion honestly, your kids may sense the gravity of the conversation and weigh in with something just as meaningful.

12 thoughts on “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Equality . . . For All”

  1. Jason,
    Thank you for this, and all of your posts on the topic of equality, race, prejudice, etc. I don’t always comment, but I always read and come away with something to think about.

    Sometimes I want to comment but can’t find a way to formulate the response I want in a brief comment. I’m working on getting better at that. I guess I’d prefer a face-to-face conversation because so much can be misunderstood from a written comment.

    I agree that parents need to have important conversations over the dinner table. I find it especially important for my Caucasian kids who live in a predominantly Caucasian (and Christian) town. We love living so close to nature but struggle with the lack of diversity here.

    Our most recent conversation with our ten year old son (related to equal rights) was about the fact that the Boy Scouts are currently reviewing their position on homosexuals in the Scouts. We clearly stated that we don’t agree with the current policy and hope it will change. I know our son had already internalized our opinions over the years, both through the people we are friends with and the conversations we’ve had with him, but we keep talking about it.

    We have diverse friends, but there’s also that issue of who you befriend in the first place. I no more want to befriend a person simply because he or she is of a different ethnic group than I want to mindlessly go around being friends with only Caucasians. But that is a tempting trap to fall into when there are so few people of color who live in your town…

    All of this means we need to find creative ways to expose our kids to people of different races, religions, cultures, lifestyles, etc. Sometimes we have friends in our lives who provide the diversity. Other times we read great books with characters of different ethnicity or religion, or we travel to a city that is more diverse. And we always need to stimulate open conversations with our kids even when the topics are difficult.

  2. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for chiming in. What you describe is the effort one puts forth to push your kids and yourself out of your collective comfort zones. But it is an important effort to make. And kids are watching, taking mental notes, and taking a lot to heart. You sound like you are in a situation where you could easily opt to maintain the status quo, but have chosen to take it up a notch. Good for you.

    And I might add that for someone who is hesitant to comment you did great. Keep it up – this is a safe place to discuss these issues.

  3. I applaud Lee and Low for providing us with this forum to discuss the still controversial topics of race, equality and justice. In light of the tensions, violence and wars our children hear about and some experience it behooves us to provide our youngest citizens with comprehensive and age appropriate literature to help them learn about and understand their world.

    For this reason, I support the initiative to get publisher of nonfiction to include Palestine in their series:
    The children and grandchildren of Palestinian refugees are members of our communities. On our shelves we have books about the countries our country is at war with yet we have no age-appropriate informative titles to put in the hands of Palestinian-American children. We have nothing about the land of their mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers (with the exception of one page in Lonely Planets not for Parents travel guide. Thank you, Lonely Planet!)

    For this reason, I support this initiative:

    I would welcome a nonfiction title published by Lee and Low as well.

  4. Desiree,
    The only book about Palestine that we have published so far is:
    Sharing our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp.

    While I share your sentiment that there should be more books published about Palestine I want to state to our readers that I have not seen or read the books that you have posted a link to above. For this reason I am not endorsing your campaign to get these books to a wider audience since I cannot vouch for the quality of the books themselves.

    1. You didn’t read the info on the link. You are correct. These books do not exist. The purpose is to petition Scholastic and others to include Palestine in their country book series.

  5. I was a preschool teacher then.
    One girl came to me and said that so and so was not sharing…because she was dark.
    I made her sit by me and told her that I needed to talk with Miss D,(my African American assistant)and I would talk to the boy right after that. I kept my hand on her shoulders.
    I asked Miss D, who sat across the room, if she was free and that we needed this talk while the children were busy.
    I told the children to focus on their work and not listen to our conversation…since we couldn’t use our out-side voice,please work quietly.
    I asked Miss D if she liked pizza.
    She said, “I love it. Don’t you?”
    I said, “I do. Tell me Mis D, do you hurt when you bump into a chair?”
    “Oh, it hurts bad. Don’t you?”
    “Hey, I do too. How about when you get a scraped knee, do you bleed red?”
    “Yep, everyone bleeds red, don’t you?”
    One boy interrupted, “Insects don’t bleed red.”
    “You are right, but shh…Miss D and I are talking.”
    “Miss D, you are just like me, when I get a cut, I also see my red blood. One more question, when you pee, is it yellow?”
    “Miss M, what a silly question, everyone pees yellow.”
    We talked like this for 3-4 minutes about different feelings and our reactions.
    “Miss D, I’m so glad, we are the same. Let’s hug.”
    As we hugged, I sad, “Miss D, you are so much bigger than me, but I can still hug you. Thanks.”
    We returned to our seats and I told the little girl to ask the boy again if he’d share.
    He shared very nicely.
    We, the adults have to start making children aware of being the same, very-very early.
    Thanks for an opportunity to share.
    Meera Shah (I am an East Indian–with a non-white color :-))
    (Based on this incident, my story was published in Stories for Children in 2007.)

  6. What a beautiful story Meera, I applaud you for the gentle and wise lesson you imparted your young children at the very tender age when lessons like this one can really imprint.

    It is only when one learns to see with the eyes of the soul that one can achieve equality. This, however is a feat that for some takes a lifetime and for others it never comes. However with each book that talks about “the other” ignorance is chipped away leading the way to some knowledge that in turn may bring tolerance if not equality. Books, conversations around the dinner table, gentle lessons from wise teachers can only help.

  7. It seems that the hope for equality (race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.) needs to be re-taught with every generation. I believe it’s because inequality is so terribly institutionalized and ingrained. And as long as there is the dream of being elite, there will always be inequality and discrimination. I’m convinced that it’s human nature. I don’t mean to sound hopeless and I do feel we’ve made some progress over the years; but I believe it’s human nature to group, categorize, even put ourselves with like minds, looks and experiences, sometimes with disdain for others’. I think it’s that too many people don’t get it — that equality starts with humility, respect for differences, the appreciation of perspectives, and the knowing that we are all children of the Universe and members of the same family.

  8. Phyllis, I agree/disagree with you. On the one hand you are right; there are many who choose not get it and want inequality to continue because it benefits them. On the other hand people can change. I remember reading an interview with C.P. Ellis a former Klu Klux Klansmen in the book Working by Studs Terkel. Ellis, a man consumed by racism/hate, is reluctantly thrust into working with an African American woman named Ann Atwater to start a union. At first they can’t stand each other, but as they spent more time together they realized the things they had in common; being poor, lacking worker’s rights, wanting a better life for their children far outweighed any differences they had. They gained enormous respect for one another and became close friends. Later Ellis left the Klan and became a civil rights activist. My point is anything is possible. The wedge between people may seem insurmountable but only if we let ourselves be kept apart. Once the lines of communication are opened there is hope.

  9. Sorry, Desiree. I assumed you were pitching a book to these two publishers. Now that I’ve read the link, the amount of support you’ve received so far is encouraging. I’m not sure how many signatures you would need to sway their decision-making, but over 700 signatures is nothing to sneeze at.

Comments are closed.