Equality is defined as the quality or state of being equal. That is a notion that all Americans seem to revere and cherish as a quality particularly unique to us, as a people. Now, I grant you that it is nice to think of it as a part of our fabric that is universally shared by all who claim to be “American,” whatever that means. Contrary to the popular conception that we are one people, I view us as a collection of special interests, each with a different persuasion and a different agenda relative to our ethnicity and our economic, social and political interests. Our history supports and gives credence to that fact, regardless of how much we may want to believe otherwise.
Before venturing further into this treatise, let me acknowledge the power and influence of religion on our perceptions of what equality means to each of us. After all, the roots of what we perceive to be the
of today were first planted on the shores of this nation with the arrival of European settlers seeking a new life free from religious persecution. I respect the religious beliefs of everyone, but I do not subscribe to the notion that religion is anything more than a system of beliefs. None can empirically prove the existence of the Deity. Each is what it is, predicated on a simple set of beliefs. I do not believe, no matter how fervent one may choose to profess otherwise, that God does not talk to any of us nor do any of us enjoy favored status with a heavenly being. At best, we can only ascribe to our concept of God what we would like to think are our own individual and collective virtues. I reject out of hand any admonition that anything one may purport to be absolute is anything more than a simple belief. The sheer brilliance of our Founding Fathers is reflected in the fact that they chose to establish this nation on a system of laws, not divine beliefs. It is the rule of law that is supreme, a fact of our existence we should not lose sight of. America
I was born and raised in the State of
, coincidentally the motto of which is “The Equality State.” The ideals embodied in that motto versus what I experienced growing up in that State clearly relegates the motto to an ideal, not necessarily a way of life. Wyoming
My earliest recollection of what were the beginning of my life’s experiences are rooted in the foothills around Hart Mountain, Wyoming where my Dad was working as a laborer on the construction of an internment camp for Japanese Americans at the beginning of World War II. That was my introduction to one of many definitions of what “equality” meant. Later in life, when I was a university student, I was dating a Japanese American girl. Rather suddenly, she was called home, causing us to break a date for the movies. When she returned, she told me that her family had forbidden her to see me again. I was stunned, but I later found out that her grandfather once owned a large truck farm in the Imperial Valley of California. At the beginning of World War II, he and his family were removed from that farm and transferred to one of the internment camps for Japanese Americans. As a result of that twist of fate, he lost his entire farm to a “real” American and never recovered from the loss. His bitterness was firmly woven into the fabric of his family and the innocence of my intrusion into their family, I am sure, must have bordered on treason. I never saw Nobuko again. Their meaning of “equality” did not square with mine.
During World War II, Mexican laborers migrated from
to the sugar beet fields in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming. They were referred to as “Spics,” receiving a paltry wage for their back-breaking labor, isolated from the local social structure, and consigned to a rudimentary housing camp on the banks of the Mexico . I often wonder what “equality” meant to them. Big Horn River
Later and early in my adolescence, we lived in the small town of Thermopolis where I went to school and worked as a soda jerk in my Uncle’s drug store. It was there that I first witnessed the station to which the Native Americans of the Arapahoe and Shoshone Tribes were consigned. In those days, it was a federal offense to sell liquor to the “Indians.” The only time we saw them in numbers was during the annual rodeo. They would gather on the streets of town, many of whom would spend the entire time in a stuporous state induced by the consumption of bay rum, shaving lotion or vanilla extract. I wonder what “equality” meant to them.
There were two blacks living in that town with a population of around 2,500. One was “Nigger Nate” who shined shoes at the local barber shop, and “Bob” who was the janitor at the local bank. On one occasion I invited Bob to have lunch with me. He reluctantly accepted, but it was difficult for him to accompany me into the café. Once seated, he told me he could not stay. I insisted that he remain, we had a nice lunch and became fast friends. I often wonder what “equality,” meant to both of those men.
Throughout our history, equality must have had a vastly different meaning to all of those who occupied a specific place in the pecking order of these
. I wonder what equality meant to the Chinese laborers who worked in the gold fields of United States of America and were hunted for sport on weekends by the sourdoughs mining for the riches they hoped would emancipate them from their station in life. California
The infamous expulsion of the Cherokees from the South and their “trail of tears” to the
territories must have surely given new meaning to what equality meant for them. Oklahoma
Then there are all of the Native Americans consigned to some of the poorest real estate in the nation, living at or below the subsistence level and relegated to obscurity from main stream
. As they were brutally murdered, had their lands stolen from them, and died from starvation and exposure to the elements in the cold and brutal winters on the plains and in the mountains, I wonder what equality meant to them. Their station in life hasn’t changed much over the years, and I still regard them as the real “forgotten” Americans among us. The blatant failure of the U.S. Indian Service to invoke and uphold “equality” on their behalf has always and still remains a national disgrace. America
There has been wave after wave of immigrants to the shores of this country. Each came here seeking a better life free of poverty, and ethnic and religious persecution. They started at the bottom, and through determination and hard work; most of them progressed up the social and economic ladder to take their places as full members of all this country had to offer. Most of them were absorbed into the mainstream of this country, some later rather than sooner. It was not all that long ago that the much coveted vote of the Latinos in this last election belonged to an almost invisible group of “bra ceros or wetbacks” who labored in the fields so we, mainstream America, could enjoy the luxury of cheap produce to grace our dinner tables.
I find it difficult to reconcile the concept of a nation founded on a dubious claim that God intended for them to reclaim and settle a “promised land,” by disenfranchising and brutalizing an entire population that had lived on and farmed that land for centuries. As the land was reclaimed on the basis of divine will, the rightful inhabitants were marginalized and relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Since then, there has been a relentless move to annex lands that were rightfully taken from Palestinians for the sake of a greater Israel, a nation that claims to be our closest and staunchest ally, yet has a history of spying on the United States, attacking a United States Naval vessel, the USS Liberty, in international waters and sapping vast economic resources from the people of the United States in order to subsidize their existence and to provide them with a defense establishment that is second to none in the Middle East. Where is the notion of equality in all this?
We have an enclave of Cuban exiles living in the United States that exert tremendous financial and political influence in order to keep Cuba isolated from fully participating as an equal among nations. It is yet another example of keeping the specter of phony subversion of another “boogey man” from undermining this nation. Our politicians pander to that minority for the sake of shoring up their own political ambitions. The rest of us fall for the ruse and look the other way. As a matter of fact, through the courage and leadership of John F. Kennedy in dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis,
Cuba and Fidel Castro ceased to be a threat to the long ago. However, the contrived threat to our sovereignty has kept the people of United States economically and politically marginalized as a full partner in the international community for over forty years! What still remains their reality today should have been relegated to history a long time ago, their sovereignty should be recognized and they should be full trading partners with the Cuba and, indeed, the world. I think the people of United States have been punished long enough for supporting Fidel Castro, today a frail and aged man. He may have been the dragon of yesterday, but there is no fire coming from his nostrils today. Had we embarked on a mature and enlightened relationship with Cuba , who knows how quickly they might have made the transition to a democratic form of government? But, the money and politics of an enclave of nationalistic zealots have managed to trump common sense. Where is the notion of equality in all this? Cuba
Taking this dichotomy a step further and focusing on the economic reality of the
, why is there such a vast disparity in the recognition and power of organized labor versus what is enjoyed by big business, international corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? Hasn’t the time come to level the playing field so everyone has an equal place at the table? Isn’t it time for us to infuse the concept of equality into the equation? United States
Hasn’t the time come for this country to adopt a mature stance and think in terms of equality for everyone rather than pander to fragmented special interests and the agendas of an influential and powerful few?
It’s about time the tail stopped wagging the dog.
The Sagebrush Philosopher
November 17, 2012