As 2017 unfolded, it forced me to think about our history as Americans. Sure, in school I learned a few things about women’s suffrage, slavery, and Martin Luther King Jr, but if we stepped back and took a closer look at America’s history, civil rights was not the popular idea as is seen today.
Black men were allowed to vote in the United States in 1870, before women of any color, but barriers like literacy tests, grandfather causes, and the poll taxes prevented most black men from voting. The voting rights act was not passed until 1965, 95 years after black men were allowed to vote. This new law made sure that every person (women, people of religious minorities, Latinos, People Living with Disabilties, LGBTQ identifying, and whites) are allowed to vote in the United States.
When you’re born into a generation when these rights already exist, it seems so strange to imagine that at one time, we voluntarily chose to let only Christian white men vote. Somehow it makes you think these rights were acquired overnight but they were not! When we look at where we are today and we see the discrimination due to religion, race, gender, sexual preference/identity, and ability, we should not be surprised.
Civil rights was something that we accomplished as a country on paper; however, we did not really continue fighting for it as a whole society. Instead, discrimination was shrouded in silence. We have laws in place to prevent these discriminations but a woman may still not get a job because of her gender or if she reveals that she is interested in having a family with children. Another person may not get a job because of the color of their skin. This is all due to the personal or corporate secret discriminations. Employment is merely one area where we see discrimination in modern times.
Let’s look at voting. How much different is the discrimination that exists between then and now? Representatives gerrymander their districts, effectively choosing their constituents rather than having the people choose who they want to represent them. This suppresses the votes of the very people to whom we have given the rights. This is done in a much more covert way than having things like literacy tests or poll taxes which was obviously meant to keep black or poor men from voting. So when we turn to our modern “It’s not my fault” mentality, we somehow feel that these rights are things we born with, not something people had to fight for and fight hard. When immediate justice is not served, we want to look to others for blame: the poor, the uneducated, the Russians. But when we step back and truly look at the history of discrimination in the United States, we can see that not only has it existed, but we can also see the people that have been discriminated against who continuously fought for their rights whether their actions quite often failed more than succeeded. Yet despite the failures, these people still got up and spoke their minds. They essentially became the thorns poking continuously in the sides of the people who were suppressing their rights. And all this was done in a world where getting a another person to listen about civil rights seemed anything short of being a miracle. So when we see discrimination and do nothing except complain about its existence on our social media while 20 of our friends hit the “like” button, are we really moving forward? Or will we need actual human action to express how important our rights are to us?
It is true that we have been tested this year as to what our beliefs are as Americans. To spite this, we must not forget the generations before us fought and fought hard to make sure we have the rights we all deserve. When you are feeling overwhelmed by the injustice you see, step away from the news, social media, and opinion blogs and look to your right and then to your left. Look at the people around you and remember no matter who see — a woman, a queer, a Latino family, a family of mixed race, or a person with a walker — just remember there were so many people before whom not only fought but gave their lives for these the rights we enjoy so far. Discrimination will never be completely extinguished. When any person is being marginalized, we are accountable to make our voices heard, to stand up for them, and to forever continue this fight that was so bravely started for us a very long time ago.