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Baby Steps Toward Full Equality


Fri, May 3rd, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Karen Reisner

Spring is a time of new beginnings, new life, and growth. Finally, winter is leaving us, kicking and screaming as it exits.

Social and cultural changes move at a snail’s pace and years of seasons come and go before evidence of change breaks ground and grows.

Two recent events are evidence of that growth. Barriers that separate us can be seeds for conflict whether they are based on prejudice, politics, religion, or one’s station in society.

In the 1954 landmark decision “Brown v. Board of Education” in a 9-0 decision the Supreme Court held that “separate but equal is inherently unequal” for public school education. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Society and culture is slow to catch up. This evidenced by the news that Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia recently had for the first time ever an integrated prom. The students made it happen. Cultural changes are more readily accepted and endorsed by the young. Four girls, two black and two white, used Facebook to enable the first integrated prom ever for their school. Amazingly, resistance to an integrated prom continues as white parents organized a white only prom for their kids. Parents have in past years sponsored the separate proms allowing them not to be officially sanctioned by the school.

Secondly, Jason Collins was the first male active major professional sports athlete to announce he was gay. All of us should be entitled to live our lives honestly without having to publicly live a lie to fit in. It shouldn’t make a difference whether a professional athlete is straight or gay. They shouldn’t have to hide who they are and they also shouldn’t have to announce their sexual orientation. It is only one part of the whole person and has no bearing on whether or not he is in this case a good basketball player.

Deep prejudices die out very slowly. Prejudices are harmful to society and communities. Unfortunately, some cultural changes only come about when older generations, that cling to what was, pass away taking the prejudices with them to their grave.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that there is anyone that is without prejudice. Our beliefs are instilled deep within us by our upbringing, our living environment, family, country and so on. Our ability to seek out and understand the society and cultures of those different from ourselves helps us to accept those differences and not be threatened by them.

We can make good life choices despite the ingrained prejudices by keeping an open mind, by exploring a variety of media and thinkers, and by not imposing limits and barriers or by erecting walls. Often getting to know someone of a different culture, sexual orientation, or religion helps to break that ingrained prejudice. We can learn that people different from ourselves often want the same things we want, like a family, a good job, a home, and so on. That which we saw as different is just one part of the whole person. We may find that this person is really not that different after all. We can concentrate on that which we have in common, that which makes us mostly alike.

Some complain that those that are in a cultural or social minority are in their face with what is different, for example, being gay. This is likely due to the person in the minority making the difference an issue in an effort to be tolerated and accepted equally. Once equality, tolerance and acceptance are achieved, the differences recede and the need to highlight the difference goes away.

An inability to accept others different from ourselves causes conflict and on a much greater scale can lead to war. We are in a world with limited space and a growing population. Acceptance of the differences in people is essential to getting along. Inequalities breed hatred, rebellion, and insurrection.

Each baby step that breaks down barriers to equality is a win for humanity. Change and acceptance of those that are different in some way is a sign of the maturing of our society. Supreme Court decisions and laws only lay out the framework. People often don’t accept change willingly, but need to be drug kicking and screaming into the evolving culture. I applaud the students in Georgia and Jason Collins for having the fortitude to put a few more cracks in the walls which separate us and limit our growth.

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