The Sunday Salon: On true equality and perceived equality
Sunday, June 28, 2015
This has been quite an interesting week for the US. First, the Confederate flags have started coming down and then the pride flags went up. I had taken the day off from work on Friday when the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Honestly, I didn't see that one coming. I did believe that some day in the future, same-sex marriage was not going to be a big deal at all, like it is now. But to me, that future appeared to be way out there. After all, (loosely condensing several decades of US history) slavery was abolished in 1865, there was still racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement gained traction, and we are still seeing racially motivated attacks today. The Stonewall riots happened in 1969 and same-sex marriage got legalized only this week. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and even today, they are often passed up for promotions or raises in favor of men, they don't get decent maternity leave, and god forbid if a woman tries to find a job while carrying a babe in her belly.
My point is that granting of legal rights, while the most important thing that should happen because it gives victims the power to present their case and fight it in a court of law, does not make the world equal. As excited and emotional and thrilled as I was after Friday's ruling, I realized the irony of it - that we are celebrating the fact that a group of people have just been granted equal rights - to marry whomever they wanted to. Stephen King summed this up so perfectly:
It is important to remember that while the US law now sees (almost?) everyone as equals, there will still be subtle discrimination in this country, just as there still is both blatant and subtle discrimination in the rest of the world. There are countries where LGBT people are viewed as ungodly, where women are stoned to death, where news about rapes are shrugged off as commonplace, where a different-looking face or name is cause enough for people to shun that person, where mental issues are considered a stigma, where honor killings are encouraged, and where people are murdered just because they think differently or oppose their government's stand.
Yes, for all these acts of intolerance, there are people out there doing good things too. But it's not enough. And not enough people are doing those good things. We need to stop making excuses that because I am not a woman/gay/colored/white/ill, I don't know what it feels like to be persecuted and therefore I am not qualified to do anything. When people around us suffer, it is already our problem. We are long past the stage where we could stay away from others' battles. How did we become immune to some kinds of discrimination? Why should the court have to legalize same-sex marriage? Why did Malala have to get shot before people sat up and took notice? Why are shootings still happening today - haven't we lost enough of our kids and loved ones? Why does the press glaze over news about wars and discrimination because hey, it's old news that isn't sensational anymore. Yes, a horrible event is usually how awareness comes about. But who are we kidding - we all knew about every one of these tragedies long before it even happened.
I am a strong believer of the idea that tolerance begins in schools. Both responsible and intolerant adults are created there. Yes, in their own homes too, and as long as some parents remain discriminating (and we know these kinds exist), their kids will likely get directed towards the same beliefs. But there is still hope as long as there is diversity in books and curriculum. There is a chance today's kids will look back and ridicule the fact that we (their past) had some crazy beliefs.
I am very well aware that this isn't an issue with a straightforward answer. I am also aware that there are a lot of viewpoints missing from my post. And that the solution isn't as simple as writing a post about it. I also feel that I am probably preaching to the choir as most people believe in the idea of equality - we just have different ways to apply it. If I went that deep in to this topic (and I do feel that we all should), I could write a book about it. But then, we will be dangerously guilty of talking a lot and doing nothing. Which is exactly the status quo today. We are talking a LOT. We are doing very little.
Ultimately, my point is this - we should make every problem in this world our problem. We should hold accountable the people we vote to power. We should not sit back and act helpless when we feel powerless. We should not just talk but also act. We should teach our kids to respect differences right from the time they start exploring the world, even before they have started going to elementary school. This is going to be their problem tomorrow. For every blessing we are thankful for, we need to be aware that there are kids out there who cannot go to school, who live in the streets or are enslaved. We need to learn to not judge people for the choices they make, as long as those choices aren't discriminatory or terrorist or hurtful. A country doesn't become free because its law declares everyone equal. That happens only when a woman can walk alone in the streets (in any country) at 3 am without worrying about being raped, or a student isn't treated differently because of the color of his/her skin, or each person can marry his or her love without a bakery refusing to cater at their wedding because their marriage is ungodly or unconstitutional.