By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal
I could have titled this post homogeneity, inequity and exclusion but I think the words I chose seem a bit less provocative, though I know that raising any questions about the continuing racism, discrimination and social and physical inequalities in our country puts some people on edge.
However, let’s get something straight right up front: exclusion, inequity and segregation are a fact of everyday life in America, and they have been a fact since our nation’s founding. They are also a fact of life around the world, but that’s a different conversation.
What differentiates us as a nation is that we live in a country that professes to hold the belief that all men/women are created equal. We put words to this effect in our constitution and our original declaration of nationhood. Yet the founders of our nation did not, in fact, live that way themselves, a fact that for them must have at least hinted at the possibility that at some point in our future we would likely reach an impasse over the intent to live out of our ideals rather than our biases. They must have known or suspected that we could eventually resort to violence in an attempt to resolve our promises to future generations. These facts are, for many of us, uncomfortable to be reminded of.
Our history as a people is rife with acts of violence against those who are not like us. Millions of indigenous people were exterminated, justified by arguments that remain embedded in the fabric of our nation’s psyche. More than half a million people of African descent were brought to America and enslaved as agricultural and domestic workers between 1619 and 1865. We do not teach accurate histories of either the enslavement of African people nor the extermination of the indigenous people in our schools today.
People of Latin descent are today villainized without defense while their numbers pick and pack our crops, package our meats, clean our hotels, cut our grass and work at jobs many of us hope our children are better than.
Our lives are living contradictions that we do not question until one of our children wants to date someone not like us. Then we do not know what to think; we are tossed about by the turmoil created as our ideals and our unexamined beliefs clash in an emotional tempest that has us question who we are and what do we truly believe.
So where am I going with all this? Is it my intention to make the reader feel bad or ashamed? I don’t need to do that. We already feel bad and ashamed, as evidenced by our inability to confront the reality of our own history.
Last week I watched a Netflix special titled “Latin History for Morons”. The show stars John Leguizamo in a one-man presentation of some of the history of Latin people in the New World. I recommend that you watch the show. Have your school age kids watch it too, not so both you and they will feel bad, but so that you all will all know some more of the truth. The truth of what, how bad white people are? Not hardly, white people, though the dominant part of our population for most of our history, are no worse than the Sunnis of Islam, the Brahmins of India, the Hutu of Rwanda or any other dominant ethnic group around the world.
The difference here in America is that we, at the founding our nation recognized the fallacy of discrimination on the basis of race, creed or gender and the promise of a culture based on inclusion. Our history since then has been, in part, a struggle against our very nature as human beings.
Are we winning, progressing towards our ideals? I say yes, in spite of what we have seen in our national politics in the past two years, I believe we are becoming more appreciative of our diversity, more sensitive to our gender biases and more cognizant of the value of inclusivity.
They are called ideals because they are just that, ideal, a direction to be headed, a goal to strive for, something to accomplish in that as we continue to come up short, we learn from those failures. We take account of the progress being made, we see that there is further yet to go and we recommit ourselves.
So where do we go from here? The same direction since our nation’s founding in 1776.
Take the current climate as an opportunity to
- Celebrate the diversity in our voices.
- Make inclusion a priority.
- Move beyond equality to equity.
Our nation will be better for it, our workplaces will be better for it, our lives will be better for it.