Our very Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” yet ‘The American Dream’, so to speak, fails to uphold the promise of reality. America has done a fantastic job at assuring itself of false perceptions of equality and has leapt great distances to bandage the wounds of hundreds of years fighting for the very value it was founded on. Yet somehow, a black president, a woman holding a seat in Senate, and policies like Affirmative Action seem to be adequate in filling the void of equality, convincing Americans that they truly are setting an example for the rest of the world in rightful living. On the surface, America poses to be the land of opportunity, yet on the ground we continue to contradict the absolute nature of these ideal values and the responsibilities they entail. The cries for justice today that have echoed through generations of bloody history couldn’t be louder: women’s rights are being threatened and pervasive racial discrimination has plagued our nation—yet Americans continue to be in denial about the reality of equality in our nation.
The plight of women in America is one that is largely underestimated. Author and feminist Susan Douglas coins the term “enlightened sexism” which, “insists that full equality for women has been achieved, and therefore we don’t need feminism anymore. So it’s O.K. to resurrect retrograde, sexist images of women in the media, all with a wink and a laugh.” Images of powerful women blur the actual pervasiveness of sexism in American society, inflating how far women have come in their fight for equality and conquering sexism. It wrongly teaches females to believe that they too can assume high prestige lawyer, surgeon, or various white collar jobs with the same ease as a male contender. According to a 2014 study by the American Association of University Women, sexism greatly manifested itself in the American lack of pay equity. Statistics demonstrate that the average income for a woman was 79% of what male counterparts were paid, and the gap hasn’t shown any signs of improvement for a decade across every occupation. This pattern is evident through numbers by both race and gender, as African American women are paid a mere 63% of what white men are paid, and even less so, Hispanics at 54%. While it is argued that measurable efforts have been made to close gender pay discrimination, at its current rate, a woman’s eighty cents to a man’s dollar will not show any considerable changes for the next hundred or so years. Accessibility to education does in fact narrow the inequity across income, but the cure for systematic inequality in the workforce is larger than a degree; both and men and women alike have to be an indignant multilateral force in fighting against the gender pay gap, and only then can we see equality come to life as a real value of the United States.
It is not a stretch to know that the apparent inequalities of corporate America project beyond its confines onto the platform of a culture that minimizes rape and sexual assault. Rape culture, as defined by Marshall University Women Center, is “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” Societal attitudes towards gender and sexuality condone such behaviors, often blaming the victim for such acts of violence, who in most rape cases, is a woman. Naturally, one would assume that the offender would be on the receiving end of such sanctions, but countless cases across the United States have proven rape culture’s very existence as a national crisis that greatly perpetuates inequality for women. Take the incident in Steubenville, Ohio, for example, where a high school girl was repeatedly raped, assaulted, violated, photographed and videotaped for social media by two of her peers after being visually unresponsive and incapacitated by alcohol. The two teenage boys responsible for the attacks, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, documented their actions in a in a flurry of highly inappropriate jokes and sexist remarks over Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts. Although Mays and Richmond were charged with rape and various other legal punishments, the two were not the only ones subject to informal sanctions from the community—many townspeople shamed the victim for casting a negative light on the town and football team, arguing that her assault was a direct result of her actions that night. CNN’s Poppy Harlow expressed sympathy to the rapists in his statement that it was, “incredibly difficult to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.” A rapist is a rapist despite his or her age, hobbies, or the reputation he or she maintained in the past that would lead one to believe that person is seamlessly good. Public response cast a male gaze over Steubenville, minimizing the true definition of a rapist and the severity of the crime, watching with misty eyes as two ‘innocent’ children were torn ‘helplessly’ from their lives in handcuffs. Simply because the attackers were “young and dumb,” should they be exceptions to the title they assumed from assaulting this girl. The community instead painted the victim as a burden to potentially bright futures without taking into account of how such experiences would damper the potential of her own. Rape culture thrives on the inequality defined by gender norms and the misconceptions they carry regarding sexuality, consent and the tragically normalized dominance of men over women. The Steubenville rape case is proof positive that women to this day continue to fight for their physical, emotional and legal rights in a country that wrongly prides itself in the existence of universal equality and treatment across genders.
Inequality extends far beyond the breach of discrimination against women alone, and rather spills over into an issue that has plagued our country with vapid racism since the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Although ideally it may seem that our country has overcome such institutionalized discrimination, in reality, the fight for equality in America did not end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Recent police brutality to blacks greatly reflect the trends of inequality that continue to be pervasive in American society as statistics reveal that blacks are three times more likely to be arrested for crimes that whites are twice as likely to commit.On July 17th, 2014, Eric Garner was notoriously killed after being put into an illegal fifteen second chokehold by the NYPD, who accused him of selling loose cigarettes.Garner repeated, “I can’t breathe,” eleven times before he died, a phrase that would soon represent the struggle of blacks in America fighting for their lives and equality.Officers involved did not face charges. That same year, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson after he was accused of stealing a pack of cigarillos, a loose crime with undeserving consequences. The officer, however, did not face any charges. On November 22nd, 2014, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot and killed after officers mistook his toy gun for a real weapon. Unsurprisingly, the two policemen responsible did not face any charges. The unfortunate trend of excessive force towards people of color and failure to bring justice to these crimes is one that cannot go unnoticed. These three individuals are tragic representations of the frequent inequality blacks face both in court and on the streets, one that is hardly experienced by whites under similar circumstances. The social script of American society has cast a suspicious gaze on the black race, depriving it of the same treatment and justice it deserves.
The recent Oregon standoff is yet another example of factual evidence prompting the sizable disparity between white and black equality in the Untied States. On January 2nd. 2016, hundreds of armed white men seized a federal building in hopes of convincing the government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge and to also lessen the sentence of a father and son charged with arson. Somehow, the events in Oregon did not seem to satisfy the meaning of “terrorism,” or, “the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims,” and was instead labeled merely a protest by white militia pursuing peaceful incentives. The media has done little to cover the story in comparison to the frequent ploys to portray peaceful black protests in response to police brutality as violent. The people of Ferguson who took up the streets in unarmed protest were confronted by the National Guard and hundreds of law enforcement officers as well as military blockades, whereas the armed Oregon takeover was not matched with any force. The media emphasized solely the looting and violent unrest of the event, ultimately perpetuating black-American stereotypes and not the actual motivations behind the movement.
The men and women involved in the peaceful protests and outcries against oppression are the brave faces of a movement that has exposed America for contradicting the ideal values it claims to have been founded on. The nature of an ideal value is one that bears no exceptions, yet the American definition of equality fails to uphold as absolute in real life. America worships a document written 240 years ago, where the meaning of equality did not extend to women and blacks the way it does today. Although by law all constituents of the United States share and practice the same rights, the approach towards equality within society does not do justice to its definition. The lack of such a value in the United States is a national crisis, and is one thousands have died and devoted their lives to fighting for. The very fact that our history has been an upward battle of minority groups rising up under oppression is enough to convince the privileged that they truly are “the city upon a hill,” a community that should be admired by the rest of the world as tolerant and accepting of all despite age, class, gender, or whatever distinction it may be. It has taken us a long time to get equality right, and even that we have yet to achieve. It is time we wake up and stop pretending a value that is merely ideal in theory exists in practice.