People are so easily confused. Mathematically if a = b and b = c, then a = c, and we can say that a and c are the same. In the real world though, being equal and being the same are not synonyms. They are related, but that is all.
We should have settled that particular concept as a nation a long time ago, and yet, we still haven’t gotten it through our collective thick skull. We got it wrong – very wrong – at first. We had to have drawn out court battles in order to reach the Supreme Court and have it ruled, specifically, that “separate but equal” is not.
We see many people who want to refer to the Constitution as the authority of the land, and in many ways, that is good and true. It should never be forgotten though that it is a horribly flawed document and subject to revision and improvement. Even the “founding fathers” knew this and that is why they had a built in mechanism for that change. The very first thing they did after ratifying the Constitution was to change it. Not only was that necessary to satisfy treaty commitments (because remember that, at the time, that is precisely what the document was), but it also demonstrated clearly that the document could, and should be changed as and when necessary.
We started with a clearly defined right to own people as property and no suffrage right for women (not until August 18, 1920) or non-land owning men. In fact, a careful reading of the US Constitution shows that we have no constitutional right to vote at all. It is inferred, much like the right to privacy, but it is not explicitly stated. What we do find are a series of requirements that must be met if one is to be allowed to vote, and another set of requirements on which it is impermissible to base disenfranchisement of a citizen. No, really. Check it for yourself. Here is the entire constitution right here. You will find that you are required to own land (a constitutional requirement that has never been revoked), that you must be at least 18, that you may not be prohibited from voting “on account of sex,” nor “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, but no where will you find that it specifically grants that you have the right to vote in the first place.
Understand that it is this very important distinction which allows states to do things like revoke the rights of felons to vote, and establish voting requirements such as length of residency. In some states, the voting rights of convicted felons are automatically restored, and in some states they require an act of the governor, which requires a petition on the behalf of the convicted felon. It is this which allowed the states to institute the Jim Crow laws that included ridiculous and impossible “literacy tests” like this one. (Go ahead. Try it. You’ve got 10 minutes. Remember, as it says in the article, if you miss 1 question then you don’t get to vote.)
-> As an aside, understand also that the lack of a right to privacy will also be used, in court, and may already have been used in the FISA court, to justify programs like PRISM as the security apparatus violates the 4th amendment to track your metadata. It has already been encroached on to say that there is “no legitimate expectation of privacy” in a public place (thus allowing the wide spread use of surveillance cameras “for your safety”), nor even when owning a cell phone. <-
Which brings us back to where we started today. The notion of equivalency versus sameness. We absolutely should strive for equality in society and under the law. However, that does not mean that we are all the same. Nor does it mean that we are all experiencing the same things.
Men and women are not the same. Biologically we are different. Society drives us into different directions and cross purposes all too often. It does not mean that individuals may not cross these gender boundaries, or that they shouldn’t feel completely free to do so, but we are different. Regardless of those differences though, we are still equal. Right? We ought to be able to agree on that. Yet, we still find many sexists, and we still have major inequalities in our society in terms of pay, for example, not to mention in protections of the law for violence.
The Zimmerman verdict last weekend has sparked much outrage this week, and rightfully so. It was a situation and trial that has been mishandled from the very beginning and ended with a verdict which was tragic. As I wrote last week though, we have to accept it, because that is the foundation of our justice system. If we have an issue with the verdict, then we have to address the system, not this specific case. We have to, as I have seen some do, call for changes to the laws, and then we have to act on those calls.
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