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Opinion | Remove the blinders: exceptionalism should not be limited to American elite

cronre@muohio.edu and carusosc@muohio.edu

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 23:12

All men are created equal. The meaning of those words haven’t changed. When they were originally penned they really meant that “all men are created equal, except for those who aren’t white, or male or landowners.”

We need to stop pretending that this country was founded on anything but inequality. The idea of American exceptionalism has always been limited to the privileged few who can afford to be “exceptional.”

Let’s look at history: women were given the right to vote less than a century ago. African Americans still have to fight for equality more than a century after they were “given” it. The LGBTQ community is being more and more marginalized.

Native Americans were forced onto reservations in order to “preserve their culture.” Equality for all is a myth in this country.

In last Monday’s issue of The Miami Student, an essay titled “Continuous pursuit of liberty, equality creates an exceptional, prosperous America” was published arguing the opposite of everything above.

The essay attributed economic liberty with equality of worth, arguing that your socioeconomic status is your own fault; it argued that if you are poor, then you made yourself poor. We would rather attribute equality of opportunity with equality of worth, if everyone is of equal worth, does that not mean that everyone should have the same opportunities to use that worth?

Homelessness is something generally looked down upon in society. The dominant narrative leads us to believe that people are homeless because they are lazy or addicted to drugs.

Then, according to the narrative of privilege, these people do not deserve any type of government assistance because they had their chance and they blew it. This totally ignores the reality of homelessness, and distorts the debate.

In reality, the main cause of homelessness is a lack of employment and affordable housing. When viewed through its true lens, homelessness becomes a problem of societal oppression, not a problem of one person messing up his or her life.

The idea that everyone starts off in life on equal footing is an idea born out of privilege. We are told a narrative of America that is rarely critical of the actions of our society. We are led to believe that the ideal idea of equality laid down by our forefathers has been achieved, that the struggle for equality is over.

We tell the story of Thanksgiving, but not of all the Native Americans we displaced and killed. We talk about people migrating to the suburbs after World War II, yet we fail to mention the red lining that made the American dream of a house in the suburbs an impossibility for anyone who was not themselves white.

If we do learn about these things we like to think that they are issues of the past; that in today’s America we are evolved beyond that kind of systemic oppression. This is simply not true, and to suggest that it is dishonors those who live the reality of that oppression.

It can be an uncomfortable experience to realize one’s privilege in a society that says we all have the same opportunities. Growing up in a place of societal power (white, male, able bodied, heterosexual, etc...), it is easy to not see the inequality in the world.

But to suggest that no one is favored in our country is to deny the current and historical facts.

This worst part about this system is that the blame is placed on those who are marginalized and oppressed. Those of us who grew up in privilege have blinders on to these issues because it is easier to claim ignorance than to accept criticism. This is, we believe, why last week’s essay was written. We all suffer from the blinders of privilege.

The very title of that essay makes a statement about the pursuit of liberty and equality. These are the things that democracy is built on: providing liberty and equity for all through programs that help to lift people out of poverty, programs that provide shelter and nutrition for the homeless and destitute, programs that show that this country is still committed to providing for the needs of every last one of its citizens.

When we speak about an exceptional America, we need to be speaking about every last American and the government that we elect and that is meant to serve us and every person who lives on American soil.

In “You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train,” Howard Zinn says, “to believe in democracy was to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence – that government is an artificial creation, established by the people to defend the equal rights of everyone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The above quote sums up perfectly what our government is supposed to be, a government by the people, for the people.

Let’s take off the blinders and realize how far we have to go as a nation and as a people, let’s stop pretending that equality is a given and start to make equality a reality, let’s start making the words of the Declaration a reality, that all men and women regardless of creed, race, income or sexual orientation are created equal.

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