Race and American Ideals: A Great Contradiction

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Instead of leveraging the diversity provided by various races, the experience of race in America has greatly contradicted the collection of values. Due to its mixture of races and citizens of various religions and socialization, the United States is the most diverse country on the planet. Historians claim that America is the nation that accommodated those who believed in their dreams and wanted a place to live out those dreams, resulting in the influx of people of various races through immigration. The founders of the United States saw diversity as a strength and established governance values that accommodated everybody in the country. However, there are evident instances in history and still today where social injustices, prejudice and other problems peddled through racism have contradicted the ideals that formed the birth of the United States. The objective of this research paper is to demonstrate the contradiction between race and American ideals and highlight specific areas where American ideals should complement the diversity of America.

Contradictions

The American Dream outlines the American ideals rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal” with a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Douglass 181) The set of ideals includes democracy, liberty, rights, equality, and opportunity. The founders stipulated the set of ideals with the aim of providing the same plane of prosperity for everyone in America regardless of their race and circumstances of birth, but the same elements have been used to propagate discrimination, racial prejudice and social injustices (Douglass 182).

One of the most memorable demonstrations of an American contradiction was demonstrated by Frederick Douglass ,when he addressed six hundred people at the invitation of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in New York’s Corinthian Hall. Douglass sought the answer to the question “What to the slave is your Fourth of July?” Douglass said that to the African Americans the Fourth of July was “a day that reveals to him [the slave], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim” (Douglass 183). Douglass charged that America fell short of its ideals for allowing and permitting a freedom-loving nation to provide a platform for some citizens to benefit from the oppression of their fellow countrymen. According to the Constitution, July 4th should be a reminder that all Americans are equal and thus celebrated as such. July 4th highlights Liberty and equality and society should wake up to the contradiction of celebrating independence while a section of the population is discriminated on.

Those who drafted the first ideals in the constitution were socialized to believe that slavery and oppression of the Africans and African Americans was a normal way of life. There were also racial assumptions and prejudices of the subsequent legislatures who made amendments and ratified the initial draft of the constitution. For example, even after the declaration of the 1776 “equality” of all people, the Bill of Rights written after that did not protect the free black population from laws that deprived them of a majority of the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments to the Constitution (Douglass 185). The nation that was adopted after independence continued to propagate the original characteristics of slavery and oppression. In retrospect, society would have gained optimal results had there been proper labor laws that abolished restrictive rule and offered motivational pay to African Americans. Such laws would have prevented events such as the civil war and the great depression and fastened the growth of America (Horton).

The modern day contradiction of race and American ideals is evident when the rhetoric and racial attitudes of sections of the population are against the professed ideals of freedom and equality. For example, after the 2016 presidential election in the United States pitting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there are of the opinion that the country became more divided along racial lines than before. Instances of blatant racial abuse and discrimination by police and citizens make it hard for peace-loving Americans to reconcile the American reality as enshrined in the Constitution and the American rhetoric. The following are the key areas where racism contradicts American ideal and also where equality can reap maximum benefits for cohesive existence among races in the country.

Democracy

Democracy is at the heart of America, and one of the key aspects of democracy is a right to vote for all citizens. Democracy is also one of the most abused of all American ideals where laws and policies favor some sections of the population while discriminating against others. For example, even after the 1787 ordinance that outlawed slavery in the North West, the Congress passed a law that allowed only free white males to vote and, therefore, most African Americans did not fit the bill (Horton). In modern America, the US system of voting has brought a lot of controversy and more evidence of the contradiction of America. Contention characterized the 2000 presidential election in the US over the voting laws and the eventual declaration of George W. Bush as the winner (Landy). Many people claim that the existing laws were exploited by unscrupulous legislatures to deny tens of thousands of African Americans their democratic right to vote. However, the Supreme Court that was predominantly Republican still declared George W. Bush the winner with support from the Republican legislatures, the Florida legislature, and the Congress. The government should enact laws that make all citizens have confidence in the system of governance. Equality in voting laws can go a long way in abolishing divisions as peddled through extreme left-wing and right-wing views (Segura and Bowler 197).

The methods used to bar sections of the population from voting are not a new phenomenon in the US. For example, in 1857, the Supreme Court had ruled that a slave named Dred Scott who was seeking his freedom could not make his case before the federal court because African Americans were not citizens and, by extension, Scott did not get his wish to vote (Horton). In Modern times, during the elections between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the Chief Justice Rehnquist claimed that Bush won the presidency despite the electoral irregularities. According to Landy, Rehnquist said when it comes to the presidency “there is no right of suffrage” and that the Constitution mandates only the ruling class and not the “common” people to choose a leader. Some of the tricks used to frustrate democracy by prohibiting African Americans to votes are false criminal accusations, police roadblocks in black neighborhoods, claims of “lost” registrations, identification documents and unavailable interpreters for none-English speaking voters such Haitians and Puerto Rican and much more (Landy). The primary effect of such oppressive tactics is the creation of a wider rift between opposing political supporters and a loss of focus on national issues and giving undue attention to politics. The government should ensure everyone enjoys the democratic space and all other elements of independence will have a bearing to follow (Segura & Bowler, 2006).

Liberty

The culture of racism in America has historically refused to accept some races as a singular unit fully and instead uses labels to describe an individual people thus contradicting the ideal of liberty. According to Du Bois in his book “The Souls of Black Folk,” the black race is seen as the last resort of all races after the Indians, Egyptians, Europeans, Romans, etc., who are considered the superior races (Du Bois 74). Du Bois opines that the black man has been denied the right to be in touch with his consciousness in his unique way and instead black people are only allowed to see themselves through the revelations of the other races. The “superior” races only see the minorities as two parts of the whole, for instance, an American and a black person or an American and a Muslim. Thus, there exist two warring ideals in the same person that utterly contradicts the national ideals of liberty and equality regardless of color or religion (Du Bois 81). However, in recent years, there has been a unification of warring identities rooted in the pride of being American epitomized by achievements in sports, industry, and government.

Inequality and Opportunity

Another unfulfilled American ideal that speaks volumes to the indifference in the American society is the lack of opportunities for the minorities and the inequitable distribution of resources. The following are areas of disparities where corrections can uphold American ideals and foster further unity in diversity. Firstly, the racial gaps in education are evident through the minimal entry of African Americans into college compared to other races. According to the National Data for Education Statistics, the difference continues to sharpen despite stable figures the number of African American high school dropouts. Secondly, instances of racial discrimination are in the labor market where Curriculum Vita with “white-sounding” names are likely to be considered as witnessed in Boston and Chicago in 2001 and 2002. Thirdly, there is an alarming rate of incarceration of African American male population since 1970. Statistics show that 37 % of all prisoners in the US are young African American men aged between 20-34. Fourthly, according to data by US Department of Housing and Urban Development, about 750.000 Americans are homeless every single night with most of them being African Americans, the disabled and veterans (“20 Facts about U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know”).

Modern day lack of opportunities is evident through the inequitable distribution of infrastructure among the different communities. For example, the schools of black community neighborhoods in most cases require enough quality teachers, proper social amenities, and the general quality learning. Students who study in schools in places such as Harlem in the Souther side of Chicago do not benefit from the same quality education as students who study in predominantly white schools or upper and middle-class neighborhoods (Du Bois 88). The same segregation applies for the Hispanics and other minority groups.

The lack of equal opportunities at the foundational level of schooling carries on to unfair indexes in the working places and home ownerships. For example, traditionally, the homes of African American families were characterized by one-room cabins, built in front of dusty roads with no windows, glass or porch (Du Bois 91). Currently, minority community neighborhoods have project housing used to accommodate street children and low-income families, for instance, in New Orleans and Chicago.

In modern America, lack of equal opportunities is more prevalent in working place in industry and government. For example, after the conclusion of the US presidential elections, the House Speaker Paul Ryan was accused of hiring only white interns to the United States Capitol Hill. Many people took to social media and media discussions citing a lack of diversity as was evident from a picture that the Speaker Ryan took with the group of predominantly white staffers. Still, in 2016, controversy arose after African American actors and actresses claimed that there was favoritism for the white stars due to few African American nominees in 2016 Academy Awards. Many legendary movies stars such as Will Smith took to social media to highlight their disappointment at what they termed as “Oscars so white.” According to Segura and Bowler (203), equality in all facets of governance and society is the best way to promote unity in diversity as a foundation for achieving national goals and aspirations.

Conclusion

It is clear that the history of race in America has significantly contradicted the set of ideals that formed the basis for the birth of the United States. Since the days of slavery until today, there are traces of national approach to issues in a way that contravenes the national ideals with the issue of race being at the center of most national debates. Americans who embrace diversity have made efforts to spread the message of unity and equality, but there is room for improvement and need for further interventions. Liberty, justice, equality, opportunity, rights, and democracy are American ideals that should apply to every American.

Works Cited

“20 Facts about U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know”. Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2011, http://inequality.stanford.edu/publications/20-facts-about-us-inequality-everyone-should-know. Accessed 9 June 2017.

Douglass, Frederick “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” in Philip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (New York : International Publishers Co., Inc.), 1975, pp. 181-204.

Du Bois, William E.B. The Souls of Black Folk (1st ed.). New York : The Modern Library, 1996.

Horton, James O. “Race and the American Constitution : A Struggle toward National Ideals”. (History Now – The Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute), 2005, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/creating-new-government/essays/race-and-american-constitution-struggle-toward-nationa. Accessed 4 June 2017.

Landy, Sy. “Racism Rules : The Fraud of U.S. Democracy”. (Proletarian Revolution), no. 62, 2001. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/socialistvoice/electionPR62.html. Accessed 2 June 2017.

Segura, Gary M., and Bowler, Shaun. Diversity in Democracy : Minority Representation in the United States. University of Virginia Press, 2006.

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