Equality, still in the making?

October 17, 2011

Political Theory


I have always felt extremely fortunate to grow up in a very diverse atmosphere that exposed me to people of different ethnicities than my own. In high school, I happily made friends with people from around the world, and have been highly enriched by my experiences with them. Now, at UofM, I feel even more curious and enthusiastic about meeting people from exotic places and learning about world cultures in general. In fact, the on-campus diversity of UofM is what sold me on earning my Bachelor’s degree here. I figured, along with a solid academic education, I could gain an exquisite cultural one as well! What’s not to love, right? So, with all this diversity around me, I couldn’t help but wonder how people survived in homogenized environments. It was hard for me to imagine going to school with all white kids, and never having met some of my closest friends. But, I realized, that much of the U.S.A’s population in fact does miss out on diversity growing up. Which got me thinking about what life back in the first half of the 20th century must have been like for everyone not just parts of the U.S.A. 

After reading Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet”, I couldn’t help but think about how different today’s society is in comparison to the ’60’s. We certainly seem to have a much more accepting society, and segregation is thought to be a thing of the past. We now deal with new issues like homosexuality, stem cell research, abortion, terrorism, etc. We have pushed our country’s laws to encapsulate our changing societal needs, and fit the general population as best as possible. At least, that’s how I view it. We still have a lot of work to do, especially since our society is becoming increasingly diverse as time passes. Our legislation has to be ready to flex and stretch in order to meet our needs in terms of human and civil rights. Malcolm X was a very influential figure in his time, and seemingly succeeded in realizing the equality he fought so vehemently for. I wonder, however, what he would think about today’s society in respect to the equality of all American citizens. Would he be pleased with our progress? Or would he be disappointed in general?  Try to think outside the box. Consider not only the different races, but also the sexes, pro-lifers versus pro-choicers, people of different socio-economic statuses, etc. What do you think Malcolm X’s impression would be of our society today as a whole? I guess another way of asking this question is do you think that every American citizen gets an equal voice? Meaning, even though technically all American citizens have the right to freedom of speech, etc., do you believe that the VOLUME of each American societal group is heard equally as loud? Do you think that this so called “volume” should be equal across the board, or perhaps emphasized on certain issues rather than others?

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16 Comments on “Equality, still in the making?”

  1. brianfrankel Says:

    I really like the concept of the “volume” of each societal group in the United States. While we pride ourselves on our diversity and “equality”, I do not believe that each group’s volume is the same–in fact, that is one of the largest problems facing the United States and the rest of the world today. Rather than it being a question of race, sexuality, or religion, I believe that inequality in America is now representative by wealth. As I’m sure most of us have seen in the news and in other blog posts, the current Wall Street protests are exemplifying this inequality. From President Obama talking about how “his class” has taken too much power to Warren Buffet explaining that “his class” is not just winning the current class war but dominating it, it is very obvious that there is no balance of power among the people of the United States.

    So, while Malcolm X may be somewhat satisfied with the advancement of Black Americans over the past 3 decades, represented by Obama’s ascent to the presidency, I do not believe that he would be content with our current societal environment. There is always room for change and improvement, and I believe that currently we have to create equity in the “volumes” in our society to advance our nation and truly progress.

  2. samyoovpolsci Says:

    It is clear that, in comparison to the 30s, America has become more equal in regards to “voice”, yet there still is inequality in the degree of “volume” each person has. Even now, through the process of gerrymandering, the parties are able to manipulate the people’s votes, although unlike before, gerrymandering is actually to gain votes rather than to segregate and weaken the votes of a specific race. Furthermore, through the process of lobbying, large companies and wealthy individuals are able to have a direct impact in policy making, undermining fundamental democratic values. What is the point of having representatives on the floor of the House or the Senate if they do not represent the views of the people who voted them in?
    It also seems as if the question of rights and opportunity has simply shifted from race to sexuality. Gay marriage seems to have very little direct political effect. Yet its the politicians who holds power over this issue. Also, its this ideal of religion that comes into play with banning gay marriages. As Christianity, (the most popular religion in America) explicitly goes against the idea of gay marriage, the majority of the people (who would most likely be completely unaffected by gay marriage) also follows suit and goes against it. It harks back to the concept of the tyranny of the majority. Hence, there is without a doubt a level of inequality still manifesting American politics and society, and this inequality will plague our society and politics with bitter debates until it is solved.

  3. marckarpinos31 Says:

    I believe you bring up an interesting point. I am one of those students you described who went to an almost entirely white high school and grew up with very little diversity. The lack of diversity I grew up with not a negative to me and I think it made me excited for the community at Michigan the same way you were. I was excited to get the great education Michigan has to offer while at the same time, gaining culture and understanding of other backgrounds.

    In response to your question, I believe American will never have a truly equal voice for all. I don’t think that in a country as big as ours everyone will legitimately get an equal voice in the right to have their opinions valued or heard, as you described as volume. There is so much discrepancy on too many topics such as gay marriage, war, taxes etc to truly listen to and gauge everyones opinions. I believe that in a perfect world, the candidates we elect to represent us would be doing just that, representing us but we do not live in a perfect world.

    Malcolm X would most certainly be happier by the progress we have made to strive towards equality. He would certainly no long remove himself from the American population because we are making efforts to become more equal for all. America is a different place today than it was for Malcolm X and in that sense, we are much closer to having equal volume for all but we have not reached equality yet and we can not give up striving towards that goal until it is reached.

  4. ianbaker2041 Says:

    Like the last commenter, I went to a mostly white high school. To be fair, there were a few kids of Asian/ African American/ Hispanic descent, but the school was something like 92% Caucasian. I love the diversity at Michigan because I already (after only a few weeks) have friends with different heritage and from different places, something that I largely lacked in high school. Although some people think that going to an all white school is terrible, I don’t feel like I missed out on life. I had other opportunities for cultural exploration. For example, during my junior year, a student from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico stayed with me for two weeks. He spoke absolutely no English; we conversed in Spanish. I went to his home, and I may go back this summer. Another stayed with me during my senior year; he, however, spoke English. I’ve traveled to 13 different countries, so I’ve been exposed that way, too. What I’m trying to say is that just because one grows up in a Caucasian community does not necessarily mean that he or she will not be fully acclimated to other cultures and religions. America is still a melting pot of religions and cultures no matter what the demographic makeup of your community is, and if you want to reach out and meet new people in other places, it’s possible to do from anywhere.

    But now on to Malcolm X. On the whole, I think Malcolm X would be satisfied with America today. African Americans have equal political rights, educational access, and job opportunities. Of course, their past of subjugation and poverty has yet to be fully erased, but America is continually-and almost automatically-taking strides towards that goal. Malcolm X would be happy with the progress. He may like to see more action taken to prevent inequality and help even out the average African American earnings with the average Caucasian earnings, but I think he would be amazed at how much has been done in, relatively speaking, just a few short years. When you really stop and think about it, the change is huge. Even in issues like gay rights, abortion, and the legalization of certain drugs, we have come a long way from our conservative past. The government has taken a step back from these issues, which is exactly what it should be doing. The Republican in me hopes that the trend will carry over to economics and finances, too. I’m not holding my breath though.

    This volume description is awesome. I love the creative way of expressing things. While each group may not have equal volume, it is also important to remember that America is primarily Caucasian-over 70% by population.To have each group be equally “loud” would be giving more votes per capita to African Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups. It’s fair that whites should be a bit “louder” since, quite simply, there are more whites than any other group. All other races and backgrounds should have just as much political opportunity, but I don’t think that the fact that those groups aren’t as “loud” is a bad thing; I think it’s healthy and shows that there is a fair balance of power in the United States. This “loudness” should, therefore, not be distributed any differently than it is now because the current distribution gives each group its fair share; there is no tyranny of the majority but also no group that is represented more favorably or heavily than any other group. I wouldn’t have it any other way if I could pick it out myself.

  5. Brian Hall Says:

    I have found the diversity of UM to be an interesting aspect of my education that I never really considered when I applied here. I thought the admission essay asking what you would do to bring diversity to the community was bullshit (to be frank), considering the hard statistics on diversity here. While my initial cynicism has been softened to some extent by personal experience, I still feel like most people who go to UM are from Farmington Hills, or New Jersey, or are East Asian or Indian (for “diversity”). Though perhaps a bit exaggerated, it’s not far from the truth. 20-30 people from my graduating class came here (I’m from Grand Rapids, MI). I have yet to meet a single hispanic person here (though I have a cousin who goes here who is hispanic incidentally), and most black people do not seem to have a large presence given the supposed number who attend. I will say this, though. I have had some extremely elucidating and edifying conversations with one of my roommates, who is from Shanghai. I never thought that I would become well acquainted with someone from another country, not just someone of a different race who has grown up in the U.S. their entire life. I feel that I have learned things from hearing the perspectives of various foreigners that I would never have gained in class. The highschool I went to was extremely white, with I think 40 black kids in the entire district of 2400 (most of whom were athletes in schools of choice who came in to win our football games for us). The years of reading black literature in English classes were a hollow substitution for true interaction.

    If anything, I certainly do not regret reading the Autobiography of Malcom X in English class though. It was one of the only books I didn’t use sparknotes for and actually read in its entirety (I read Gatsby and the other actually good ones of course). It has been instrumental in my understanding of race relations in this country in ways that crappy novels or images of OJ running with a knife in Roots (seriously, I couldn’t believe it when I saw it but its worth a youtube diversion) could never have been. To that end, I think you need to examine Malcom’s full philosophy to understand how he’d view things. He would NOT be satisfied with America today because in his view nothing has changed until full equality is achieved. Yes we have a black president, but he would say that Obama is nothing but the white man’s errand boy. There is not full equality for black people in this country because there is still hiring discrimination, wage discrimination, and a general sense of disenfranchisement brought on by a vicious cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity. I would highly recommend reading his autobiography for a deeper understanding of Black America, the civil rights movement, and American society in general (the book also contains practical advice, such as how to avoid having your house burglarized. Hint: leave the bathroom light, he’d know considering he used to break into houses for a living).

  6. Sarah Strickberger Says:

    I think that the “volume” of each group is not equally loud, at least not at all times. I believe that each group adjusts its volume based on the current social situation. If the social conditions at a given time seem to create a situation that the group may take issue with or support, then they would adjust their volume accordingly. Yet, it is important that all groups are not equally as loud as every other at all times. If that were the case, how would we be able to prioritize? How would we know which group is in most dire straights? The “volume” adjustment allows society to address each group in a more structured order.

    I think our society has done a good job of creating an environment that does allow any group voice its opinion. At least in America, I do believe that everyone has an essentially equal opportunity and comparable outlets to voice their opinions and beliefs. The volume is merely a matter of a group’s success in voicing said opinion. Furthermore, an interesting point is comparing how “loud” a group is; against how “loud” they are “heard” to be. I think, in measuring the volume of a group, one must consider the listeners. One group may discuss an issue that is more applicable to a given audience, thus appearing to be “louder” to one group than another. In reality, the “loudness” is merely a result of the listeners’ connection to what was said. If someone has no sympathy or does not connect at all to what is being voiced, it may appear to them that the group is not “loud” at all.

    Regardless, I think it’s important that not all groups are equally “loud”. There are so many issues in the world that we must be able to prioritize as a society. If no single group is “loudest”, how would we ever know what issue is most urgent in our society?

  7. beaurh Says:

    Although the United States has progressed immensely from its racist, segregated past, inequality remains. This inequality is not seen through law or legislation, but through opportunity. Here, I believe, Malcolm X would be ashamed of the progress.

    The discrepancy in socio-economic status is broadened by a lack of educational opportunities for those of lower wealth. Many poor individuals do not have the academic resources, whether it be a lack of books, teachers, facilities, or even time, to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities the U.S. has to offer. Malcom X directly voices this opinion as he speaks of the American Nightmare. He believes that no matter the legal status of an individual, if his social status is not there, the American Dream is unavailable. This is extremely evident today. Although the University of Michigan is extremely diverse, many excellent students have turned this institution down because it costs too much money. These individuals (excluding scholarship and financial aid), solely based on their wealth, are not able to receive the same education and opportunity that many of us are.

    I believe that inequality lies in attainable opportunity, and the ability to better oneself through hard work and motivation. Some social groups are simply in much better situations to achieve this betterment than others.

  8. matthewlocascio Says:

    Diversity and equality has been at the forefront of political discussion for years now, and I feel like it will always be. Even with years and years of fighting for equality and campaigning for equal rights and freedoms, we still find ourselves in a world today in which not all social groups, sexes, races, even ethnic groups are treated fairly and equally. The great speaker Malcolm X would be greatly disappointed with the way society has played out to date. I feel that some groups have achieved equal recognition, but others still suffer from the same political oppression and inequality that African Americans faced in the 60s and women faced in the early 1900s. Times are changing, and the groups facing these problems have recently reached the spotlight of the cultural scene.

    The post brings up the term “volume” which I think is more important than any written freedom. The United States Bill of Rights outlines the basic freedoms that every American citizen is entitled to. Though we are all able to exercise our freedom of speech, expression, religion, pursuit of happiness, etc., some groups are still struggling to execute these freedoms. A few examples I think are homosexuals and even poor people.

    Homosexuals, even through all of their efforts, still are limited in their ability to exercise their rights. In most states they still can’t get married, which I feel is a complete violation of rights. They may have the rights listed in the constitution, but they have no volume. Most people don’t believe in their arguments from the beginning and this group is not heard, even through all of their struggling. On another note, poor people struggling to get their voices heard. Many times the ones you see in government, on TV, in the news, are the wealthier people in America. I don’t even know the last time I saw a truly poor person speak on TV. Some representatives came from poor neighborhoods so are guiding their plans to help those in need, but I feel these are the minorities in government. The majority of congressmen are wealthy and therefore express the needs of the average American, who is much better off and well-to-do than the poor American.

    Here are two perfect examples of groups that have the rights listed in the Bill of Rights, but find it extremely difficult to voice their opinions. In both cases, homosexuals and poor people have almost a negative connotation in the eyes of the greater society. People, in my opinion, look down on these people, thinking they are different and at a disadvantage, and try to silence them however they can. Proposal after proposal is shot down for same-sex marriage in most states, and the resources to make a big change in the world just are not available to poor people. Malcolm X would be infuriated to see these two groups as “UNAMERICAN” in his eyes. They may have freedoms, but they sure can’t exercise them like the rest of America. Homosexuals still can’t find happiness in same-sex marriage and the poor people still suffer at the hands of Wall Street giants, unable to get their messages across due to the negative views towards their perspective.

  9. jsimon99 Says:

    These questions asked can be interpreted in many different ways. I believe that it truly depends on the nature of the people to where these questions can be answered. In general, people think of equality where everyone is heard and everyone’s opinions are really taken in to play. With this theory, equality can never be perfect because it is truly impossible for all people to be heard. Why can equality ever be perfect? Unfortunately, not every person can be satisfied in the world no matter what a government does by trying to listen to the people. I do believe that the system for the “certain” equality people are looking for is getting better, but if Malcolm X were to answer this he might say that there is no equal voice for everyone and that there never will be. However, he would agree that improvements have been made and he would be pleased with them also.
    Speaking from the “volume” perspective, it is truly up to each individual and each American societal group to determine how loud they want to be. I think that today, it is almost equal across the board for all people to have a volume, but it is up to them on how strong of a voice they want to have. Back in the 60s, Malcolm X would say that if a certain group would stand up for something with a high volume, they would be ignored or that something worse might happen to them. Today, Malcolm X might say that the voice of more groups can be heard at a high volume, but that it still is not perfect. There are many different ways to interpret these questions, it is how you live your life as an individual and how you see the world to where these questions can be answered.

  10. maryblee Says:

    I went to a very diverse high school (less than 50% white) and was chosen to be part of a group, Multico, that represented the diversity of the school. Multico, a two hour class, focused on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other similar issues in today’s society and was largely discussion-based. Through stories from a Persian classmate about being screened by TSA EVERY time he took a plane, or a Black classmate about being watched every time he entered a convenience store it was clear to me that they had very different experiences than me while living in the same society. And statistics back this up. African Americans continue to be largely overrepresented in the lowest income brackets and jails, and underrepresented in colleges and management level jobs. And this trend continues for most other minorities. To say Malcolm X would be pleased with the progress we’ve made would be to ignore the facts and the signs all around us.

    We can’t even argue that we don’t have discriminatory laws anymore. The immigration laws recently passed in Arizona and Alabama clearly target people of latino descent and the Voter ID bills being implemented across the country hinder college students, the elderly and those who don’t drive or have access to transportation to get to a DMV (largely minorities) from letting their voices being heard. How much different is this voting obstacle from literacy tests or poll taxes?

    Malcolm X would fume over the lack of progress we’ve made in the 45 years since his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, while we applaud ourselves for attending a university comprised of about 5% African Americans (as opposed to the nation’s 12%). The modern standards of equality have dropped significantly from the 1960’s.

  11. julieele Says:

    Growing up in New York, I had the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of people. In high school, I had a graduating class of 906. People of all shapes and sizes attended my school. I was shocked to come to Michigan to realize that not everybody had been exposed to diversity while growing up. Specifically, my roommate had never met a Jewish person prior to college and I found this intriguing. Despite the amount of pride America has for being a “melting pot,” some areas of the nation are still missing a variety of races.

    In regards to Malcom X, I do believe our society has greatly changed but there is still a lot more that we can improve on. Yes we no longer have Jim Crow laws and we are attempting to assist minority groups in having a voice in society. We are making efforts to create equality through implementing affirmative action. Affirmative action attempts to give minorities opportunities that they did not have in earlier years. Affirmative action also decreases the voice of the white people because a white person may be more qualified but they may still lose their position to a minority due to their race. The volume of each group is somewhat unequal because we are trying to make up for issues in the past.

    Though we are trying to change events in the past, we are missing the fact that homosexuals do not have equal rights. They are unable to marry the person they desire and are not covered under Title VII. Despite the amount of protests and awareness regarding this issue, there still is not a nationwide change. America likes to think that we are equal and diverse but we are definitely still a work in progress.

  12. emlong04 Says:

    Personally, I feel that Malcolm X would be partially disappointed. In his “Ballot or the Bullet,” he states how strong his feelings of betrayal and abandonment are. He does not feel like an American citizen, but feels victimized by the Americans. Malcolm X is fed up with the way he has been treated and wants to put an end to this unfairness. I believe that Malcolm X would feel the same way now, not about African Americans, but about homosexuals and as a whole the LGBT community. Malcolm X would be proud of the strives that have been made to help the African American community, but would find the problems with the homosexual community to be disappointing.

    Granted there are many people in the United States, not just the LGBT community, working towards a better future for them Malcolm would still argue that this fight for rights shouldn’t have to even happen. Everyone is equal. Period. This community shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage because of who they love and Malcolm X would have believed that they are being victimized for being who they are. He would take pride in those who are standing up for themselves and taking action. In “Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X rants about how terrible things really are and how they need to act before it is too late, he would most likely call for the LGBT community to take the same mentality.

    Although, there are definitely parts of America today that Malcolm X would be disappointed about, I think there is also a lot to be proud of. If he saw America today he may realize that the diversity has grown and that the acceptance of that diversity has developed with it. He would be proud to see Michigan functioning as a diverse and cooperative whole. Yes, I do believe there is still a ways to go in helping this nation along to becoming a better place for ALL citizens, but I do think that strives we have made are something to be proud of.

  13. Baihan Li Says:

    I have actually been wondering for a while, that what diversity means to Americans. Or to say, why would an American university admit international students?

    One of my Chinese friends in a liberal art college joked that, “I guess my school admit me just because I am cheaper than a panda.” Similarly, I clearly remember on the welcome convocation of University of Wisconsin-Madison, the chancellor excitedly claimed that, “Remember, students! The school is for you! We did all for you! The great amount of international students is here for your good.”

    There was a moment that I felt happy with her speech, but this feeling rapidly changed. It is true that we, as international students, witness a greater diversity than those American students do as we are in a totally different world. However, I will not assume those American universities are admitting students only to provide students with educational opportunities. In fact, when an Asian graduates from university and enters a company, he/she will ultimately be set to deal with Asians. Indians and Chinese are spending their day and night in engineering library studying. They, if staying in the U.S.A after graduation, become the technological power of America. If they return, they are still undoubtedly friendly to America and willing to cooperate with America. At least, during their stay, they have provided a great amount materials about how to work and negotiate with people from a certain country.

    Narrowly and limitedly, this is the use of diversity in my opinion. Then, what does diversity mean to you Ameircans?

  14. eaaldrid6409 Says:

    Jsimon99 commented, “These questions asked can be interpreted in many different ways. I believe that it truly depends on the nature of the people to where these questions can be answered.” And, I completely agree with him/her. When these types of questions are asked of agent populations you tend to get answers like “America has really shaped up and is completely different now concerning issues of equality.” But if you ask members of the target population the same questions, I think you would get different answers that are closer to reality—in that these are the people facing the hardships of inequality like inadequate school systems, prejudiced legal systems, and discriminatory work forces.
    I want to answer from the prospective of the target group. I think Malcolm X would acknowledge the progress the country has made in respect to equality for all of its citizens. I think he would also acknowledge that, as a country, we still have some work to do and that there is ample room for improvement. Fortunately, many more institutions have been enacted to ensure equality throughout the country but I don’t think they are all fully implemented. Yes, minorities and women have the right to vote. Yes, housing and schools can no longer be segregated. Yes, universities like the University of Michigan have to accept low-income students. But, many social identities such as race, gender, and social class minimizes the volume of many people’s voices. I do believe everyone’s voice should be considered equally, but I’m not foolish enough to think it’s going to happen just because government creates policies obligating the nation to do so. Issues of inequality began long before there was an American government and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than government policy to correct them.

  15. jeanrichmann Says:

    Like many other commenters, I also attended a high school with a very small amount of diversity. My graduating class had one black girl, the remaining students were all white. In my entire high school, there were no students of Hispanic, Asian, or Indian ethnicities. Its safe to say I was exposed to a very minimal amount of diversity. Coming to the University of Michigan was a new experience for me because of all the new elements of diversity I was exposed to. This experience has been culturally enriching, but when I look at the boundaries set between ethnicities I find it a bit disturbing. The fact that we pay so much attention to who is Black, White, Latino, Asian etc. creates stereotypes and discrimination towards ethnicities. We are all people; there are no subspecies of humans. We should all be treated equally. Ethnicity is an important factor of who you are as a person, yet a person should not be solely defined based on this contingent fact of birth.

    Malcom X in his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” conveyed this message. We are all human, and should all receive the same basic rights. Equality of ethnicities is crucial in a democratic society. If Malcom X was to look at society today, I feel he would be disappointed in the lack of equality. While race is no longer a major issue (not to say it is not still an issue), many other personality traits and beliefs are becoming discriminating factors. Today, people are discriminated against or teased for being gay. The word “gay” has been turned into a word you use when something is uncool. This leads to a subliminal message that being gay is wrong or “uncool.” Homosexuality is not the only discrimination that takes place in today’s world. People are also discriminated against for their political views, religious beliefs, and even their hair color. It has now become funny to society to discriminate against people with red hair and say things such as, “gingers have no souls.” Malcom X would be disappointed that this sort of inequality still exists today, 50 years later. It is important to accept people for their differences, and understand that each person has the basic human right to equality.

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