Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Song Remains the Same

I thought I would talk a little bit about the recent US election, but then I decided to touch on something related but much more compelling to myself.

Social Justice. For me, social justice is a combination of the legal system, societal values and norms, and morality.

So, I am going to address one small matter in that wide and varied subject. It's actually more a matter of linguistics. How does the word equality work against the struggle for social justice in our American, US, society?

The word equality was used extensively during segregation in the US, when "separate but equal" was considered just. It is very important to remember that equal does not mean "the same". Generally speaking, racism is considered very taboo now in our society, but it is not gone. Racist people and institutions have merely changed the words that they use, not the meaning behind them. Many people still believe there are large groups of people within our society who are less, or worse, than their own group.

The phrase "equal opportunity" is most commonly used when speaking of employment, and employers. It means every person who applies for a job, or has a job, will be given an "equal" chance to succeed. I used quotation marks because this is an instance where equal means the same. That means at one small point in time, i.e., when a person is applying for a job, they will be held to the same criteria as all the rest applying for that same job. However, nothing about the way people live their lives in the United States is equal.

A qualifier word, opportunity, is tacked onto equal. Opportunity implies that the people who fail simply were not trying hard enough. If they had worked harder, they could have gone to college. If they had put forth more effort, they would have got the job. If they had made better choices, they wouldn't have gone to jail. And none of that is true.

I am going to use the main theme of a horrible movie about relationships, "He's Just Not That Into You" because it works. The main idea is that when you hear about relationships that succeed despite going against everything you know about human behavior and social norms, it proves the exception, not the rule. You shouldn't keep going out with someone who is not that into you because you believe that is going to magically change one day.

I want to compare that to the stories you hear about people pulling themselves up from nothing, just through hard work and perseverance. These people prove the exception, not the rule. The reason those stories are so popular and get made into movies is because they are so special and so rare. If it was possible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps simply through hard work, everyone would be doing it.

Equal is not the same. We live in a vast, multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, multirace country. We are all very different, and unfortunately, not even close to equal. We could be so much closer. With equality so tied up in our national identity, I would say it is a worthy goal of the United States, to strive for equality.

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