The Problem With Equal Treatment in America

Let’s treat everyone equally and do away with special classes of treatment and groups of people.

That statement is a paraphrased synopsis of an argument that I seem to hear more and more today.

Actually I like the idea.  It’s overly simplistic because equally in this context is not a quantitative term.  Now this is really a thinking out loud type of draft, so please read it as such.

Is equality determined by providing the exact same for everyone or providing them with the amount necessary to bring all to the same level?

Consider:

  • If I already have $100 and the person next to me has $0 is it equal if we both receive $100?
  • Is it equal if only that person next to me receives $100 so that we both now have an equal amount?

The time of comparison matters.

The problem I have is that most people who use that “equality argument” are only concerned with what they receive because they already have more than the other person.

I’m not talking about money exclusively even though I just used money as a numerical example. I’m talking about concepts which are not so easily quantified.

For example consider the equality of marriage rights.

I’m not attempting to have a religious debate, and  I’ll let my Biblical argument stand as:

  • Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (NIV).

  • Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (KJV).

In the United States, do we all enjoy the same equality when it comes to who we choose to marry and the legal benefits afforded to married couples?

Why do people get upset about Black History Month?

As a history professor, I actually do nothing different during Black History Month as I make it a point to include what is categorized as Black History throughout the courses I teach. I feel like the recognition of Black History is a reminder that we need to include minority perspectives be it race, gender, or whatever into whatever history is being taught. Much of history is known and taught via the materials provided by the victors, but we cannot ignore the existence and influences of those who lost in a given quest.

I may be Caucasian, but I do not need a “White History Month” in US History just because there is a Black History Month. 

On my maternal side, I’m certain that my family never owned slaves in the United States because slavery did not exist when my ancestors arrived. On my paternal side, the financial status of those who lived in the US during the days of slavery likely meant that they never owned slaves either. The generations of individuals who had parents or grandparents who were slaves in the United States is rapidly declining in numbers because it has been quite a spell (150 years) since 1865. Still some family fortunes of today have their roots planted in the days of slavery. That doesn’t mean that they should be punished today, but at least we can acknowledge that descendants of some families start out life ahead of descendants of others for any number of reasons.

Again money is only a small part. At heart I’m a barefooted farm boy who grew up working physical labor, but I’m also the only member of my immediate family to have earned not just an undergraduate degree but graduate degrees. If my Dad had not provided food and shelter; if my Mom before and even during the illness which took her life did not care about me; if my Grandfather, his twin brother, and their friends had not pushed me to study and work at the “book learning” they never had the opportunity to receive, then I most likely would not have continued in school for as long as I did.

I did not have money given to me by my family. I earned a multitude of scholarships and worked different jobs throughout my formal schooling, but I did receive encouragement. What I received cannot be quantified.

I had the advantage of mentors and positive role models everywhere I looked as a kid. Some of my friends weren’t so lucky. My role models prevented me from making some of the mistakes made by friends. I wasn’t better than my friends. I was just lucky to receive guidance away from the dangerous path.

Have you thought that to really have fair and equal treatment of everyone in the US today, we could not let financial prosperity pass from one generation to the next.

A child cannot choose to be born financially wealthy or poor. Having economic prosperity provides additional opportunities, but when that prosperity dates back several generations has the current batch of descendants earned any of it? Some cases yes, but in others they have done absolutely nothing but squander.

The greatest problem with the concept of doing away with special treatment and special classes of people is that those who already receive special treatment just from being lucky enough to have been born into the right family, have the right skin color, gender, and other factors which they themselves have absolutely nothing do with obtaining for themselves are unwilling to acknowledge that basic fact.

When another receives an opportunity to earn something previously denied to that individual is considered a threat to someone who has always had the same opportunity, then it’s hard to convince me that privilege does not exist.

For equal treatment, one must be willing to admit that everyone does not begin their respective races at the same position.  Admittedly it’s hard to think about that when we’re talking about those behind and not those people one can see up ahead.

Just because someone in the minority is seeking something which has been denied previously doesn’t mean special treatment. It means that they are trying to get equal treatment. 

A problem with the modern ‘conservative’ mindset is that they want to believe that equal equates to the status quo, and arguing that they have rights. Well if they are in fact rights, why throw a fit when others finally get recognized as having the same rights?  How are recognizing their rights a threat to your rights?

If others having the same rights are a threat, perhaps what one terms as rights are in fact privileges. In that case what did you do to earn those privileges compared to the other person? At the very beginning at least, we did nothing more than being born to receive those privileges while another person may not have been born into a situation which allows for equal access or opportunity.

It’s a nice talking point to say let’s treat everyone equally and do away with special classes of treatment and groups of people.  The problem, however, is recognizing just who has been receiving the special treatment without ever giving their advantage a second thought.

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