You Don’t Want Equality

Words have meaning. It’s a horrible phrase, but I’ve heard it many times over the course of my life. It’s horrible and wonderful at the same time, and really highlights where we are on equality. You see, of course words have meaning. But they have meaning based on structure and the convention of the day. In effect, their meaning is tied to the culture and society in which they’re used.

Just like equality. When Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about equality, he didn’t talk about racial equality — he talked about equality based on character. And perhaps in his day, at the time of the speech, the focus really needed to be on skin color, because that was the primary source of the inequality. People were treated differently regardless of their character, of the quality of their actions. The word equality had a certain meaning.

But today, you don’t want equality. At least not that kind of equality. It’s not about the color of your skin. Or your sexual preference (and yes, I’m using the word preference, knowing full well that word has meaning, and makes it sound like a choice in all cases, whether or not that’s what I really mean). Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, doesn’t seem to understand that. I’ll use him has an example, partially because he’s using his status to express himself, so I’ll take advantage of that. But he’s just one example, with nothing particularly unique or interesting about it.

Colin Kaepernick recently sat during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, where it’s a generally accepted norm to stand. He said it was to raise awareness of his perception of an issue: “ I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” Which brings us back to the opening — he doesn’t really want equality. He wants inequality. Because to give privilege to black people would be not different than what he’s suggesting is the case today, where some portion of the population has privilege based on skin color. And his action is minor — it’s well within his right to sit during the playing of a song. But by doing so, he’s really only propagating the problem — because he’ll be judged based on his actions, but will likely complain that it’s based on his skin color.

If you really want equality — then start doing. Allow your society to judge you based on your actions, based on your contribution to that society. It might not always be easy, and you might encounter adversity, but if you continue to do your part to contribute to the society, you’ll eventually overcome that adversity. And that’s the other sticky part in this whole conversation — it’s based on societal norms. If you grew up in a country where everything was shared, where most people don’t work for a living but are instead provided all of the staples of life, you can’t bring that to the United States and expect equality — expect the society in the United States to follow those same norms. Just like standing during any country’s National Anthem — you don’t have to show respect for their society, but you’ll likely be less welcome there if you don’t. And it’s not because you’re not German, or Russian, or South African, but because of your actions.

I’m not saying that everything is rosy. You’ll likely still encounter resistance. But if you resort to looting, burning down neighborhoods, painting graffiti on cars and buildings, then you should expect to be treated equally. Equally based on anyone else that would take those actions. Regardless of their skin color. And unfortunately, if you highlight that you’re doing those things because of your skin color, religion, or sexual orientation, then you’re going to reinforce a stereotype that those actions are directly tied to people with those characteristics. Don’t sit during a National Anthem and then expect others to change because of it. Stand up, and take action. Positive action. Action that says, “I believe in what this country stands for, and I’m going to do something to prove it.”

The people in the picture that started this post aren’t equal. They’re not all equally strong. Some are better at math. Some are better at writing. Some are faster. Some would be more (or less) capable on a shrimp boat. I shouldn’t be drafted into the NBA or NFL. But it’s not because of my skin color. And it’s not because of my height or my sexual orientation. Next time you don’t get what you want, look at the statistics, at your performance. Are you able to perform at the level required by the job, by society? Did you choose to? Or did you really want inequality?

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