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Friday, 17 September 2021

The dream of equality

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Sunday 14 Mar 2021
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech
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We’d better get used to it. In this world, there is no equality.

Societies can never truly be equal, no matter what they call themselves.

That “all men are created equal”, a high-minded, magnanimous statement, widely repeated through history, religion and philosophy, is false. Yes, we may be equal in the eyes of God, but that concept has several diverse implications and interpretations, leaving us bewildered as to what equality really is.

The fact is we are not even born equal. Some are born blind, handicapped, mentally retarded, so from the start they are dealt a blow of inequality.

Were we to be born equal, we need to be given exactly equal opportunities, intelligence capabilities, strength, health, and wealth. Not even a Utopia can achieve that.

From Plato’s “Republic” to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, man has been striving for a fair and just society and that is good enough. However, the nearer we get to equality, the further it gets away from us. We have made miles of progress only to discover that we are miles away from it. Why? Because we keep adding more meanings to the word than was originally intended.

The story of equality is long and varied. Derived from the Greek/Latin aequalis, meaning “sameness” of two things in quantity or value, or as in the Islamic algebra, still in use today, equality came to be a synonym for justice in the Athenian republic. Later it became interchangeable with Liberty, expressed by philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Hegel and later the French influential thinkers Montesquieu, Voltaire and Jean- Jacques Rousseau, famous for the affirmation that “Man is born free.”

Such ideas greatly influenced American statesmen. It touched the core of the young society, a colony of the British empire. They rebelled, fought their oppressors, won the war and proceeded to write their famous Declaration of Independence which states “all men are created equal.”

Yet these very same men owned slaves, brought over from Africa by the British to work their tobacco plantations. Thomas Jefferson, a statesman, scholar, author, architect, governor of the state of Virginia, minister to France, founder of the University of Virginia, owned slaves.

Were the ideas of equality superfluous?

Jefferson himself had no equal in ability, but his heart was in the right place. The concept of freedom and equality became quintessential American.

It took 90 years following this noble declaration for any form of equality to take hold. Abraham Lincoln fought and won a civil war, leading to the Civil Rights Act, the 14th Amendment in 1868, and still there was no equality.

It was not until the unforgettable King speech, which resonated far and beyond the Civil Rights Act, was signed in 1964. It addressed inequality based on race, colour, religion, and sex.

The racial unrest so apparent today proves that despite every effort, equality remains elusive.

Everyone wishes to live in America because it is the land of freedom and equality. America has made strides since the King march approaching the ideal of equality on which the nation was founded. Equality in education, voting rights, and opportunities gave everyone the chance to perform and achieve.

In recent decades a new burden was placed on the meaning of equality. Apart from ethnic minorities, blacks and women who struggle for equality, a new group was formed, to wield much influence. They are the LGBTQ, and most of us know what these letters stand for. The gays, the lesbians, the trans this and trans that and the questionable. They are those who are not sure where they belong.

As they grew larger, their voices grew louder. They have resorted to the courts and acquired rights beyond their expectations. They have infiltrated the American society reaching equality of other minorities.

America bends backwards to bestow equal rights to every citizen. They elected a black president who early in his presidency declared that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. By the end of his term he changed his stand, appointing judges that would legalise marriage between same-sex couples.

Equality bent its back further, by allowing tax-payers money to pay for transgender surgeries.

The following administration made an effort of relieving that bent back which was about to break.

The new Biden administration may have dealt the final blow. It doesn’t differentiate between equality and equity.

Equality is ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to learn, work, compete, and succeed.

Equity goes a step further. It gives people what they need over and above others in order to achieve fairness.

This fairness would only be achieved if boys are able to compete in the same sports, if a boy feels he is a girl. Confused? So are the parents of the girls who could never win in track, basketball, races etc. Males have different degrees of power, even if they feel more female.

Worse still, they are allowed to use the same restrooms, lockers, showers, etc. Why should there be discrimination against any member or group in an equal society?

Treating everyone the same is now unfair.

Now, equality, at best a goal, seems unattainable. Equity bounced equality. The new Racial Equity Plan will change the US forever.

If equal opportunity is closest to equality, should society come up with a third sex, male, female and other? A solution, fair and equal.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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