Let’s start with what I believe: There is no idea more revolutionary in our modern world than the affirmation that all people are equal. No principle is more powerful. No statement more rebellious. And none more detrimental to nations that do not apply it.
As we’ve seen with China and Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, the leaders of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes always believe themselves to be superior to the rest of the population. And it is in these leaders’ best interests to continually control and censor the vast majority of citizens because, sooner or later, they will rebel. After all, the belief that we are all equal is, and always will be, stronger than any regime.
The United States, which was founded on the ideals of liberty and equality, is one of the world’s most open societies. The opportunities that liberty creates for Americans make this concept one of the country’s most important assets. However, when it comes to equality, we often fail.
Take today’s clearest examples of discrimination in the United States. The first takes place systematically throughout the most powerful military the world has ever seen, as gay men and women are barred from openly serving in the armed forces. The second is the terrible treatment of immigrants in the United States, where so many people who work and study and contribute to the country’s well-being are simply not seen as equals due to their residency status.
Allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the armed forces would not have a negative effect on American military effectiveness — this was the conclusion of a study the Pentagon released at the beginning of December. And most soldiers surveyed for the study said they would not mind serving with openly gay recruits. But the fact is that gay Americans are already serving in the armed forces; they are on the front lines in Iran and Afghanistan, and they are deployed around the world. These soldiers have simply not revealed their sexual orientation, since doing so would mean expulsion from the military. It would mean the end of many careers.
The military’s notorious “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, enacted in 1993, during President Bill Clinton’s first year in the White House, is one of the nation’s great hypocrisies because it basically tells gay soldiers that while they can die defending their country, they cannot reveal who they really are. So the official policy of the American military is to lie, and also to discriminate. And lawmakers have refused to change that policy, most recently on Dec. 9, when the Senate found itself three votes short of 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle that would have opened the way to repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.
That, however, cannot last. Soon, the precept that “all men are created equal,” established by our nation’s founders when they crafted the Declaration of Independence, will prevail against this hypocrisy.
That fundamental principle will also eventually prevail over the continued discrimination against 11 million undocumented immigrants in this nation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations declares in its first article that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Yet I do not see undocumented immigrants being treated as equals, with either dignity or fraternity, in the United States.
Yes, it is true that these millions of immigrants are in the U.S. illegally. But it is also true that thousands of corporations and millions of Americans hire them, illegally, and collect the economic rewards of their work. And everybody knows this happens around the country, yet it seems that official policy is to lie. As the immigrants lie about their status, and employers lie about hiring them, the government lies by closing its eyes to this reality. The ill-treatment of and discrimination against undocumented immigrants is one of the great injustices of the United States, and we urgently need a radical shift in immigration policy; we need reform that allows for much more transparency. After all, the least we can do is demand that these immigrants be offered respect, dignity and a path to legal status in the U.S.
Following his visit to the United States in 1831, the French thinker and author Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that nothing had surprised him so much as the notion of equality among the nation’s people. And out of that equality, he wrote, everything derives. Today, with two sets of blatantly discriminatory policies in place against gays and undocumented residents, the United States has entered a dark and unlikely period.
We have betrayed our own principles, and the only way out is to stop lying and speak the truth — to ourselves, above all. That would be the first step out of the darkness.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(November 01, 2010)