Throughout time, human societies have celebrated the idea of “Equality,” and thus, “Accepting” all despite their differences, however, today, we still face difficulties with being a completely welcoming society. Even though we relish in the idea of “equality,” resentment, oppression, and imbalances still exist. Why do these factors of life still exist? Obviously, it’s due to preconceived notions and passed down values, either stemming from old religious beliefs or close-minded familial traditions. If one were to look at the history of the human species, either from a proven historical standpoint, or a religious point of view, everything begins with struggle and oppression, and culture evolves as each suppressed group triumphs over the suppressor and repeats the cycle of segregation: religious history revolving around the repression of Jews, their succession, and the subsequent repression of would-be Christians; textbook history beginning with ancient civilizations and the idea to pillage and conquer other lands while subjecting the inhabitants of the lands to subjugation.
Equality is a concept that is constantly evolving with altering definitions for every individual: to some, it may refer to, “All men are equal;” to others it could be, “All men and women are equal;” it may even be, “All men, except colored men, are equal;” the list can go on almost infinitely. To have a unified definition for “equality” would mean to erase altering religions and the idea of differentiability via skin color, sexual orientation, gender, and political standpoints–this will most likely never happen, so the only thing that could be done would be to “accept.” Acceptance may even be harder than obtaining equality, as there are laws and rules that can legalize aspects of equal treatment; however, acceptance is reliant on a personal basis, and even if one is forced to tolerate treating another as a peer, acceptance of that attitude/mindset wholeheartedly may never develop.
As an American minority, I can speak from only an American stance, and I believe that a melting pot such as the United States of America stumbles with acceptance the most. The myriad amount of cultures intertwining in one nation causes a divide, and with values America has been built on, these cultural differences force every group of people to seek solace within their “faction.” The many colliding cultures, however, also set America up to be a nation of true equality, as sooner or later, what was once an “American” will simply become a person born in America, and not an individual reminiscent of colonial times. What’s unfortunate, however, is those who are “accepting” to receive some form of equal treatment are those who are foreign to America; we are accepting the American way, though, we lose our own culture as a result, and while it’s expected if one migrates into the U.S., it would only be fair if we were treated as Americans instead of as foreigners, despite becoming wholly American.
There are two autobiographies I read that relate to my experience as an Asian-American losing his Asian heritage in order to seek equality and acceptance from my fellow Americans; they are, Black Boy by Richard Wright and Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.
Richard Rodriguez and Richard Wright both face the adversity of being a minority in the United States of America. The separate difficulties they face, however, and during the altering time periods lead to conflicting resolves, though, with the same amount of loss attached. While Rodriguez appreciates his Americanization, even if it was at the cost of his intimate relationship with his parents and overall, his people, Wright’s writings depict his eventual hatred for American culture, and his desire to start anew.
Rodriguez’s piece tells of his endeavors regarding his inability to speak english as a child, and how learning the language was something he wasn’t worthy of: “What I did not believe was that I could speak a single public language” (Rodriguez). Throughout his writing, he discusses the difference between a public language and home language: it being the personal nature of his native tongue compared to the general words/phrases used with the english he hears: “Because I wrongly imagined that English was intrinsically a public language and Spanish an intrinsically private one I easily noted the difference between classroom language and the language of home” (Rodriguez, 38). As time passes on, however, he starts to become assimilated in American society, English is now being spoken at his household, and he is better acquainted with it in public–all of this success to adapt to America, but at the cost of his close family ties: “…feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then. Gone was the desperate…intense feeling of being at home…No longer so close; no longer bound tight by pleasing and troubling knowledge of our public separateness” (Rodriguez). Despite his claim that English was the catalyst to the “end of his childhood,” he appreciates the “public gain” in American society as he is now no longer one who is disadvantaged nor one who is without “individuality:” “…full individuality is achieved, paradoxically, by those who are able to consider themselves members of the crowd. Thus it happened for me: Only when I was able to think of myself as an American, no longer an alien in gringo society, could I seek the rights and opportunities necessary for full public individuality.”
As aforementioned, unlike Rodriguez, Wright came to a conclusion resulting in disgust towards the American culture. Wright was an African-American who struggled with prejudice, though, still sought approval from the white majority as he did not have the power to fight back. It wasn’t until Wright began reading works by H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Dreiser, etc, he realized words can be used as a weapon and that the culture he has grown used to was truly an evil entity: “Yes, this man was fighting, fighting with words/I could calculate my chances for life in the South as a Negro fairly clearly now…I could fight the southern whites by organizing with other Negroes…If I fought openly, I would die” (Wright). Through Wright’s passion for reading, his eyes are opened to the world he has become accustomed to, and how it is not right, thus resulting in his desire to move north, and start his life anew. While Wright is truly grateful to the epiphanies he was able to experience, his writing hints at the regrets he holds due to such realizations: “I had no hope whatever of being a professional man. Not only had I been so conditioned that I did not desire it, but the fulfillment of such an ambition was beyond my capabilities. Well-to-do Negroes lived in a world that almost as alien to me as the world inhabited by whites” (Wright).
Although Wright and Rodriguez achieved a sense of enlightenment, both suffered a personal loss: Rodriguez losing his childhood, and tightly-knit family bonds, and Wright forfeiting his conditioned lifestyle for knowledge. Rodriguez is ultimately positive about his end result, however, Wright is left torn about his incapacity to capitalize on his newly found mindset.
Personally, I, too, have forgotten much about my own Filipino culture due to the need of accepting my status as an American. Accepting myself as an American was at the cost of my own heritage, and although I have accepted the American way, others have not entirely accepted me. I grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which is notoriously known as the “mafioso” portion of Brooklyn–this means it was inhabited by a multitude of Italians and Irish. Growing up in this type of neighborhood, I faced many insults regarding my ethnicity and got into a lot of fights. It was due to this treatment that I sought solace only within my own culture except for my best friend who happened to be Polish. I began to refuse befriending anyone of Italian or Irish descent and thus, became a close-minded racist myself. After some time, however, I stopped generalizing and began to open my mind up as I would appreciate others opening themselves up to accept who I am.
While the majority of religions promote equal treatment and the acceptance of others, there are those that encourage the opposite, and not being of any of the religions may result in another type of segregation. I question whether an amalgamated religion would have been able to prevent where society is now. Traditions that have been cemented into fundamental human values began as “religious” ethics, and if the many distinct civilizations of the past all followed one religion, what would be considered fundamental would be constant throughout the world, and one of those aspects would be the notions behind equality and acceptance. Equality and acceptance would hold a singular meaning, and most likely one that incorporates all types of people as the initial separation between religions would have never existed. This singular religion would have most likely caused a singular government which would abolish the political anarchy we live in today, and under one set of rules, traditions, and political agenda, equality is guaranteed.
Obviously, this is all radical thought and would never work in the present–what can be done now, however, is simply keep an open mind and judge a person for who they are and not what they are. Once I understood this concept, the world felt more vast and less restrictive as it once did. It’s such a simple idea, though, truly difficult to execute.