The American society is viewed by the global community as the nation of freedom, as the country in which any person is able to experience the greatest degree of equality. Indeed, the United States of America is undoubtedly the most diverse nation in the world with people representing different cultures and ethnicities. The Constitution of the United States guarantee equal protection of all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, physical characteristics, or any other factors which make one person different to the others.
However, it should be recognized that the American society does not function as the nation of equals as discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudices are still widespread.
The American children are taught at schools that “the United States of America was founded with the idea that all people are considered equal” (Jeynes and Martinez 195). The history books suggest that the founding fathers did not apply this idea to the African American slaves in the South; however, the ratification of the Constitution was the first step to bring the principle of equality into law.
Even though the American government grants equal rights and equal protections to all citizens, it would be wrong to state with confidence that the American society is the nation of equals.
Jeynes and Martinez emphasize that “as long as Darwinism evolution remains the sole teaching about man’s origins that children are exposed to in the public schools, racism will be highly institutionalized in the way children are instructed” (196). Even though this argument deals mostly with religious aspects of the human evolution, Jeynes and Martinez describe the current situation in American society very clear. Even today, many people are strongly convinced that the Whites are superior to African Americans in their intellectual abilities while African Americans are superior to Whites in terms of physical development and athletic skills. It is possible to assume that African Americans, for example, are more skilful in sports due to their physical characteristics; however, this difference should not become the benchmark for dividing society in groups.
Due to the social stratification and the segmentation of the nation into different groups, the concept of equality is present on the paper only. Every person has a number of groups he or she belongs to. For example, a teenager may belong to the African American group by his race, basketball team by his sports participation, Christian group by his religious beliefs, and high school community by his age. From one side, social identification is necessary for the development as well as normal functioning of any person. From the other side, the institutionalized social groups contribute to further division of society and diminishment of the concept of equality.
Sidlow and Henschen draw the attention of the American nation to the idea of civil rights which guarantee all citizens equal treatment under the law, as supported with the Fourteenth Amendment (99). From the standpoint of democracy, all people have equal rights as well. However, the idea of equality within American society is an ideal which has not been achieved yet. Numerous groups in American society struggle today to obtain equal treatment. For example, the gay couples try to obtain legal equality in terms of marriage and adoption of children and millions of illegal immigrants strive to achieve legal status of citizens. Thus, the law does not allow discrimination against a particular group of people; however, it does not imply that equality is created.
In a sense, the emergence of the independent United States is based on the history of discrimination against minorities. Sidlow and Henschen emphasize that discrimination against women, African Americans, and Native Americans dates back to the early years of the nation, the time when farmers in the South refused to give equal rights to others (99). As more and more diverse people arrived to the United States, it was necessary to bring in the issue of equality into political framework. Nevertheless, it was not enough to ensure equality on the paper; it was necessary to integrate the concept of equality into social relations. Consequently, today millions of people belonging to diverse minority groups have no opportunity to experience equality in their daily lives.
It is important to mention that despite of the widespread recognition of the importance of equality and tolerance towards differences among people, the scientific and academic community started to focus on the rights of minority people only a decade or two ago. In particular, the idea of the inclusive classrooms emerged only several years ago, when the educators realized that their classrooms were composed of diverse students with different needs. It does not mean that classrooms became diverse only a decade ago. It means that the issue of equality has not been properly addressed before. Initially, it was expected that the diverse people coming to the United States would be assimilated into the mainstream culture. However, Vera and Feagin argue that today the mere idea of assimilation is no longer effective. Thus, “clear distinctions are made between those who believe all people should be given a fair chance to succeed and those who believe that if people don’t have equal access to resources, measures should be take to equalize opportunity” (299).
Unfortunately, the equality in American nation exists mostly theoretically rather than practically. People are judged by their market value, as Americans are taught to respect the wealthy and despise the poor. The human character has less value than social and physical attributes. Moreover, Vera and Feagin suggest that very few people are willing to support proactive measure to ensure equality because it would mean loss of the privileges for the dominant groups. At the same time, many people believe that equality is the defining feature of the American society, as any person from any part of the world is able to become successful in this country. However, this view is expressed in support of the economic success rather than social equality.
In addition to economic measures of success, the American people attribute significant value to individualism as opposed to collectivism. In other words, Americans tend to emphasize the importance of individuals rather than teams, groups, or community. Naylor argues that because of this “particular flavor of self-reliance”, the American nation can not become equal (56). For many people, equality means nothing more than equal participation in educational and educational systems, for example. Indeed, equality does not mean that all people have equal talents and are able to achieve outstanding success. Equality is not attainable in these aspects. Therefore, equality means equal access to systems and equal opportunities for all people.
The global community believes that the American nation grants equal opportunities to all citizens. Nevertheless, until today no significant progress has been achieved to guarantee equal opportunities. Many initiatives have been introduced to tackle the problem of discrimination with the hope to integrate equality into American society. For example, the affirmative action was institutionalized to give minority students a better chance for admission. However, affirmative action initiative failed because of its ineffectiveness. The American society is not a nation of equals, and the removal of the political barriers to equality did not result in the removal of economic and social barriers as well.
Naylor suggests that the members of the “mainstream culture tend to focus on freedom, the rights of the individual, equality, achievement, and mobility” (57). The members of other groups strive to become part of mainstream culture as well. The reason to seek membership in dominant culture is rather obvious – for many centuries, the dominating groups have been enjoying more rights and freedoms. Today, the situation is not much different to the time when African Americans were slaves, for example. Even though slavery has been prohibited, members of minority groups do not have equal access to political, economic, and social systems.
The reason for the failure to bring equality into society is not related to the weakness of political system or lack of opportunities for all. The key issue behind lack of equality is related to cultural and economic factors. For example, a teenager born to immigrant parents may not have equal opportunity to attend college compared to other students only because his parents are not able to afford education. Consequently, this teenager is not able to take advantage of equal opportunity to have well-paid job because lack of education is projected on career. In the long-run, this teenager is likely to become an adult who does not fit the mainstream group of successful, educated Whites not because of ethnic or racial differences but rather because of the social and economic barriers.
In conclusion, the American nation prides itself for its principle of equality, freedoms and rights for all. Nevertheless, the reality is that equality remains nothing more than a concept addressed by the American Constitution. As the nation of immigrants, the American society includes diverse people who strive to take the fullest advantage of their individualism. To ensure equality, the government should remove not only legislative barriers to equal participation but also provide all people with an opportunity to participate in economic and social systems.