Editorial: Civil rights for all
By Sammie Hill–
Although the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington has passed, its message should not be forgotten, as the struggle for civil rights—which refer to the basic rights of any citizen to secure political and social freedom and equality—continues to persist in our nation.
While Martin Luther King Jr. remains renowned for his work towards racial equality, the leader of the March on Washington engaged in a variety of other causes, including anti-poverty and anti-Vietnam advocacy, showcasing his philosophy of justice for all of humanity, not just one specific group of people.
One of the most powerful orators in United States history, King moved countless individuals with his speeches that promoted tolerance and condemned prejudice. King inspired the downtrodden and empowered the oppressed; he encouraged all citizens to discard apathy towards injustice and take action to create positive change in society.
Although King is mainly associated with the African American Civil Rights Movement, his ideas transcend particular groups of people. His emphasis on love, tolerance and compassion can be applied to all of humanity, and they remain relevant today as individuals in the U.S. continue to struggle for equality.
While strides have been made in our nation to extinguish prejudice, discrimination still pervades our society, detrimentally affecting the lives of countless people. For example, gender expectations generate a hostile environment for those who violate traditional gender roles, such as homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender individuals and heterosexuals struggling to conform to society’s conventions of how a man or a woman should act.
Racial biases breed stereotypes that affect countless people in the U.S., such as African Americans, immigrants from foreign countries, white people, Native Americans and others. Furthermore, class issues form distinctions among people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, often resulting in the illusion that some classes reign superior to others.
These and other prejudices permeate our society and often prevent individuals from securing political and social equality. Therefore, America still has progress to be made in ensuring all of its citizens civil rights. How can our country move forward from the past and develop a more inclusive, tolerant future?
We need to get to the root of the problem. Many groups throughout history have advocated for civil rights, including women, African Americans, LGBT people, and more. Although each group has its own concerns specific to the individuals involved, the core of each movement is the inability to attain equality.
Thus, we must allow ourselves to look at civil rights as a collective issue pertaining not just to African Americans, women, LGBT people, etc., but to all oppressed people unable to secure basic human rights. We must recognize that civil rights are not privileges extended to particular groups of people that, after years of struggling, the majority finally deems deserving. They are inalienable rights held by every individual regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender, or any other perceived difference from the norm.
Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a day where individuals will be judged solely on the content of their character. This is not the day in which we are living. What are we going to do about it?
For one, we can educate ourselves. King emphasized the important role education plays in the eradication of bigotry.
However, education is not enough. It is only through the application of our education that we will begin to create change. The most educated man is worth nothing if he remains silent as injustice unfolds before him.
Dr. King believed that to witness the violation of civil rights and say nothing indicated an individual “who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
While it is almost always easier to say nothing, while it is more comfortable to remain apathetic, while it is safer to comply rather than to challenge, the suffering of others will not cease until every individual commits themselves to standing for what we claim in this nation to be a fundamental truth—that every citizen is created equal.