Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it seems worthwhile to reflect on the nature of equality. King himself dedicated his life to the cause of civil rights for all. His, along with the many others’, leadership has enabled this country to reach a place where an African American can be elected to the highest office in the land during an election where one of his main competitor’s for the presidency was a woman. Something unheard of during King’s time. However, while we have come a long way in achieving justice and equality in this country, there are still many areas where it’s pursuit has either stagnated or gotten worse. It is important we not only recognize these areas, but understand why they persist.
Income inequality is becoming increasingly more prevalent in this country. As has been mentioned previously, one of the reason for this is, rather than take on the tax burden to help move this country forward economically, the monied interests at the top spend ample resources ensuring their tax rates not only remain static, but in some cases decrease thanks to loopholes and deductions unavailable to the average American. In addition, the United States has controlled a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth for most of recent history (somewhere between %25-%30). As the rest of the developing world begins to catch up with the United States, it is inevitable the amount of wealth they control will also increase, with the U.S.’s share decreasing. However, so far many in the richest 1% have become protectionist with their money leaving this burden on the middle class. This income disparity can not continue if we are to meet the economic challenges of the coming century.
Educational attainment and opportunity still remains an area of shocking inequality. The disparity between rich and poor neighborhoods, minority and white students, affluent and impoverished students is an enormous problem. The issue can be traced back to a variety of factors from the property tax funding system of public education to the effects poverty has on a child’s ability to focus during their formative years of education. There have been a number of initiatives sponsored in an attempt to address this issue, not the least of which being the controversial and arguably unsuccessful No Child Left Behind Act that, amongst other things, attempted to improve the standardized test scores of students seen as “falling behind.” This is inexorably tied to the aforementioned issue of unequal income in this country, and it is vital this issue be addressed if we are to move forward as a country.
Racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality continues to remain an area in need of improvement. There is still a great deal of inequality when it comes to gender, race, and sexual orientation in this country. Women still make less than their male counterparts doing the same work. In many states, same-sex couples are still being prevented from marrying and receiving the legal benefits their opposite-sex counterparts enjoy. In everything from quality of education to income there continues to be a vast chasm between racial minorities in America and the majority Caucasian class. While we have made progress, it is important we recognize these discrepancies exist and continue to work towards building a more united, equal society.
In the face of all this inequality it is easy to get discouraged. With so much work needing to be done in the areas of civil rights, educational opportunities, and income distribution it is easy to get discouraged. However, a great deal has been accomplished by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Hubert H. Humphrey in the face of greater opposition than faced today. We must continue to recognize, while there are differences separating us, our values and desires for a prosperous future ultimately unite us.