Can a Nation Founded on Discrimination Survive Without It?

Think of the riots in Baltimore while reading this.

Dick Gayer, Rev. 30 April 2015


Imagine a nation once widely regarded as great but which was expressly founded on Black slavery, the dominance of white Protestant males, and fraudulent land transactions with its native inhabitants. Imagine further that this formerly great nation adopted a constitution to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” but totally discounted its native inhabitants as “Indians not taxed” and counted only three fifths of unspecified “other persons” — the slaves taken from Africa — to determine representation in its legislature. Less than 100 years after its founding, this nation fought a bloody civil war and amended its constitution to end slavery, the denial of suffrage “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude”, and to guarantee all persons the “equal protection of the laws.” In 1920, its constitution was again amended to extend suffrage to women, 132 years after this nation was founded. But during World War II, this nation’s highest court acted to keep minorities in their place by approving the imprisonment of over 120,000 persons, including natural-born citizens, whose ancestry was looked down upon by the majority. In later years, communists and then gays served as this nation’s principal scapegoats.

About 100 years after its civil war (and only about 50 years ago), the Supreme Court of this formerly great nation declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional as a violation of the equal protection amendment. Ten years later, after the assassination of its first Catholic president, its legislature enacted a statute prohibiting private employment discrimination based on race, national origin, and sex. In the ensuing three decades, this nation struggled to achieve equality of opportunity for its social minorities, including women and even gay persons, and resorted to “affirmative action” in employment for racial minorities (and occasionally for women) when insistence upon mere non-discrimination failed to produce significant improvement. Despite such efforts, this nation has become a bunch of warring factions rather than a “melting pot”. Indeed, creating minority groups to discriminate against seems to be its forte.

During most of the 1990s, this formerly great nation suffered under the leadership of a well-intentioned but ineffectual wimp elected by default, since no person of ability chose to seek this nation’s highest office. That president’s attempt to integrate gays into the military — as most of its allies had already done successfully in their armed forces — was met with such strong opposition that he was forced to accept a nonsensical “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise that was terminated in September 2011. Opponents harped on “family values”, but failed to recognize that no such concept can exist in a society as pluralistic as this nation’s. If anything can be characterized as “national values”, they would include four values encouraged by a president who achieved fame as a mediocre movie actor and later as a free-spending governor: every man for himself (or “me first”); a woman’s place is in the home; anything goes, even if illegal; and, the government is not a charity. Because of such values, this nation has been unable — and unwilling — to provide health care for many of its citizens, as most other industrialized nations had done for some time. Obamacare is a cumbersome compromise that is not an effective solution whose failure will hopefully lead to Medicare for everyone (independent of age).

This nation’s real value can be summed up in just two words: rugged individualism. This value was useful a century or so ago, when the nation was still expanding geographically — driving out the “Indians not taxed” — and enjoying prosperity from a growing population. This value naturally gave rise to a highly competitive society, where every man indeed was for himself. But this value became obsolete and even counter-productive, since most people eventually lived in crowded cities and worked for paychecks provided by faceless corporations. There were no more territories to be settled, and no more native inhabitants to be defrauded.

To sustain the notion of rugged individualism as well as corporate profits, this nation established what amounts to a caste system for its minorities, relegating them to the lowest paying jobs and the worst housing conditions, while a decreasing number of its citizens enjoyed what used to be the good life of the middle class. The middle class grumbled about its decreasing standard of living, but this nation’s leaders pointed to the even worse conditions of its minorities. They suggested that the white, heterosexual middle class should be thankful it was better off than the minorities, and racial minorities were told to look down upon the gays. But the middle class was shrinking as the stratification of this nation’s citizens into rich and poor classes accelerated; the growth of inequality of wealth and income is now leading to social instability.

The final condition of this once great nation is likely to be much worse than that predicted by Professor Derrick Bell in “Voices at the Bottom of the Well” (1992), in which he suggested that racial minorities will suffer the ultimate discrimination by being exchanged for gold and restoration of the environment (to rescue its other citizens from bankruptcy and pollution). More likely is the complete stratification of this nation’s peoples into two classes: a minuscule wealthy class supported by an enormous poor class consisting of minorities and everyone else. The extinct white, heterosexual middle class, having been duped by this nation’s leaders to feel good by looking down upon the unfortunate minorities, will have joined them at the bottom of the well. This once great nation will have survived, but only by expanding its fundamental national “family” value: discrimination.

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