Before the time of slavery and women’s suffrage movement, humankind has struggles to come to terms with equal rights since the beginning. Famous eras of history like the Civil Rights Movement have overshadowed other movements as the scope or struggle were never brought to the fore front with the same magnitude. Every sex, race, and creed during some part of history has experienced discrimination and struggled with government to be recognized and treated as equals. By no means am I lessening the struggle of African Americans in this country, but everyone needs to acknowledge and accept that the problem runs deeper than one group of people and in actuality throughout history one group or another has been targeted for discrimination, segregation, even hate crimes. What possessed me to want to write about this? The current climate in the world followed by headline stories demonstrates that, depending on the time and place or country if you will, there is controversy over one group or another where people feel threatened by one group or another leading to genocide, riots, murder, and death. Some of these struggles are recent in nature while others have been raging for centuries. The following examples come not just from movies and literature based on or inspired by historical events, but actual events through history that shaped the world we see today.
Religious Persecution- Man of La Mancha and the Spanish Inquisition
When we think of this topic, we think of the Middle East and the struggle between Israel and Palestine for the Holy Land which has raged for decades since the early 20th Century. Religion has always play a large role in the politics of a country just look at the United States and the current debate of gay marriage. Here is a list of wars fought over or involved religion in some way: Israelite conquest of Canaan, Islamic expansion, The Crusades, The Thirty Year’s War, The French Revolution, The Taiping Rebellion, WW2 (Holocaust primarily), Lord’s Resistance Army, Lebanese Civil War, Algerian War of Independence and Civil War, Iranian Revolution, Seven Year’s War, Spanish Armada vs Britain, Saxon Wars, the Israeli/Palestinian wars, and many others. As history has caused many men to fall prey to war and religion, the focus here will be on the Spanish Inquisition and the incredible fictional story of an idealist, Don Quixote.
The Spanish Inquisition started in 1478 and lasted until 1834 as a way for Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile to maintain Catholicism in their kingdom as it was under the control of the Spanish Monarchy. The Spanish Inquisition caused many Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity to escape persecution but the purpose of the inquisition was to inspect the genuineness of those that converted in previous years. The supposed toll of the torture and censorship was 2,000 people burned at the stake and another 15,000 reconciled by 1490.
Man of the La Mancha 1972 film starring Peter O’Toole centers its story around the trials of the Inquisition where heretics of the church were persecuted and jailed for their suspected acts against the church. The song The Impossible Dream pictured above talks about fighting the good fight and never giving up against impossible odds kind of a anti-inquisition anthem if you will. Miguel de Cervantes, aging and an utter failure as a playwright, poet, and tax collector is thrown into a dungeon in Seville to await trial by the Inquisition for an offense against the church. There he is dragged before a jury of his fellow prisoners who plan to take his belongings including his uncompleted manuscript of Don Quixote. Wanting to save his manuscript, Cervantes after the court agrees begins his passion play of Don Quixote with him and his man servant as the main characters while the rest of the prisoners play the roles of other characters. After his plea is heard, back in the dungeon the prisoners return his previous manuscripts as Cervantes is summoned to his real trial by the Inquisition. The prisoners ban together to sing him off with The Impossible Dream. As you go through this page keep these words in mind:
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star
Racial and Ethnic Persecution- The Native Americans vs. The United States
When most people see this category, the Civil Rights Movement comes to mind before anything else as it received plenty of attention during its time yet African American are not the first and certainly won’t be the last to be discriminated against. As the title reads, We instead of I Have A Dream is of course based on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech I Have A Dream delivered on August 28,1963 in which he called for an end to racism in the United States. He delivered his address to 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. Racism touches all borders and countries as it is not only an American thing. Racism causes wars, genocides, and violence all over the world. As technology improves and more has become available to the public, so has information and stories of human rights violations all over the world. Immigrants early in America’s history and still now are persecuted and profiled as bad for business here in the United States being exploited and used for cheap labor and stereotyped based on little information. However the original smear campaign has to go to the Native American who lived on this land long before this country was a country.
The tribes that encompass the term Native America are full of ancient traditions and a vibrant oral tradition, yet today are plagued with modern problems more so than main stream American such as suicide, pregnancy, unemployment, and alcoholism which are increasing each year. Push to near extinction, Native Americans have tried to adapt to a changing world while holding stead fast to the hope that their legacy and culture will live on. Even though the government supposedly considers the various tribes that make up the term Native Americans sovereign nations, it doesn’t stop them from trying to tax them to death. Most rely on Indian casinos to keep the reservation alive as government does not provide sufficient assistance to the tribes as few of their treaties signed over land and finances were ever honored. (Don’t believe me check out these fund facts about Native American funding and unemployment on the reservation.)
Discrimination against Native Americans is the longest held racism in the United states. Race remains a strong motivator of hate crimes outranking religious and sexual discrimination. In 2007 the FBI reported with data from 13,000 agencies nationwide, whites were reported as the largest offenders with 3,800 across all racial groups. Over 9,000 incidents occurred that year mostly intimidation with 22 of 76 hate crimes involving Indians and only 7 of them were committed by other Indians. The report shows that between 2006 and 2007 the number crimes against Indians remained the same while the overall number of hate crimes dipped. Many reservations to this day are still affected by institutionalized racism as the World Watch Institute notes 317 reservations are threatened by environmental hazards and while formal equality has been legally granted, American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders remain some of the most economically disadvantaged in the country and suffer from high levels of alcoholism and suicide. The fact remains that those who survived were marched to reservations that constitute only 4 percent of the U.S. territory and the treaties signed were violated. Tens of thousands were forced to attend residential school system to reeducate them in the white settler American values, culture and economy essentially trying to wipe out a people. If nothing else this teaches not only the U.S. but the world that the human spirit is stronger than any mandate and with help can prevail. (Check out DoSomething and NA NetRoots for more info).
LGBT Discrimination- The Laramie Project, Prop 8/ DOMA Supreme Court Case and We Are Dad
The reason for the title above simply explains a few of the many events that have happened during my young lifetime as the acceptance of the LGBT community has gained acceptance over the decades since the Stonewall Riots the birth of the Gay Rights Movement. I, myself, am not gay (as a woman I love men too much) nor an activist…I am a humanist. I believe everyone has the right to happiness, love, and success no matter sex, creed or orientation. The two documentaries above talk of the struggle, history, and events that shape the movement which I find fascinating. Some people have likened it to the Civil Rights Movement and other become offended by the comparison. The persecution of a people based on a specific trait such as race, creed, or sexual orientation and a movement to right these wrongs as Don Quixote would say to me is fighting the same hatred only dressed in different clothes. People can sugar coat the facts and everyone is entitled to their opinions, but lets call a spade a spade people.
The four event mentioned in the title of this section represent the aspects of hate crimes, gay marriage, and gay adoption in this country. By no means can you compartmentalize everything into these three categories but to do this subject justice I must condense. The Laramie Project is a film version of the play wrote based on more than 200 interviews conducted in Laramie, Wyoming reconstructing the chronology of Matthew Shepard’s visit to a local bar, his kidnap and beating, the discovery of him tied to a fence, the vigil at the hospital, his death and funeral, and the trial of his killers. It mixes real news reports with actors portraying friends, family, cops, killers, and other Laramie residents in their own words. It concludes with a Laramie staging of “Angels in America” a year after Shephard’s death. During the trial it was widely reported that Shepard was targeted because he was gay. Shepard’s murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels. This is only one example of a hate crime against homosexual even though people debate the term still to this day in regards to this case. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Project reported that hate crimes against the LGBTQ community were at their highest in 2011 since 1998, the year they began to tally such attacks and also the year Matthew Shepard was murdered. (See report here and check out CivilRights.org)
Another point of contention in the fight for human rights, same sex marriage, which currently is being discussed under California’s Prop 8 and the federal act DOMA. Okay every country has its contradictions, but the United States seems to be full of them. We preach separation of church and state yet people treat same sex marriage as biblical law therefore the country’s federal mandate that marriage is between a man and a woman. Why can’t everyone have the right to be just as miserable as the heterosexual? Hell as a woman when I marry my husband I want to know that my gay friends can relate to my misery…LOL. The current issue before the Supreme Court, who is expected to make their decision sometime in June, in two separate cases is the constitutionality of Prop 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) and concerns over DOMA (Windsor v. The Untied States). Prop 8 involves the state of California banning same sex marriage which the couples in question say it violates the constitution under equal protection. While DOMA, The Defense of Marriage Act, signed into federal law by Clinton, prevents same sex couples from enjoying federal benefits such as joint tax returns and Social Security. DOMA also defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Married same sex couples are being denied more than 1,100 benefits that heterosexual couples under federal law. If we are a country of equals let us be equal then. PERIOD. (DOMA case and Prop 8 case explained)
The final act of this section relates to gay adoption and assumption of “fitness” as well as “ability” to raise children in a lesbian and gay environment. We are Dad (2005) documents the story of two male pediatric AIDS nurses who have taken in a number of HIV positive infants as foster parents and struggle to provide a stable, loving home for their kids. When one of the children is found to be HIV negative even though at birth tested HIV positive, the state of Florida is determined to have the child adopted but not by his foster parents a gay couple. The fight made headlines and thrust the family into the debate over gay adoption. In the U.S., states can restrict adoption by sexual orientation or marital status, while other adoptions are handles by the courts where some judges and clerks accept or deny petitions to adopt based on criteria that varies in the same state leading to confused or ambiguous legal status for same sex parents in some states. According to the Williams Institute in 2007, 270,000 children in this country lived with same sex couples while only one quarter or 65,000 were adopted. Every child needs a loving home and frankly in the United States the foster care system is insufficient to care for these children especially when they age out the system having no where to go. ( Life Long Adoptions)
Gender Discrimination- Gender Roulette: Denying the Right to Personhood Based on Gender Roles.
We commonly think of gender discrimination as something that mostly affects women, while women’s issues are more publicized and part of the mainstream media, men’s issues become marginalized or drown in a sea of what we deem as more important. Have we become too sensitive toward the plight of women and less sensitive toward men? Gender equality goes both ways depending on where you reside in the world as men face various problems such as men’s health inequalities, male suicide, boys’ educational underachievement, issues of male role models and men and boys’ personal safety. This section in no way means to undermine the importance of women’s issue, but shine a light on male issues that sometime parallel or converge with women’s issues. As a nation and world, we need to recognize that nothing is independent from the other and must acknowledge as well as value both perspectives as some of the issues men and women deal with are the same or similar.
The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys
By David Benatar (Reviewer:Simon Blackburn)
“Who wins the fight depends on the terms of the contest: men win if it is fought over the control of wealth and access to prestigious positions in banks and boardrooms, whereas for 50 years or so women have been able to claim victory in the war of words. Oppression, prejudice, discrimination, sexism, violence and institutional injustice are supposed to be perpetrated by men against women, who thereby gain the status of martyrs and victims, deserving redress and restitution. Women are the complainants, men the not very successful defendants. More succinctly, women whinge and men cringe.”
“Men are conscripted to fight in wars more than women. With the exception of sexual assault, and with spousal violence a surprising draw, men are more often victims of violence than women, whether through casual crime or politically inspired purges and genocides. More and more severe corporal punishment is inflicted on boys than on girls. In marital break-ups, women are more likely to gain custody of children than men. In many contexts it is harder for men to maintain bodily privacy than women. Men have to wait their turn to jump in the lifeboats, too.”
“Benatar is certainly right that each sex has something to complain about. Each is pressurized by norms: girls are supposed to be girly and boys to be boyish, and those who will not or cannot conform may suffer as a result…All that he aims to show is that if it is all too often tough being a woman, it is also sometimes tough being a man, and that any failure to recognize this risks distorting what should be everyone’s goal, namely universal sympathy as well as social justice for all, regardless of gender.”
Disability Discrimination- Why be normal, when you can be extraordinary?
The last group or category if you will is defined by federal law as “any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” Ableism is a form of perceived discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. Other names for it include disability discrimination, physicalism, handicapism, disability oppression, and disablism. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism. Many clinicians have explained the ableist societal world view is that the able bodied are seen as the norm, while the people with disabilities must strive to become the norm or keep their distance from the able bodied people. Disabilities are seen as errors, mistakes, or a failing rather than a consequence of human diversity, akin to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. Disability affects hundreds of millions of families, currently 10 percent of the total world’s population roughly 650 million people, live with disability while females have higher rates than men in most OECD countries.
There are 45 countries with anti-discrimination and other disability specific laws, however the recent changes to national laws to promote disability employment have not been adequate to assist individuals with new types of impairments. Disabilities account for the biggest minority group and will increase as the population ages. Eighty percent live in developing countries the UN Development Program reports. The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability, and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged. Statistics show a steady increase in these numbers. The two-way link between poverty and disability creates a vicious circle. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability because of lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation, as well as safe living and working conditions. Once this occurs, people face barriers to the education, employment, and public services that can help them escape poverty. (Disabled World)
“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” -Declaration of Independence in Congress July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America