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In the End Antiblack, Antifemale, and All Forms of Discrimination Are Equivalent to the Same Thing—Antihumanism.*

May 1, 2010

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way around. Human rights invented America.
• Jimmy Carter

If discrimination based on race is constitutionally permissible when those who hold the reins can come up with “compelling” reasons to justify it, then constitutional guarantees acquire an accordionlike quality.
• William Orville Douglas, who served 36 years on the United States Supreme Court

For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person. •Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070

The recently-passed immigration law in Arizona requiring law enforcement to ask for the papers of those whom they suspect to be illegal immigrants is not a political issue. It is a human rights issue. I know that I do not understand all of the implications of this law, nor do I understand the law itself fully, but what I dislike most is the tenor of much of the discussion surrounding it

The diversity of this country is vast and is represented not only by our varied ethnic heritage and the colors of our skin, but by regional differences, by the cultural constructs with which we were raised, by religion—or its absence, by gender identification, by all the many things that bring us strength as a nation. Our very differences—and the way we embrace them and even adopt them in an ever-swirling stew—are what make this country appealing to many who come here from outside its borders.

Our differences are an integral part of the American dream because difference, however it is defined, means that whoever I am, there is possibility here for me. I can look around and see not only those with whom I identify as being like me, but an abundance of others who are not like me and are not alike, even if their physical appearance is similar.

Regardless of the imperfections of acceptance and burgeoning intolerant talk and the multiple kinds of prejudice and bigotry that still exist in this country—however much we might like to imagine that we are open and accepting—we remain hopeful that the ongoing struggle for equity will continue and benefit us even when we fail to see the irony of actions that diminish such possibility for others. We are human.

In a world where I hope teachers-in-training will learn ways to insure that all participants in the life of the classroom have a right to a voice and a perspective and to an honoring of the fullness of who they are, this legislation provokes serious concerns. I believe I have a right to say so.

I also believe that others, regardless of how I feel about what they do or say, have rights as well. And I believe that name-calling and uncivil talk accomplish very little that is productive. Hearts are hardened and people are polarized when voices go unheard or are silenced altogether. M.P. Follett noted in Creative Experience, (1924), that “what people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the utmost import that those should not be considered the same.” Get rid of our differences and the possibilities disappear as well, for all of us.

When he was president, John F. Kennedy said that “it is not enough to lend your talents to deploring present situations. Most educated men and women on occasions prefer to discus what is wrong, rather than to suggest alternative courses of action.” This is where it is easy for educators to get themselves into trouble. We see injustice. We see political acts that concern us. We see acts that reason tells us will lead to unintended consequences. How do we express outrage or sorrow or concern without proselytizing? Is it possible to be a caring, thinking human being without expressing who one is in some way or another?

I do not want to determine the political party with which my students affiliate. I do not expect that they will share my beliefs. I find myself to be a curious blend of things anyway—liberal on some issues, conservative on some, and uncertain on a myriad of others whose complexities I am still exploring. I want my students to maintain independent and thoughtful minds and hearts, open to possibilities, willing to listen to other perspectives, yet also determined to uncover truths of living for themselves.

In the introduction to her 1995 book, Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott said that “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

I do have hope, a very stubborn hope, that I will influence my students, that from their time with me they will recognize their own unique creative idiosyncratic worth as human beings and thus come to understand that all of the people with whom they will be working are also such beings, whether they are colleagues or students or parents or members of a larger community. I hope that they will see that standardization and accountability movements are difficult to impose because of the differences among us. It is my hope that our differences will be celebrated and that each among us will be able to live within the fullness of her or his hopes.

What is your hope for the world?

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
• Martin Luther King Jr.

* Shirley Chisolm, the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress, gets credit for the title quotation.

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