Whenever I’ve taken part in a discussion about equal rights or carried out some research related to the topic, I’ve encountered declarations from some people — often determined to derail the discussion — that there are no groups of people within our modern-day society here in the U.S. that have fewer rights than any other group of people.
Often a challenge is posed where they want you to name a right that one group has that another doesn’t — men vs. women, People of Colour vs. White, LGBTQ+ vs. heterosexual, etc — with this request aiming to stump or surprise people enough that they can deflect and seemingly succeed in proving their point that today, everyone has the exact same equal rights.
Until that is, it’s brought to their attention that the debate around equal rights as the basis by which society encapsulates and lives by its ideals is not about the theory of their existence but about their equal application.
Abortion, for example, is a constitutionally protected right in the United States — but it’s not equally applied throughout the country because different state-level government restrictions create access barriers that effectively ban abortions. The idea of equality being behind this right does exist but its application is inequitable. Women, trans men and non-binary people who can get pregnant are having their rights constrained by excessive government interference and discrimination — not to mention that cis-born men, as far as I can find, have no reproductive rights restrictions or bans placed on the choices they make about their bodies by the government (if I find any, I will update the article).
Also, for example, here in America, as I mentioned in my previous article, we do not have the freedom to look after our health or access services to do so on an equal basis. Even though health care is secured through insurance coverage that, conceptually, is a right given to all of us, with nearly 20% of Americans unable to afford/reliably access it makes this equal right arbitrary.
In the United States, we cannot enjoy the right to health care. Our country has a system designed to deny, not support, the right to health. The United States does not really have a health care system, only a health insurance system. Our government champions human rights around the world, insisting that other countries protect human rights, even imposing sanctions for a failure to do so. Our government is not as robust in protecting rights at home. | Health Care As a Human Right via the American Bar Association
Everybody in the USA is supposed to have the right to vote but restrictions and suppressive practices/laws exist to make certain communities struggle when trying to carry out their civic duty — there is a long, systemic history of this against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. An example of voter suppression laws can be found when you look to North Dakota during the mid-terms of 2018. A new rule implemented only weeks before the election almost uniquely impacted Native American communities. Lawmakers in the area knew that many reservations do not have physical street addresses (P.O. Boxes are used instead) yet they introduced a new rule that stipulated street addresses must be on IDs when voting. The tribal IDs that had previously been used with no issues before were now useless.
Any civil or human right that is not equitably applied for all people cannot be called an equal right. If it favours one group or only removes barriers for some, while actively restricting others based on sex, gender, race or religion, etc it is not, in any shape or form, equality. It isn’t even the type of equality that we should be fighting for. It’s just another form of oppression, and as we’re fast approaching 2020, ain’t nobody got time for anything other than liberated rights!
Wanting equality for all is admirable and absolutely where any society should be in regard to the ideals and morals it wishes to create and live by. It is a worthy starting point when building a future for all, but if the application of a right is not equally accessible either structurally or individually then it ends up meaning nothing. Any obstacles that deliberately restrain certain groups of people from exercising their rights in the same way as (often) more privileged members of society must be dismantled.
It starts with us. We need to make sure we are knowledgeable about issues and that we do the work to learn. We need to listen to the people who are on the receiving end of unequal practices but not expect them to do all the emotional labour for us by teaching us what we should know. We need to read, attend seminars, take part in rallies and consciously unpack our biases and privileges and question everything. It’s worth it.
Further Info You Might Find Interesting:
Equity vs. Equality vs. Liberation: First Steps Toward Inclusive Classroom Discussions via Duke University Talent Identification Program
What Is White Privilege, Really? via Teaching Tolerance
Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers via Kaiser Family Foundation
In 2019, Women’s Rights Are Still Not Explicitly Recognized in US Constitution via The Conversation