Recently a friend of mine started two separate conversations with me and another friend of ours about equality. On my end, the conversation began with the question, "can we ever be equal? and if not why then do we strive for equality?"
First of all, my first impulse, as a person trained by the institution-of-higher-learning-that-I-went-to, is to unpack the terminology. Who are "we" and what are we talking about when we talk about "equality"? And how do we define equality? Anyway, I wrote back about political power in relation to racial minorities. And as it turns out, what my friend meant was in terms of gender equality.
Meanwhile Wendao Jinxin, thinking along similar lines, posted his thoughts on his blog. I'm curious what you, all 9 readers who visit multiple times, think of this.
My conversations with both people are worthwhile. For the moment, I'll follow my original line of thinking, which was about racial equality and what that would look like, if we could attain it?
First of all, who are "we"? I'll take this as all underrepresented, underprivileged people, poor people, women, queer people, racial minorities of all kinds. Anyone who doesn't consider themselves to be equal right now, and lives in fear, to some extent, of repercussions that might result from who they are.
Equal to what? Defining it as The Man, would be too easy and too simplistic. I'll define it as those people, who can live without fear of oppression due to who or what they are. This definition is still problematic, but I'll let it stand for right now.
And finally, what is equality? Equality, at least in terms of social justice-y types, has become a signifier for equal rights and equal opportunity. When did equal rights for all citizens become an right, and a signal of an enlightened state? Certainly America did not begin as a society based on equal rights for all. I'm vaguely aware of the debate about man's natural rights, and the inherent rights of all human beings. Those of my 9 readers who are better versed in the Western canon than I, please feel free to enlighten me.
Equal rights and opportunity for everyone? What does this mean and what would this look like? To me it's almost inconceivable. Please show me a society which was truly equal. Even states which have been founded with the intent to create an equal society have failed to live up to their ideals.
So if it is impossible, or perhaps it's better to say improbable, why should we work for an equal society? In my opinion, the idea of creating an equal society is a bit like the idea of travelling to Atlantis (I am totally stealing from W. H. Auden's poem "Atlantis" and from Brooks Hansen Perlman's Ordeal). Although as Wendao Jinxin says, the old timers make the realistic decisions that actually help people, many activists initially became interested in social justice of some sort because of this idea of the equal society. The fact that Atlantis doesn't exist doesn't make make its presence any less powerful in our minds.