In an earlier post, Go Terps argues it is worth acknowledging the progress society has made in regards to racial and gender equality. G.T. makes the claim that society is constantly improving and that, “There will always be problems that individuals will find in the structure of society, but it will get better in time.” Although I agree with some of the arguments, I disagree with the claim that “our society has been flexible.” G.T.’s argument highlights evidence of extensive social progress in regards to gender and race yet the article fails to mention the massive struggle required to create that change. Did these changes happen overnight with little resistance? I argue that society has been inflexible and has been considerably unyielding to change. I will show the extent to which certain movements have been directly responsible for initiating change. Furthermore, I will provide evidence of situations that indicate how little we have progressed, and how much further we have to go to reach social equality.
Malcolm X, 1925 – 1965
Although we now have a black president, consider the road it took to get here and the racial inequality still seen in contemporary society. The issue of racial segregation provides one example. Legally sanctioned racial segregation was in force for 89 years after the abolition of slavery. Should we applaud ourselves because segregation was eventually abolished, blacks were eventually given the right to vote, and we eventually elected a black president after 43 white presidents? I do not want to understate the significance of these positive outcomes, but the fact that it took so long and the fact that it was such a hard fought battle suggests a serious problem. The murders of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers (among hundreds of others) were not a result of a flexible society that encourages change. Total racial equality has not been achieved. According to data from the U.S census, on average, white salaries are $15,000 higher per year then black salaries. The lifetime chances of a white man or woman going to prison are 2.5%, while the chances of a black person going to prison are 16.2%. These statistics are alarming and provide evidence that society still has a great deal of progress to make before achieving racial equality.
Harvey Bernard Milk, 1930 – 1978
In terms of LGBTQ equality, Go Terps brings attention to certain advances, such as the legalization of gay marriage, gay pride days in elementary schools and other examples. The reality is that G.T.’s examples represent relatively superficial changes, and the LGBTQ community still faces massive hardship in society. The fact that only five states have legalized same sex marriage is clear evidence that our “constantly improving society” has not yet turned the corner. The gay rights movement has met fierce resistance from the religious right and our government. In Randy Shilt’s book, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, he describes the story of the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Milk ran for political office three times before eventually being elected as city supervisor in 1977. Milk fought tooth and nail for gay rights and specifically opposed a political group that sought to make it illegal to be an openly gay educator in California. As depicted in the 2008 biographic film, Milk was eventually assassinated for his beliefs. This example illustrates the backlash that can result during the pursuit of social change.
In order to appreciate the progress that has been made for social equality, we must recognize the battles that have been fought and the sacrifices that have been made. Our society has been extremely intolerant to change, but that should not dissuade us from fighting and campaigning for equality. What Go Terps fails to understand is that it is not a given that society will constantly improve. We should refrain from patting ourselves on the back for the social progress we have achieved because it can lead to complacency and our job is not finished. We must recognize and resist the injustices still faced by many groups and realize that more work is required to provide social equality for everyone..
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.