COLUMN: Remember: All men are created equal

Erin Roof

“So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.”

Former First Lady Barbara Bush said this about the living conditions of the 20,000 displaced Katrina victims in the Louisiana Superdome. The majority of the people seeking refuge in the arena were black.

Hurricane Katrina dramatically exposed the way our country handles the poor: just leave ’em behind. While people who had enough money could buy a ticket to safety, poor minorities were left to fend for themselves during one of the nation’s worst disasters to date.

Kanye West was right, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” But the problem of turning our backs on women and minorities has been present since our nation began – long before Katrina made the issue fashionable in mainstream media.

Affirmative action is a feeble attempt to correct discrimination rooted in white men enslaving Native Americans and blacks hundreds of years ago, but it can do little until people destroy prejudice.

Lyndon Johnson explained the reasoning behind creating affirmative action in a 1965 speech: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still believe that you have been completely fair.”

Affirmative action is simply trying to remind us that “All men are created equal.” Unfortunately, America’s business elite have yet to accept this. While white men keep getting richer, women and minorities are working just as hard or harder for less reward.

Women earn about 77 cents for every dollar white men earn. Hispanic women earn only 56 cents, according to a compilation of statistics in Black Enterprise magazine. That is, of course, if they can find a job. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, also according to Black Enterprise.

America runs on money. Being poor affects all facets of people’s lives. Poor people cannot buy adequate health care, or purchase education to advance their financial situation for themselves and their children. In today’s disparate system, the caste cycle continues. Horatio Algers are flukes – rare glimpses of the mythic “American Dream” for the textbook market to exploit.

The truth is, it is nearly impossible to make giant leaps up the economic ladder. Higher education is quickly being priced out of the hands of the poor. Financial aid is being slashed as tuition rises. Very soon, college will revert back to being a privilege only for the rich. Affirmative action’s demanding quotas of minority students in colleges and universities is helping more youth have the opportunity to get an education before it is no longer an option for them.

But affirmative action is merely a Band-Aid for our racist and sexist society. It can do little to effectively correct hundreds of years of persecution unless Americans actively improve the social systems that work against minorities. We must work to improve schools, health care and employment for the poor. Everyone must believe all Americans deserve the same opportunities as white men.

We can’t leave anyone behind anymore.

Erin Roof is a senior magazine journalism major and a point/counterpoint columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].