Wednesday, October 21, 2020

White Privilege and the Bill of Rights

 There has been much debate during this chaotic year about systemic racism and white privilege. From my perspective, people of color use this term to discuss the lack of justice and opportunity for people of color in our society and the need to dismantle this. Members of the white community, in turn, look at their situation and do not see evidence of special treatment in terms of opportunity and justice. Indeed, most say this may have existed in the past, but these injustices have been addressed since the Civil Rights Laws were passed in the early 60's. This group believes that leaders such as Donald Trump are simply trying to "make America great again" by restoring law and order and certain amendment rights such as the right to bear arms or freedom of worship The other side responds that these issues have not been addressed due to the existence and actions of powerful, government condoned hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other White Power Groups that keep America great only for the white population. Indeed, they say that the present injustices by the police that have led to violent deaths for people of color is proof of this and the only hope for this country is to elect a President who will "restore the soul of America."  I am not writing this to deny any of the above, but to give a definition of how I perceive white privilege, systemic racism and gender inequality in this country that exists in the very foundations of our government cannot be addressed by either of the parties led by white, land owning males. Until this is addressed, no forward movement can be possible. To do this, I have to go back to the founding of this country and the creation of the Constitution which contains the first ten amendments known as The Bill of Rights. 

The Founding Fathers "revised" the Articles of Confederation in a Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787. The resistance of the state governments of the 13 United States against any entity that would take away their individual sovereignty was so great that the delegates that attended the Convention did so in secret. However, the economy of the country was in disarray and there were rebellions stirring in the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia as well as continued interference from Britain in regard to control of the Northwest Territory and its arming of the indigenous people living there. The Founding Fathers knew the country could not survive without some limited federal government that would have the power to tax, develop a singular currency and raise a standing army, so they created a federalist form of government with powers divided among a federal government, state governments and local governments. They also created within the federal government three branches of the government that would share the powers. A system of checks and balances was also set up to prevent one branch of the government from usurping the power, thereby creating nothing more than another absolute monarchy. Despite the genius of this Constitution, the states felt that more protections were needed to insure that this new government would not take away the individual rights these men had fought so hard to obtain for themselves. Therefore, before the Constitution could be ratified ten amendments that were part of the Constitution were added. These ten amendments, although part of the Constitution, are known as The Bill of Rights. Here is where my understanding of white privilege and systemic racism comes into play. 

All of these freedoms are wonderful and the federal system of government set up by the Constitution should have lived up to the words of the preamble : "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." But it hasn't. Why? Because of the very things the people of this country see still active in society today, white privilege, racism and sexism.  Unfortunately, those who want to change this are blaming the conservative white majority and their leader, Donald Trump when the problem stems from the very foundation of this government and how those rights in the Bill of Rights were enforced for generations and are still enforced with this attitude today. The idea that America was ever great for all the people living here is false. The idea that the Founding Fathers had a "soul" is false. 

We the people in the minds of the white landowning men who wrote the Constitution meant only one group - white, Christian men who owned property. Amendment 4 of the Constitution protects citizens from unlawful seizures of their property. In 1787 who owned the property - white males over the age of 21. In fact, included in their property were slaves and females. This interpretation of the right to ownership of property was the basis for the Dred Scott Decision handed down by the Supreme Court just before the outbreak of the Civil War.  Married men were free to discipline their wives and children without any reprimand because they were "property." Indigenous people who were not considered citizens had no rights to property, in fact their property was continually stolen in the name of the good of the country and Manifest Destiny. Women were citizens but only for the purpose of establishing voting representation for the men who controlled the government because they were the only ones who had the right to vote. Blacks were also considered citizens without voting rights because the southern states wanted them included in the count for determining the election of the white male leaders. The Constitution only counted them as 3/4ths of a citizen, however. When the white landowning males who still hold the economic and political power in this country, convince people that they will "make America great again" or "restore the soul of America," I wonder how this can be done without taking a good look at the basis for building a "great" country or a country with a "soul" that existed when? We cannot restore anything. 

We must take a look at these interpretations of laws that have existed for only one group for generations and undo that thinking to make the words of the preamble to the Constitution mean anything. The foundation of justice in this country has been created by interpretation of laws meant for only one group of people. Because court interpretations become the basis for justice, our country is trapped in unending cycles of partisan struggles for power to change the make up of the courts so that justice can prevail. I believe we need to take a look at what has been left out of the Constitution in regard to justice and make the reforms there. The first place we need to start is with Roe vs. Wade.

Amendment 4 to the Constitution was used as a basis for females to make a decision over controlling the reproductive rights of a woman when the Roe vs. Wade Decision was passed down in 1976. It took 200 years for the courts to acknowledge this as a right for females because Amendment 4 was never intended to give women the right to their property (their bodies). When it was written women and children were considered property. Because this was not outlined in the Constitution in the first place and because the rights listed in the Bill of Rights were only for men, it has taken 200 years of struggle to get a white court imbued with the idea of white privilege and sexism, to pass down a decision based on Amendment 4. Unfortunately, this right is in danger still. The bitter battle in the Senate over the appointment of a conservative female who for all intents and purposes understands the law and says she will interpret the law based on what is in the precedents and foundation of the law demand will in no way resolve this battle. There is still within the thinking of the courts the implicit bias of sexism that somehow thinks giving a woman the right to decide what to do with her reproductive rights is a threat to the "family values" of this country or the rights of the unborn. It amazes me that people think the rights of the unborn supersede the rights of the living. Until the courts recognize the rights of a living citizen in this country to decide what to do in terms of having a child, the argument of the rights of the unborn holds no water. What is needed in this country is an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees every citizen the right to have agency over their bodies. From there, the system of justice needs to get involved if law enforcement decides there has been an abuse of this right that leads to an unjust death (and this does include the unborn). 

This blog should in no way be interpreted as my support for abortion. I have had two marvelous births and would be hard pressed to ever consider aborting or harming a life I created. This is about making the Constitution that has worked for only one group of people for over 200 years start to work for "all the people" and other sentient beings on this planet. 

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