This is my third post as a participant in the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. The topic for this week is equality and whether or not we really are equal in a society that discriminates on many levels.
It’s important to understand that equal in this context means equal before the law. No-one is suggesting that we should all be equally thin, smart or wealthy. It simply means that, as far as the law is concerned, we’re all going to be treated equally. Except that we’re not.
I’ve been following the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin over the past few weeks because I think it highlights how deeply the issue of race and discrimination goes in our global culture. I’m not going to rehash all of the details because that’s been done by many others but I do think that Martin Bashir (see the video below) presents the only facts that really matter.
Trayvon Martin was identified as a person of suspicion because he was black. And the way in which he was portrayed by most of the mainstream media highlights the disturbing way in which a black victim is seen. In South Africa we still see perpetrators who are given heavier sentences when the victim is white. How are we still here? After everything we’ve been trying to do since 1994, how are we still in a place where the colour of your skin not only determines your access to health care, education and social mobility but also how you’re treated after you’ve been murdered.
In the topic presentation for this week, Jay Smooth presented his views on responding to racism. I found a follow up talk that he gave at TEDxHampshireCollege, where he discusses the issue in more depth:
The Constitution promises us that we’re all equal. But we’re not.
Another area where this is blatantly obvious is on the issue of LGBTI rights in South Africa. Even though on paper we’re among the more progressive countries in the world when it comes to “gay rights” (whatever that means), it’s clear that we have a long way to go toward the realisation of those rights. Violence against homosexuals in a country dominated by traditional values continues to be under-reported and unrecognised. Even in the supposedly liberal academic institutions we see evidence of homophobia and hate crimes against those who love members of the same sex. Seriously? Considering the massive problems we face in this country around issues of poverty, corruption and completely dysfunctional education and health systems, people still have the time and energy to worry about who’s sleeping with who.
There is some acknowledgement that this is a problem, with officials in Cape Town receiving special training to deal with hate crimes against gays and lesbians. There is also a recognition that the current legal infrastructure doesn’t isn’t designed to effectively manage the problem, and government is in the process of reviewing the legal process for those accused of hate speech, and xenophobic and homophobic attacks. Our Constitution guarantees all of us the right to be treated with dignity and respect, by virtue of the fact that we’re human. Except some of us seem to think that the colour of your skin or your sexual orientation excludes you from the right to dignity and respect.
OK, so that’s a lot to take in and I’m not going to do an analysis of it. I just wanted to make the point that equality is an ideal that we strive for because it is right for everyone to be treated with dignity and respect. You may not be like me in every way but you are deserving of the same love and respect that I want for myself.