A spurious notion attributed to the issue of civil rights is that we are all equal. There is hardly a grain of truth to this idea. I, moreover, would prefer that we are all different. A couple of examples will clarify my point. I will use my colleagues in the department of political science to illustrate our unique differences.
In comparison to my homely appearance, David Crockett is frequently known on campus as the “hot” professor. One student told me that David is so “hot” that he should be measured in Kelvin. If I have any hope of measuring up to David’s handsome appearance, I would be entitled to plastic surgery, liposuction and two hours of personal training daily.
In contrast to my limited intelligence, Sussan Siavoshi is quite the intellectual and egghead. An advisee of mine recently mused that she wishes she could get inside Sussan’s brain to observe how she thinks. To make Sussan and I intellectual equals, she would need to schedule a lobotomy. While I am making light of this subject, my central point is that true equality is neither ascertainable nor desirable. The invariable conclusion is that we are hopelessly and wonderfully different.
Instead of focusing on the issue of equality, civil rights deals squarely with equal opportunity, something that vigorously should be protected by our government and that is highly advantageous. People in similar situations must be treated the same. I cannot complain when I am late to campus and cannot park in the only available parking space, which is reserved for the handicapped. While I may be emotionally handicapped, there is no physical reason for me to park in such a space.
On the other hand, if the state of Texas prohibited me from procreating because I am not as aesthetically pleasing as David, the government has violated a key civil right of mine. Likewise, if the state of Texas precluded me from exercising my right to vote since I am not as cerebral as Sussan, the state has once again trampled on a basic civil right.
I have yet to tackle the most complex dimension of the civil rights debate, however. I have circumvented it because I have not reached a firm conclusion on the issue. The United States has a tragic, horrific and sad history of oppressing many groups and, thus, violating their basic civil rights: Namely, African Americans, Native Americans, women, homosexuals, Latinos, and many others. It is difficult to have hope for equal opportunity when certain groups have been oppressed for many years in terms of voting, education, employment, familial choices and on and on. Should the government offer these groups more vigorous protection under our civil rights laws based on past systematic and systemic discrimination? The answer depends on what the appropriate regulatory role of our constitutional republic is in terms of protecting majority versus minority rights. This topic may be addressed in a future column. Thanks for reading.
John Hermann is an associate professor in the department of political science.