Word for the Day - Heterogeneous
Heterogenous means unalike or distinct from one another. The opposite of heterogeneous is homogeneous.
Let us speak of nations as an example of both. Iceland is homogeneous. It is Ivory pure – 99.44% Caucasian, blond, etc. Why is immaterial. That Iceland is homogeneous just is. The United States is anything but. We are, by history, heterogeneous. Why is, again, immaterial. That the U.S. is heterogenous just is. And herein lies our greatest problem as a nation. Can we exist as one nation indivisible when we are a mixture of cultures, skin colors, religions, and every other variety of difference that a human can be? Among us are a number of groups that refuse to accept that fact.
And not just recently. From the writing of the Constitution until today, we have continued to refuse to recognize the diversity of our nation and the rights of its citizens. At the Founding it was easy to do so. Our nation was designed by propertied white men to be governed by propertied white men. White males who did not hold property did not have the vote. Women did not have the vote. The entire Black population was considered property and was excluded from all human rights. And the First People, the indigenous populations, were not even recognized as anything more than underbrush to be pushed aside, uprooted, or burned out to enable white progress.
Land of the free? I'm sorry, but this is a goal for which we should strive as a nation, not a historical fact that we can wave before the rest of the world.
Regardless, our nation was, then, as it is now, heterogeneous. It did have white men without property. It had women, Blacks, and First People. The rights of these groups were simply ignored, both culturally and legally.
Our nation was fifty years old before all white men, regardless of property, gained the vote. By that time, waves of immigration were beginning. But nearly all immigration was from Europe and, until the Italian and Russian immigrants began arriving after 1880, white western European and predominantly Christian, both protestant and catholic. And the legal system was still controlled by propertied white men who trumpeted the banner of 'freedom for all' while obscuring the growing diversity and continued discrimination of minorities.
The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to all men, and by that, I mean the male gender. The first women to gain suffrage were those in Wyoming in 1869. It would be another fifty years, 1920, before universal women's suffrage was guaranteed by the 19th Amendment. But the laws were still, by and large, passed by white men to protect the wealth, position, and power of white men. Coverture, the custom that meant a married woman had no legal standing beyond that of her husband, remained the law of the land well into the 1970s. The subordination of a married woman to her husband may not have been enshrined in law, but neither was it withering on the vine. In 1968 a case for spousal rape was first prosecuted, challenging a husband's right to unfettered sexual access to his wife, regardless of her preference or permission. Jim Crow laws and racially prejudiced state legislatures all but destroyed any freedom for the freed Blacks for nearly a century after the Civil War. And the nations of first persons suffered government sanctioned starvation, deprivation, and deliberate destruction well into the past century. Perhaps the most damning episode in recent history is Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt in 1942 that interned 100,000 Japanese, most U.S. citizens, living on the West Coast, in our own version of concentration camps, simply for being of Japanese descent. No crime. No due process. No compensation for property left behind. Just blatant racial discrimination.
This piece would be too long and far too controversial if I attempted to follow either the Civil Rights movement of the 60s or the Women's Rights movement of the 80's. The shameful treatment of and civil rights of the First Persons are still being discussed to this day.
Yet with each new law extending 'full citizenship', however that is defined, to a previously disadvantaged group, the heterogeneity of our nation grows more visible, complex, and considerably less palatable to those who would continue to hide it for their own gain, a self-image of superiority, or a wish for the 'good old days'. Quite simply, none of us alive today is responsible for the creation of these discriminatory practices. No, they were a product of a culture from another age. We are, however, most certainly responsible for their perpetuation today, either by deliberate action or through inaction.
Should we teach a history as harsh as I've summarized in our schools? Certainly not in grades 1 through 9. We should be teaching the basic timeline of our history, the genesis and growth of our nation, that while slavery is gone, it existed, that women had to fight for their rights and have gained most of them, and that the nations of First People were severely and criminally dealt with. In teaching the basic strains of our history, we must strive to give these younger children the sense, at least, that while our nation is imperfect, it strives continually to right wrongs done by those who have gone before. Nothing they are taught should be a lie. If anything, let us be guilty by omission.
The time will come for the rest of the story. Most students do not attend college, but before leaving school, they must be made aware of the stains on our history, pure and unvarnished, if only to give them the impetus to strive toward making a better America for everyone, of every possible variety.
A history as complex and contentious as ours cannot be dealt with completely in ten pages of a Social Studies book for 11th grade. It requires fair treatment, however, where research and self-study will allow our student-citizens to learn facts while formulating their own analysis of them. It is the only way that we can continue to move forward.
Our nation is no more heterogeneous today than it was at the end of the last century. What has happened, is that the full depth of our diversity is becoming more visible. We should strive as citizens to bring our history to light, to analyze our missteps, own them, and create a path forward. Truth be said, there are millions of Americans who simply don't want to know and don't want to change our nation for the better. I do not understand them or their reasoning, and for that I'm sorry. I can only try harder.
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