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As what the Founding Fathers penned in the Declaration of Independence, all men and women are created equal with gifted rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” which is the ultimate responsibility for the government to uphold. Though Americas’ foundation of democracy was based on equality, history comes to prove otherwise. The most overbearing issue that still affects society to this very day is discrimination and certainly America succumbs to numerous actions of injustices during several different periods of the nation’s existence. Throughout American history, many peoples have dealt with various forms of discrimination and over the years, they have worked to knock down the barriers of opportunities based upon gender, class, national origin, and race.
In the nineteenth century, American women lived in an age characterized by gender inequality. They had few social, legal, and political rights and were limited to the cult of domesticity that privatized women’s opportunity for education, work, voicing their opinions, and for proposing reforms. As a result, feminist movements were established to resist the inequalities that women faced for centuries. Two notable activists in the nineteenth century were Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who both advocated for greater freedom and rights for American women. In her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman represented the psychological impact of traditional gender roles in society on women. Gilman used the narrator’s imagination to portray the trappings of domestic life on women. In her illusion, the narrator believed she saw trapped women in the yellow wallpaper when she says, “sometimes I think there are a great many women behind… and they are all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern- it strangles so.” The pattern symbolizes the imprisonment by the conventions of the early nineteenth-century society on women where they were expected to live by the cult of domesticity. Furthermore, the women behind the wallpaper represent the personal identity many American women felt at that time by the male dominated society. As Gilman introduced the topic of gender inequality in her works, Stanton also used her voice to demand change in society’s treatment towards women. In 1848, at the Seneca Falls Convention, she discussed the importance of women’s rights and condemned the dominance of men over women. In her Declaration of Sentiments, she referred to the Declaration of Independence to show parallels between the struggles of the Founding Fathers and women. She asserted that to stay true to the Founding Fathers belief of justice, women should be able to “insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.” In view of the unjust laws inflicted on women, Stanton proclaimed that men and women should be granted equal rights as citizens in social, political, and economic affairs. All together, Gilman and Stanton’s involvement in the feminist movement in the nineteenth century embarked great success for the journey of succeeding women’s rights as they introduced the topic of gender inequality to many Americans at that time. On the whole, their works soon influenced the women’s suffrage and provided the foundations of the feminist movements later on in America.
During the American Industrial Revolution, injustices towards social classes expanded as the economy at that time strictly defined people’s positions in society. The revolution developed in the late 1700s to the early 1800s in response to the country’s necessity of increasing its technological capabilities. Among the revolution came factory towns, where the establishment of mills was growing for the sake of manufacturing goods into the economy. The Industrialization soon led to the growing gap between the rich and poor. Income inequality has increased from technological innovations as the rich expanded their businesses and the middle and lower classes were given industrial jobs that paid extremely low wages. Hanson Robinson expressed the widening social gap in her biographical book, Life Among the Early Mill Girls, where many American women work options were limited to only working at the mills. She stated how the “leading economists of the nineteenth century claimed that the “Iron Law of Wages” required all prudent business people [to] keep wages low, hours long, and conditions dismal.” The Lowell Mills Girls illustrate the discrimination among social classes as the rich took advantage of the workers since they knew many of them had no other choice when it came to employment. To combat the harsh treatment, factory girls lead the early labor movement in the mid 1800s to protest against the low wages and dismal work conditions. The labor movement then accomplished ending child labor, receiving health benefits, and providing aid to injured or retired workers. Given these facts, the labor movement fought for social and economic rights that still apply to American workers today.
During times of war, America fell victim to defining discrimination based on national origin. Particularly, in World War II, many Americans’ civil liberties were withheld in the name of national security, despite there being any factual evidence regarding disloyalty towards the nation. Japanese Americans represent a case in history where extreme levels of hatred were imposed on peoples based on their national origin. After the event of the Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans dealt with discrimination as Americans grew a widespread fear of treason by the Japanese. As a result, in 1942, President Roosevelt issued the Executive Order 9066, which authorized for the relocation and internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans in inland camp for 4 years. The actions performed by the U.S. government were seen by Tokyo as “diabolic savagery… where the constitutional rights of those American-born Japanese have been ruthlessly trampled upon in the heat of resentment aroused by American political and military errors.” The Japanese people saw the interments as inhumane and unjust since they were being oppressed because of their race by a cruel nation that strips their own citizens of their rights. The outcry and sentiments made by the Japanese swayed the American government to search for a resolution as more people were becoming aware of it and thus protesting against it. Since many argued that it contradicted the true values of the constitution and the military intelligence soon after concluded that the Japanese Americans proved no threat, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation apologizing for the interments and paid reparations of about $1.6 billion to the victims. Though the apology certainly served as a understatement to the horrific oppression against the Japanese Americans, it taught future generations how to properly deal with war hysteria and to ensure that the actions of the political leadership remain just even in times of fear.
Through the course of American history, race played a significant token for discrimination. Though many races dealt with different levels of discrimination, African Americans were the most predominant race to endure unjust treatment in American society. As they experienced centuries of racial bigotry and calls for reform, racial segregation prevailed for years on. Since the law did not work to control everyday practices of society, African Americans turned to direct action campaigns to demand an end to segregation and discrimination. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the many activists during the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century that advocated for combating racial inequality through nonviolent procedures. He became involved in many movements, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and used his platform to raise the dialogue on the immorality of racial discrimination. In his speech where he defends civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, he pleads that “black people have the moral courage to stand up for their rights… and thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.” Through his encouraging words, he was able to influence American society into demanding a reform and he further helped set the tone for the movements. In response to the growing popularity of the civil rights movements and the direct action campaigns, the legislation passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Thus, with the help of the movements and skilled activists, the war against racial discrimination conquered through their everlasting influence on American society.
In conclusion, American society performed various patterns of discriminatory action upon peoples such as women, the working class, Japanese and African Americans. Though through different methods they all were judged on matters they could not control. Whether it be from gender, class, race, or national origin, the practices the American peoples levied on those groups were certainly unfair. These groups who dealt with bigotry fought for their rights through resistance which ultimately achieved progress in society that lingers on to this day.
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