Guest Author - Lorraine E. Chavis
In the beginning civil rights were the ideas that the United States was founded upon. They were based on the Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the United States of America and The Declaration of Independence. US citizens get to worship who, what, where, when, why and how they want to, as long as they donít hurt others physically. US citizens get to have guns, per state regulations of course. US citizens donít have to let soldiers live in their homes in peacetime unless they have some sort of reason to be there, like they are related to the US citizen. US citizens get to not have their stuff ransacked at the will of the government. US citizens donít have to tell on themselves. US citizens canít be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. US citizens have to be paid for their stuff if the government takes it. US citizens have a right to a trial by a jury, with witnesses and a lawyer. US citizens canít keep being tried for the same crime. US citizens donít have to be subjected to excessive bail, fines and cruel punishment. US citizens are entitled to all of their rights no matter who they are. Where the federal government stops the states step in and rule themselves and their citizens.
Itís important to see that civil rights arenít really special rights they are just their rights as US citizens. The problems occurred when US citizens stepped on each otherís rights and the government state, local and federal either chose not to or couldnít do anything about it. Major groups that had their civil rights stepped on included: Native Americans, immigrants and black US citizens.
Historically Native Americans had their religious ceremonies interrupted, stopped and disrespected by the military, law enforcement and everyday US citizens. They probably thought Native Americans werenít US citizens, but according to the requirements for citizenship you need to be born in the United States or be naturalized. Now, there are Native Americans who chose not to be a part of the United States of America, but that still didnít give the United States of America the right to take their land, interrupt religious ceremonies and disrespect Native Americans. These were challenging concepts for some US citizens to understand so they chose to step on the rights of Native Americans as human beings. They chose not to follow the golden rule of treating others as they would like to be treated. Unfortunately they got away with it.
Immigrants were another group that had their rights stepped on in America. They suffered from discriminating practices. Language barriers prohibited them from speaking up for themselves. So they werenít paid as much money as more ďtraditionalĒ US citizens who did the same work. This usually created strife because employers usually wanted cheaper labor for obvious fiscal benefits. Immigrants werenít usually thought of as ďrealĒ US citizens and since they didnít have many friends in law enforcement and government they were usually on their own when it came to protecting themselves and their rights. They usually faired better than Natives and Blacks because over time their language got better and the barriers began to be broken down, as long as they accepted the Americana culture and left the ways of old country behind.
Black US citizens were enslaved in the United States of America. They were denied many constitutional rights until they began to fight for them. Some of the most egregious rights black US citizens were denied was the right to life, liberty and property. Considered second class citizens, blacks were mistreated, looked down on and denied the basic rights of US citizenship.
Some groups reached out to help, but there was always a cost. Native Americans received help if they turned their backs on their culture and sent their children away to boarding schools were they were mistreated. Immigrants were forced to choose between condoning mistreatment of other citizens or having the ďAmerican Dream.Ē Abolitionists fought for the freedom of blacks, but they thought blacks should only want to serve. Itís amazing the boxes US citizens can put each other into.
The most expressive rights of being a US citizen is the ability to live free, to own property and to belong and certain groups were denied those rights. The voices of those who stood up for these groups were muffled by greed, ego and tradition. The government was too occupied by seeking national stability. Their fellow citizens were seeking financial stability sometimes on the backs of Native Americans, black US citizens and immigrants. In some instances even the groups themselves had other preoccupations like their survival.
Civil Rights are the catalytic foundations for standing up for oneself as human beings and as US citizens. US citizens have the right to speak and no one has the right to take their voice away. Each and every US citizen has a duty to the United States of America to stand up for their voice. Each US citizen has a responsibility to the United States of America to celebrate the differences this country was founded upon. US citizens likewise have an obligation to hear their fellow US citizens and not to marginalize each other.