A different approach

Published 9:18 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

By Joe Bass

One hundred and fifty years of effort to provide equal opportunities for all Americans is not yet successful. The Fourteenth Amendment became constitutional law on July 9, 1868. Many laws have been passed, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1964. But today there is still discrimination.

People and groups that promote more and more laws and stronger enforcement support the idea that discrimination can be overcome through legal action without considering issues of personal attitudes and actions. They also promote the idea that discrimination is only based on race and ethnicity. This ignores Dr. King’s dream of people being judged based on personal character.


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Frederick Douglass, a former slave, abolitionist and civil rights advocate, considered causes other than race as being the reasons for discrimination and proposed a different approach to overcome it.

Addressing black Americans in the late 1800s, he wrote, “…neither we, nor any other people, will ever be respected till we respect ourselves, and we will never respect ourselves till we have the means to live respectably. An exceptionally poor and dependent people will be despised by the opulent and despise themselves. … With money and property comes the means of knowledge and power. A poverty-stricken class will be an ignorant and despised class, and no amount of sentiment can make it otherwise. This part of our destiny is in our hands. Every dollar you lay up represents one day’s independence, one day of rest and security for the future. If the time shall ever come when we shall possess in the colored people of the United States, a class of men noted for enterprise, industry, economy and success, we shall no longer have any trouble in the matter of civil and political rights. The battle against popular prejudice will have been won, and, in common with all other races and colors, we shall have an equal chance in the race of life.”

Douglass provides a major key to achieving equal opportunity for all. America was founded and developed on the basis of individual initiative, self-reliance and self-respect. From the day John Smith set foot on Jamestown Island in 1607 until the beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964, there was no thought of a “safety net” or government-sponsored health care. Citizens were and still are held in respect by others because they work to create wealth for themselves and their families.

From Douglass’ point of view, those that strive toward and achieve success through individual initiative, self-reliance, respect and self-respect will experience no problem with civil and political rights regardless of race and ethnicity. Today, individuals that struggle for civil and political rights are a poverty-stricken class that are dependent on government and charitable handouts. They are viewed in negative terms and discriminated against.

Laws and their enforcement will never overcome American attitudes regarding the importance of self-reliance. Laws and their enforcement will never overcome American’s negative views regarding dependent people. Approaches are needed to transition dependent people to being independent.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.