Opinion: American karma – the past due notice for inequality

Women are demanding an American future with full equality.

“The country is being ripped apart here,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said last week.

Which America was he talking about? The idealistic one where the inalienable rights described in our Declaration of Independence apply equally to all men and women? Or the one in which women and minorities must fight for the privilege to be equal Americans in the eyes of the law and beyond?

I’m not questioning Flake’s genuine concern for the sorry state of our political discourse. But the ripping sound he heard after Senate Judiciary Committee hearings wasn’t just another ugly partisan split. As U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, implied, it’s about the structural barriers discouraging women from reporting cases of rape and sexual assault.

There isn’t a law preventing a woman from going to the police. But inequality only needs one discriminatory disadvantage to exist. And especially in those cases, the deck has always been stacked against them.

America has a long history of gender and racial discrimination. The latter is what brought Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich to Juneau in 1940 where they began working with Ernest Gruening, the territorial governor, to draft legislation to give equal rights to Alaska Natives.

“The races should be kept farther apart” argued Sen. Allen Shattuck of Juneau during the 1945 debate of that bill. “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”

As any duly informed Alaskan knows, Elizabeth Peratrovich would be the one to set him straight.

“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.”

In 2014, Murkowski inserted that story and historical quote and into the official congressional record. And she told her colleagues that Elizabeth Peratrovich is respectfully remembered as “Alaska’s Martin Luther King.”

One might say MLK’s leadership in the civil rights movement was an effort to tear apart the fabric of white privilege. But I know that concept elicits a defiant backlash. So I want to reframe it through my personal appreciation for the privilege of being an American.

I was a young teenager when I began to understand how fortunate I was not to have been born in the Soviet Union. Or living in a country literally torn apart by war. The thought accompanying those realizations was how Russians and Vietnamese must wish they could enjoy our freedoms and security.

Indeed, the belief our nation has been blessed by God cannot exist in the absence of American privilege. Nor can we be a beacon of hope and freedom for the rest of the world without recognizing it. Because implied in these prideful proclamations is that our way of life must be the envy of people around the globe.

If that’s true, then how can we deny the same aspirations for people living in the neglected, crime infested neighborhoods of America’s inner cities?

I grew up in a clean and safe suburb that gave me many advantages over boys my age living in the racially segregated and rundown communities near Boston. That doesn’t make me a better human being. But that’s exactly what Shattuk implied 73 years ago. Leave the laws as they were because wisdom was only found in the white man’s experiences and opinions. Only his testimony was credible.

Women have faced that same problem throughout American history. The female inferiorities imagined by men were translated into laws that kept women subservient to them. And the ones discouraging women from reporting crimes of rape and sexual abuse parallel the Jim Crow laws that protected white supremacy in the American south.

We are not witnessing America being torn apart by the demand women be heard and have their stories believed. What is coming apart is another seam meant to secure the unjust privileges men have granted themselves.

Like the Black Americans who sought the promised land with MLK and the Alaska Natives Peratrovich spoke for, women are demanding an American future with full equality. And the consequences for denying that will be an increase to the injustices which have accumulating ever since our founders stunningly but incompletely declared all men are created equal.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

More in Opinion

Opinion: A balanced approach is needed for oil tax rates

For the good of Alaska and the future of the state, please vote no on Proposition 1.

People gather for a candlelight vigil for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg near Dimond Courthouse on Saturday, Sept. 19. People shared remarks about some of Ginsburg’s most famous decisions during the event. Some expressed hopes her seat would not be filled until after Election Day. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: Loyalty to Alaska citizens not to the Republican Party, please

This is not a rush decision to be made in a month before election.

Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Opinion: Panic and lying are the new ‘gold standard’

The pandemic has caused more U.S. deaths in a year than in all U.S. conflicts since the Civil War.

Opinion: Alaska and America’s very survival are at stake this election year

There’s only one choice for this Marine and others who treasure our democracy.

Opinion: Election transparency is right for Alaska

A message from some North Dakota grandmas.

Opinion: Let’s honor RBG and shine up our precious democracy

We the people can help by voting Yes on 2 on Nov. 3, or as soon as our mail-in ballots arrive

Opinion: Ballot Measure 1 — The Very Fair Share Act

I am betting the oil industry can afford to pay a greater share.

This Sept. 6, 2020, photo shows mist from Nugget Falls refracting light to create a prism-like effect. “Like many children I watched this summer, mine enjoyed climbing the glacially smoothed rock slopes up to the visitor center or down to the water at Photo Point. And hiking to Nugget Falls,” writes columnist Rich Moniak. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The river of nostalgia

“Nostalgia ripens with age. It takes years to build a thick catalogue of cherished memories.”

Most Read