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All men are NOT created equal: A commentary

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All men don’t mean only the men folks.  It is a euphemism for “humanity”.  You may not agree, but that’s the fact, all people are not equal.  If you don’t agree with me, ask the people – of different color, caste, religions, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, dirty and clean, men and women.  Now, George Orwell said it right in his novel Animal Farm – all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.  He cleverly depicts the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but give power and privileges to a small elite.

First a reality check.  Many years ago real bits and pieces of information came through emails I had received from a childhood friend of our younger daughter who was in Kenya during 2005 and 2006.  As a young woman full of energy and idealistic drive she had gone to provide health care support in remote Kenya being based in Kisumu.  Here is a collage of those pictures in her words.

Sept 22, 2005 Nairobi: I will move to Kisumu in about two months, by Lake Victoria to work with maternal, neonatal, natal, and AIDS in home health care.  I think it will be good for me.  I am extremely interested in holistic health care.

October 12, 2005: Today we had a field trip with Professor Jama around the city to see the vast differences in the slums and then a mile later driving into mansions and the US Ambassador’s house.  Everyone on the bus was devastated at seeing the slums but I got more upset by looking at the rich houses and the US Ambassador’s house.

Nov 8, 2005: A few weekends ago we had a long weekend because of a public holiday so Ashley and I went to Zanzibar Island in Tanzania.  We got on a bus overnight to Dar es Salaam first.  The bus was hilarious.  It was supposed to take us 14 hours to get there and it took us 24 hours.  We picked up every person and every box on the side of the road to the point where our bus was packed.  Ashley and I were squeezed in the back between a Muslim and a Christian who both decided to preach to us about their god and why we were going to go to hell if we didn’t

Dec 19, 2005 Nairobi: A few days ago I went into the small community of Gonda with my coworkers Maritha and Rose.  We were measuring children for malnutrition and talking to mothers about nutrition and some other things.  We walked into a house and Maritha told me quickly not to say anything because we had just walked into the house of a dead child.  I followed her into the other room and there was a little boy under the blanket.  She said a prayer next to the mother.  Then she lifted up the blanket and I saw a starved boy of about six years old.  He had bones for arms and his eyes were sunken in.  I will never forget this image as long as I live.

January 6, 2006: We headed south to Tanzania and stopped in Arusha for a few days.  We actually decided to sit in on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  We witnessed a court trial of four ministers that helped initiate the genocide in 1994.  It was surreal to be watching men that could have done such a thing.  It’s scary.

That should give you a glimpse of why all men are not equal – slums & US Ambassador’s mansion, watching a dead child (from starvation), preaching God on a bus ride to Dar es Salaam, Rwanda genocide and trial.

Since we are on the topic of children, let me give you some statistics.  Children are the most unequal breed and most vulnerable souls, especially in poorer countries.  According to UNICEF, an astounding 153 million children are growing up as orphans.  Sixty-nine million children suffer from malnutrition.  In 2021, 22.3% (148.1 million) children were stunted, 6.8% (45 million) were wasted, and 5.6% (37 million) were overweight.  In 2019 Sixty-one million children of primary-school age are out of school.  Every day, approximately 16,000 children die who are under the age of five.  In 2021, 5 million children died before reaching their 5th birthday.  In 2023, in less than three months, more than half of the approximately 24000 war dead in Gaza were children and women, of which 10000 were children.  You just wonder if these children were created by some lesser God.

Now let me take you through prevailing inequality amongst people in spite of preaching the gospel that we are all created equal in the eyes of God.  I was born in a place and at a time laden with caste systems and higher caste people were more equal.  The highest caste wrote the scriptures eons ago and all followed them literally.  Knowledge was kept within the elite caste.  Knowledge is power.  Even after 3000 years, not too long ago a Dalit (so-called untouchable) was beaten up for skinning dead cows to make a meager living.  Because the cow is considered a sacred mother to them.  But that sacred mother becomes untouchable to the high caste folks after its death and untouchable folks have to take care of that corpse.  Obviously, untouchable can’t be equal to the upper caste.  Marriage between different castes, especially between Brahmin and a so-called lower caste, did not take place.

It was no different in America, except it wasn’t the caste, but the color of your skin.  The bottom line is that it’s the same difference.  The White folks came as aliens and occupied the natives’ land forcibly, killing and scalping their heads.  The White folks brought black slaves and bought and sold them like animals.  Obviously, slaves could not be equal.  White folks could do hanky panky with black women, but a black man better not set his sight on a white girl.  Blacks were lynched by White folks hiding behind their conical capirote.  Only after their struggle for freedom for centuries, finally the blacks were given some civil rights at an enormous cost to them.  As recent as in 2015, a white man went into a black church in Charleston, SC and shot nine people to death.  So, change comes very slowly.  You may have new rules, but laws cannot clean your heart.

In an interview, Mohamed Ali remembered posing the question to his mother: “Why is everything white?”  He recalled being curious about Jesus being white.  He pontificated as to why all angels were white, why Angel food cake is white while Devils-food cake is the chocolate dessert.  He talked about all the products of his time that were labelled “white” like White Swan soap, King White soap, and White Cloud tissue paper.  Oh, and where does the president live?  The White House. … In classic Ali style, he rhymed, “Everything bad is Black.  The Little Ugly Duckling was the Black Duck.  And the Black cat was the bad luck.  And if I threaten you, I’m gonna blackmail you.  I said, ‘Mama, why don’t they call it ‘whitemail?”  They lie too.”  It may be hilarious but is sadly true.

Caste, color, creed, nationality, gender, etc. still play a role in continuing that inequality.  People in power never want to relinquish their power willingly just for the sake of equality or justice.  When blacks were freed, they still did not have voting rights for a long time so that the whites could continue to rule.  Women were and still are considered lesser than men.  For the same job, women generally earn less and girls’ education in many countries is considered secondary; a male child is preferred over female.  It took a long time for women to get voting rights.  America is still waiting for the first female president.  In no religion a woman is the head.  A female pope will probably never happen.  The trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) in Indian mythology are all male Gods.  Jesus and Mohamed are all male.  So, why should men give up their domination?  They are more equal than women folks.

It’s the same story with nationality.  If your national origin is different from those around in a country, you are looked at with suspicion or accepted you reluctantly although you might have embraced the country you have adopted wholeheartedly.  The Japanese internment around WWII, the banning of Muslims after 9/11, harassment of Chinese Americans during COVID only reflect the true color of their heart, either out of suspicion or because they don’t consider them equal.

Now how do you become more (or less) equal in spite of having a set proclaimed rules that all are equal?  Wealth, looks, dress, and education – all help you or hurt you depriving you of the equality and justice you hope for.  If you are rich, you have unseen power.  You can to a degree buy justice (?).  If an ordinary person did what Donald Trump did, he would rot in jail.  But Trump is more equal than you.  He is White, he is rich, he has fooled millions into being blind to his flaws and indirectly made them devoted members of his cult just like Jim Jones of Guyana did and they are willing to drink the poison for the cult leader.  The same goes for those rich evangelical preachers (mostly men) giving you sermons on TV on Sundays saying if you don’t pay attention to what he says, you will go to hell.  These preachers are more equal than you and supposedly he can directly communicate with God or the son of God and you believe him. So, you keep giving that 10% or more making him multi-millionaires.  Evangelicals even support people like Trump.  To them, Trump is the savior.

How you look or dress can give you an advantage too.  In the book “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, found out sadly how skin color mattered.  When he was a white man, whites treated him with respect and Black people treated him with suspicion and fear; when he changed his skin color to experience a Black man’s experience firsthand, Black people treated him with generosity and warmth, while whites treated him with hostility and contempt, but he was the same person. There is a weakness practically worldwide for whiteness.  Barack Obama relates in his book (Dreams from My Father) very clearly how he and his sister were treated in a restaurant at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya when he was visiting Africa.  The black African waiters were serving the White customers promptly while ignoring the Obamas because they were not white.  Whiteness had power and the waiters were busy serving those whites with invisible power.  I too had a similar experience flying Air India from the USA many years ago; I had noticed that the Indian flight attendants would serve the White passengers promptly and courteously while ignoring Indian-looking brown folks like us.  Ever since that experience, we quit flying Air India.  Right in this so-called Promised Land, Trump had called the black countries “shithole countries”.

The perceived notion of white beauty has drowned the idea of inner beauty, knowledge, etc.  The cosmetic industry has somehow promoted whiteness as a norm gobbling up the non-white world in an effort for them to be of lighter skin.  Eurocentric beauty standards have been promoted to be the global beauty standards.  In countries like India and China with over two billion people, women have succumbed to this obsession, because they too want to be more equal than other women.  The India-China market is too big a market for the cosmetic industry to ignore.  I remember a black woman telling me once at work about ugliness discrimination.  I had heard of everything, but not about ugliness and discrimination.  It took me a while to understand.  Then I realized that yes, all the receptionists back then were white regardless of someone being a dumb blonde-haired person.  The bosses did not want a black woman as a receptionist, because in their mind they were ugly to be the face of the company at the front door.  It happens even within different shades of black or brown.  A brown person in India is more likely to prefer a lighter brown as a bride as opposed to a dark brown or black.  How many brown Indians do you know have married a black person in America or Africa?  Indians did not like to assimilate with Ugandans or Kenyans, because of their racial prejudice and they felt like they were a cut above.  By virtue of their new found wealth or education (that sort of makes them more equal), they are more than happy to accept a white woman as their bride.

Even a group or a class of people can be more equal compared to another group.  A group does not have to be in the majority.  A minority group can rule a majority.  That is what happened all throughout history.  Minority British ruled India and they made themselves more equal than the natives.  While they played golf, cricket and drank scotch in their club or restaurant, the sign outside said “Indians and Dogs not allowed”.  The same thing happened in South Africa, a minority of Whites ruled the majority Blacks.  They even segregated the subjects by their shades of skin color.  Black and Brown did not go to the beaches where whites did and were allowed different beaches designated for different color.  Even the England-educated lawyer, Gandhi initially thought that brown Indians were a higher class than the blacks, but slightly below the white rulers.  The rude awakening came when he was kicked out of a first-class compartment of a train in spite of having a First Class ticket.  From that moment on the transformation of ordinary Gandhi to Mahatma (the Great Soul) took place at an exponential rate and he eventually denounced his western suit and tie and embraced practically a piece of loincloth as a minimum cover.  Now a majority group can be more equal too.  The current Hindu Nationalist government of Modi in India has transformed the majority Hindus by instilling fear from the non-Hindus (mainly 15% Indian Muslims) and feeding on the opium of Hindutva fervor into a more equal majority group, where minorities don’t feel safe or equal anymore.

In summary, all men are created NOT equal.  In other words, in George Orwell’s term, some people are more equal than others.  As John Griffin’s experiment proved the pigment of your skin can give a whole different perception or characteristics about you, call it stereotyping.  The same thing applies to so many things.  Your hijab, your turban, your long beard, your taqiyah, and your last name can make you suspicious.  If you are down on your luck and become a panhandler, you are just a no-good wino and no one wants to look into your eyes to find out about your pain.  If you are poor and you dress shabbily, you are just a low life.  The More Equal folks just can’t see through their eyes and perhaps never have been in their shoes.  No matter how much we preach that we are all children of God, we are all brothers and sisters, in reality we grade people, we put people in boxes – the dagos, the wetbacks, the niggers, the pakis, the chinks, the mullahs, the commies, and the dumb blonds, the fatsos and so on. We try to be More Equal, as an individual or as a group, than others because of these superficial characteristics.  The More Equal ones make the rules with lofty-sounding hollow words about equality, but not everyone has the privileges that they have.  People remain unequal and those who are More Equal want to keep it that way.

Lohit Datta-Barua (USA)

Dr. Lohit Datta-Barua has lived in Houston since 1973. As an inspiring writer and contributor to social justice he continues to touch people’s lives. As of 2019 Datta-Barua has authored eleven books, six in English, and five in his mother tongue Assamese. His latest book, “One Long Journey” is primarily a story of survival and hope in the face of of adversity and social upheaval, which Datta-Barua hopes can inspire his readers. All proceeds from “One Long Journey” go for orphan welfare.

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