This country was founded on the belief that all men are created equal. At the time, this meant only white men.
Indigenous people were seen as savages, exploited for their knowledge and resources, and then annihilated. Black people were viewed as sub-human, exploited for their labor, and enslaved as property. Women were considered inferior, incapable and exploited to care and support the men. Disabled people were regarded as flawed, evil and deserving of their fate. Homosexuals were believed to be immoral and condemned by God. Waves of immigrants arriving to the country were too often despised and resented by people who are themselves descendants of immigrants.
Around all of these beliefs our country was established, grew and for many prospered. All of our institutions—government, finance, manufacturing, infrastructure, law, commerce—were developed and built with these misguided beliefs imbedded.
We have been on a journey since our founding to write the original wrongs of our founding fathers. We can point to milestones in the journey—the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, disability rights, LGBTQ+ rights and immigrant rights—and are eternally grateful to those who had the courage to question the status quo and fight to make the promise of our founders more real.
The journey to right the wrongs is not over. Today’s generations are tasked with cleaning up the institutional and structural inequities baked into everything we are and do every day. Those of us who benefit from existing systems cannot easily see the work that remains. We must listen to those who can see the inequities, and work as hard as our predecessors to fix what is broken and right what is wrong to live up to the ideals, not biases, of our founders.
We can rise to the challenge. We have access to all the institutions that hold the long shadows of —isms that are imbedded in the policies, procedures, laws, practices, products, workings and culture of the organizations that employ us and serve us. We need to see everything anew, looking at everything—our work, our associations, our politics, our purchases, our recreation—to find the long buried biases disguised as “just the way it is” or “has always been.” We need to find and correct inequities, not only for those who are impacted today but for future generations of Americans who deserve to realize their dreams too.