Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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freedom in dissent

In 1896, the United States Supreme Court handed down the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which authorized states to require black citizens to utilize separate facilities, a form of state-sponsored apartheid, so long as the facilities were "equal". This pernicious doctrine, termed "separate but equal", further fueled the spread of racist "Jim Crow" laws throughout portions of the country, incuding particularly the American South. The "separate but equal" doctrine endured in substantial part until 1954, when a wiser court overturned it.

Justice John Marshall Harlan (the "first" Justice Harlan) wrote a dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson. In this opinion, he wrote:

"But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is colorblind and neither knows or tolerates classes among citizens".

Only Justice Harlan had the wisdom and the courage to
read the Constitution as granting individual equality, rather than as an instrument for governments to authorize racial oppression. The entirety of the rest of the Court upheld the challenged segregation law, keeping this country on a racist course whose effects we still feel today.

As we celebrate, we should remember that there are truly patriotic things that have been done in this country, and that truth calls upon us to fight the next set of fights in the search for a truly equal society. We live with the possibility of true social justice and true civil rights and democracy ever before us. Let's celebrate glorious dissenters who courageously stand for these values rather than pointless jingoism and bunting. Our battles are different ones than Justice Harlan's. Our generation will be called upon to end sexual orientation discrimination, for example. The Fourth of July is when we remember we must fight the battles of our time, and that we will not always be in the majority. Like Justice Harlan, we must dissent, knowing our time will come.

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