Submitted by: Alexandria Connally, Vice Principal, ANDRUS Orchard School
The preamble of the United States Constitution opens with three powerful words, “We the People”. This is clearly the subject of the entire document. America prides itself on being a democracy; a land of freedom. This is a land where the people can speak openly about the government. As I look through history, I question the inclusivity of the term, “We the People”. In 1787, the 3/5 Compromise was created. It stated that slaves were considered only 3/5 of a white person and most slave owners considered slaves as property. It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that Blacks in the South would be free. The 14th Amendment gave slaves citizenship and the 15th Amendment gave them the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was not sufficient, hence the need for President Johnson’s Voting Act of 1965.
Another group of individuals who were excluded from “We the People” were women who would basically had no rights until the 1970s – Women’s Rights Movement. It wasn’t until the 2012 election where 17 women (the maximum ever) were voted into the US Senate. I could spend hours debating the Homestead Act and the battle of Wounded Knee which terminated thousands of lives of the First Americans. In 1898, America invaded Puerto Rico and like the five other territories, they do not hold any Electoral College votes. There was the imprisoning of Japanese born Americans during WWII and the treatment of Muslim Americans after September 11th.
What I’ve noticed about all of these groups is that they have two identities. They are American and then there are identified by their Nationality. Do they represent America or their own culture? I’ve traveled internationally and I am always amazed by people’s thoughts around my nationality. I’ve traveled to China in and the natives marveled at the color of my skin. I was treated like royalty. It was the first time in my life that I can remember being Black meant being privileged. A year or so earlier, I traveled to Rome. Most of the natives thought I was from South America. I would imagine that is because most of the darker skinned people are from Africa the color of my skin was unfamiliar to the Italians that I met. As I began to explain that I was African-American, I saw many puzzled faces. Eventually, one man responded, “So where does your allegiance fall?” Considering that I have only been to Africa once this was an easy question to answer. As the conversation continued, my friend began to explain to me that in their culture there were no sub-cultures. So if you were African decent and an Italian citizen, you were considered Italian. If your skin was light or dark, if you were African, Asian or European, it didn’t matter. An individual who held citizenship in Italy was an Italian. There were no Afro-Italians, Euro-Italians, and Asian-Italians. I realized at that point that there was a clear understanding of “We the People”. It is not the job of the legislation to create laws that distribute invitations to join the exclusive group of “We the People”. It is the job of every individual citizen. How do we remedy this trauma? It begins with a conversation, an open-mind, and the understanding that our differences make us stronger.