This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
As an immigrant, I remember the intense discrimination faced by non-white individuals after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Clouds of fear, hatred, and injustice overshadowed the United States. The perception of inequality has been the frame of "American experience." There was no escape from prejudice -- rather, the society had to endure through inequality.
From the birth of the nation to the present, minorities in America have faced prejudice. As our founding fathers were treated unequally by the British, the fact that inequality operated America is undeniable. Most of us know that the reason why the United States was born was because of oppression by the Great Britain. The image of inequality was perceived by the colonists as their individual rights were infringed by the British. Yet injustice confronted by the colonists paved a road to the creation of a new nation. Inequality became an essential ingredient of cultivating the society through generations and has trickled down to every corner of America.
As America transitioned into the new age, slavery became the essential focus of the society. Africans, forced into eternal labor, were harshly treated by white Americans as slaves were whipped every day, every minute and every second. It is confounding how Americans viewed themselves differently from Africans despite the fact that they had same human features: eyes, nose, brain and mouth. The narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass depicts the presence of injustice in pro-slavery America as Frederick Douglass informs readers of his experience of how inequality has become part of his and the African-American way of life. How could founding fathers' nation of "freedom and equality" tolerate an act of hatred? It was inevitable for Africans to escape prejudice -- however, through such transgression, they had to assimilate into a white-dominant society.
As the United States headed towards the industrial age, immigrants from Europe were confronted with discrimination. In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair emphasizes how the capitalistic American society fostered the growth of prejudice as the immigrant class was limited to minimum wages in poor working conditions. Jurgis Rudkus, a main character symbolizing the working class, is constantly deceived by his bosses and the upper class. Thus, he ultimately loses his job and is forced to live in the streets. It is ironic how immigrants such as Rudkus came to America to obtain a better life, yet they experienced worse living conditions than they had before. Nevertheless, to fight inequality in America, lower-class immigrants pursued social and economic reforms that reshaped the reality of American life for future generations.
One of the most significant portrayals of inequality was the civil rights movement during the mid-20th century. Black communities suffered violent assaults by the society through acts such as lynching and arson. Despite the 15th Amendment giving voting rights to blacks, they still had limited political and social roles in America. A nation built upon desire for equal rights by the patriots effectively fostered the development of inequality. Although inequality hindered black communities, influential figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. helped achieve equal civil rights for African-Americans.
The United States today is nowhere near eradicating prejudice. Recently, immigrants (such as Muslims) have faced increased persecution after the tragedy of September 11, which led to an influx of islamophobia. According to an ABC News Poll, more than 34 percent of Americans believe that Muslims are associated with all terrorists. However, this view is erroneous: The truth is that only six percent of terrorists are Muslims. Such disparity and racial stereotyping has exasperated the inequality of the "American experience."
Furthermore, I have personally experienced inequality in America at a young age. When my family and I waited in a line at a restaurant for several minutes, the waitress skipped over us and took another family who was behind us in the line. Thus, I told the waitress that my family waited in the line longer than other family did, but she just ignored me. Still to this day, I feel as if minorities like me have disadvantages even though America has become a salad bowl of different cultures.
Without a realization of the role that inequality has played in society, individuals cannot fulfill the steps to become "American." Leaders such as George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Samuel Gompers and Malcom X had to endure hardships of prejudice, and through these hardships, they defined the "American experience." Without inequality, could there have been the United States? No, inequality was the principal of sustaining America.
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