America now has a new way of thinking about rights. The view of our founders concerning equal rights was that it is the government’s job to insure that everyone has equal opportunity to secure their own personal rights, without the prohibition of race or ethnic background. The way we think about rights today has to do with entitlements, benefits, and equal outcomes. The idea is that it is the government’s job to insure equal outcomes for everybody. This is called Affirmative Action.
What happened to change our way of thinking? Well, before the Civil War, almost no white Americans wanted any sort of equality with blacks. They could never become part of the United States because they were considered to be inferior. Blacks, they thought, should always be in a system of segregation. But, by the time that the Civil War finally ended, many people had changed their minds and began to lobby for more equal rights for the freed slaves.
The first act of congress to give black Americans their freedoms was the Civil Rights act of 1866. Every thing that was civil rights for the whites, were extended to the blacks. This included the right to make and enforce contracts, sue and give evidence in court, and also have the same penalties as whites. Of course there were limits to this; blacks were not extended voting rights or social equality (segregation). Thus was born the way of thinking; “separate, but equal”.
This attitude of separate, but equal began to change soon after WWII and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947. This was partly because Americans began to recognize the similarities between Hitler’s regime of racial superiority, and their own treatment of black Americans. Also, as they began to compete with the Soviet Union for the allegiance of non-white countries, they looked more closely at the treatment of their own non-white citizens.
As the attitude toward racism changed, so did the government’s way of thinking about rights, which became known as Affirmative Action. This idea originated from executive orders that President FDR issued which required that government contractors not discriminate on the basis of race. Also, President Kennedy required “affirmative action” to reach out and hire minority groups. The racial tension between blacks and whites eased, and they began to have more and more social equality.
Other government legislation like, the requirement to keep statistical records of the ratio of minority groups hired in any given amount of time (this was to insure that everything was equal for everybody). As well as admission standards to schools changed so that more minority groups had equal opportunity to become enrolled. Voting rights changed as well, blacks not only had the right to vote, but the government increased the number of black officials at the voting offices. This slowly began to spread out to other minority groups such as; Hispanics, immigrants, and women.
All of this brought about the change of America’s way of thinking about equal rights. No longer was it the government’s job to secure equal opportunities for everyone, but it is now the governments job to provide the people with entitlements and equal outcomes.