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Schubart: Economic Diversity

Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in Europe made up the first great American in-migration. Lincoln ended the bitter debate on slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, leading a century later to Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Amendment.

And yet, diversity and inclusion have become the major topic in this election, as has opposition to them. Surprising really, since America’s global preeminence derives from both.

We Americans have generally embraced cultural diversity. From Delta blues, the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance through the Beatniks, Woodstock, Reggae, and HipHop, cultural diversity, expressed in our arts, has always been integral to our self-image and the world’s image of us.

Today, with legal recognition of LGBTQ rights, the public dialogue is now focused on integrating this community into our social and culture mainstream.

We’ve traveled a turbulent road, assimilating religious, racial, cultural, and gender diversities. Somewhat belatedly, we may even be about to elect our first female President.

Teddy and, later, Franklin Roosevelt focused citizens on the socio-economic segregation that followed the Industrial Revolution – just as Bernie has reinvigorated that discussion in a renewed era of unprecedented polarity of wealth.

Economic segregation is the new diversity issue and we must now pay attention to inequities in earning opportunity. Equitable taxation is part of the answer, along with education, housing, healthcare access, and a general investment in social and economic opportunities.

Our 250-year march toward inclusion and freedom explains why we’re a beacon to so many in a world fraught with religious and cultural tribalism. But we must understand it’s scary to those who fear change, loss of historic privilege and identity, or a level playing field for all. By denying or denigrating their fears as simple bigotry, we invite continued stasis and civil chaos.

A war veteran once told me it’s almost impossible to kill someone standing in front of you, but easy from a cockpit 5,000 feet above them. Perhaps the digital world has distanced us from the reality of knowing and talking with one another.

We must emerge from our ideological trenches in order to effectively discuss how far we’ve come, who we want to be, and how we might get there together. The left is as recalcitrant as the right, and our Congress has become an embarrassment. We’re a parody of democracy, preaching to our choirs and shouting across lines at those who would disagree with us.

Understanding our history and accepting the diversity of our humanity made us great. Now’s no time to turn back.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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