America’s Declaration of Independence begins with the proposition of a self-evident truth: that all men are created equal. ‘Self-evident’ is a technical term in epistemology, the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know that we know something: a ‘self-evident’ truth is a truth that proves itself without need of further validation. So, as far as America’s foremost expression of enlightened thinking is concerned, equality is not just true; it’s self-evident.
But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘same’. This came as quite a shock to me as a naïve seventh-grader attending an integrated school for the first time. My parents saw to it that I had a solid theoretical sense of universal equality but, since there weren’t any black families in the neighborhood where I went to elementary school, I didn’t have any first hand experiences that might have revealed the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘same’. As far as I knew, black people were white people with dark skin, something that made white resistance to the self-evidently just civil rights movement all the more incomprehensible to me. [Read more…]