Thursday, November 1, 2007

On race and the idea of tolerance

In response to the Bulgarian who failed to get the joke about closing the bars on election day, I had begun to write a response that became long enough for a separate post. I have been hearing this same thing from many Bulgarians since I've been here, and I'm really starting to tire of it. It's getting quite frustrating. His comment:
FYI: The Turnovo constitution, adopted after the liberation of Bulgaria from Turkish yoke (1878), on 16.04.1879, states:

art.57 : All Bulgarian citizens are equal before the law.

art.61 : Nobody in the Bulgarian kingdom can buy or sell human beings. Every slave, regardless of gender, religion and nationality shall be free upon stepping on Bulgarian soil.

Note: The slavery institution doesn't existed in the all 1300 year history of present Bulgarian state.

art.86 : The Parliament consists of members, chosen by direct vote, 1 representative on 10000 citizens from both genders.

On comparison, the women in USA got the right to vote as early as 1920(19th amendment) and the blacks in USA were (in fact) allowed to vote after 1965.

So someone from the cradle of democracy should tell us what the democracy is ???
First of all, SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION. At the time of the founding of the Republic in 1776, slavery existed everywhere on earth and had been an accepted aspect of human history from the very beginning of organized societies. In fact, slavery in the United States wasn't even started by the United States - it was started by the British, from whom the US gained its independence!

Secondly, the entire United States did not have slavery and a civil war was fought to end it in all of the country. Slavery existed only briefly, and in limited locales involving only a tiny percentage of Americans. Slavery was outlawed by the 13th amendment to the US Constitution in 1866 but had not been practiced in the northern part of the country except in a few cases, but the north outlawed it shortly after the US gained its independence.

Thirdly, blacks got the right to vote under the 15th amendment to the US Constitution - in 1870. You are referring to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was not intended to give the right to vote but to stop discriminatory practices like literacy tests that were given by some Southern states. What so many Bulgarians fail to understand is how vastly different the South and the North are. They also fail to understand that each state has its own government which determines each states election laws. The Federal Government exists to protect rights, not to tell citizens what to do (in theory). When individual states violate rights protected in the constitution, that is when the Federal Government is supposed to step in, hence legislation like the Voting Rights Act. I've tried to make the Bulgarians I've talked to understand that there are 50 different states with 50 different governments, but they just can't seem to wrap their heads around the concept of federalism. And they think all Americans are alike, whether they be from California, Texas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, or Ohio. Yet these cultures are so different that they are like different countries.

Fourthly, Bulgaria has never been in a position to have slavery, because the modern Bulgarian state has always been dominated by another empire. Bulgaria gained its independence from the Ottomans after slavery was being outlawed throughout the world. Prior to that the Bulgarians were slaves themselves in the Ottoman Empire - how can a country have slaves if they are slaves?

Fifthly, there seems to be this notion that racism does not exist in Bulgaria.

  • How about this delightful story, with a Bulgarian saying to a black British woman, "What the f--- are you doing here? You don’t belong in Europe. Get the f--- out of my country. I f----- hate you. You’re a f----- nigger."
  • Also, I hear all the time from Bulgarians racism against Gypsies. Roma continue to be subjected to discrimination in the spheres of employment, healthcare, education, housing, and the criminal justice system. It was common practice not to let any people of Roma origin into public swimming pools, cafes, or cinemas, according to the Bulgarian Human Rights Foundation.
  • Oh, and don't forget the assimilation campaign of the 1980s and 1990s against the Turks, when they were forced to change their Turkish names to Slavic Bulgarian ones and Turkish culture was suppressed.
  • In 2005, the racist Bulgarian party Ataka won 10% of the votes. I have often seen graffiti on walls saying Ataka with swastikas above it.
  • The first specific law against discrimination in Bulgaria came into effect in 2004, not because the people wanted it but because it was a requirement for EU accession.

Lastly, while America deserves no unique blame for the existence of slavery, the United States merits special credit for its rapid abolition across the globe. In the course of scarcely more than a century following the emergence of the American Republic, men of conscience, principle and unflagging energy succeeded in abolishing slavery not just in the New World but in all nations of the West. During three eventful generations, one of the most ancient, ubiquitous and unquestioned of all human institutions (considered utterly indispensable by the “enlightened” philosophers of Greece and Rome) became universally discredited and finally illegal – with Brazil at last liberating all its slaves in 1888.

The United States is founded on the idea of equality:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
That is from the Declaration of Independence, published on July 4, 1776. No country is perfect, as countries are run by human beings. But America has done more for the world than any modern country on Earth. Do you like your television, your internet, your computers, your automobiles, your airplanes, your trains, your medicines, your electricity, your telephones...? Why are people so quick to criticize America when we have given so much? Why not for once just thank us?

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