The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Equal rights, not opportunties

| Thursday, February 6, 2014

Though my ancestors experienced segregation and great social injustices, I did not. But, that does not mean I cannot understand and feel strongly about their experiences as marginalized individuals. Events of the past still significantly affect the attitudes and experiences of all inhabitants of the United States, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or wealth.

The same way that African American children are taught about their ancestors’ past enslavement and Jewish children are taught to remember the Holocaust, ethnic individuals of every origin are taught to remember tragic experiences of their families’ pasts as well. The fact that historically marginalized individuals of contemporary American society did not live through tragic times in history does not mean they are not affected by the social implications adopted in the past. Stereotypes and prejudices have origins in history, some are possibly justified while others stem from ignorant and naïve beliefs and practices held by oppressive societies of previous generations.

Suggesting one should forget what ancestral injustices have occurred less than a century ago has been a pretty popular opinion lately. Realize I am not blaming any young adult in this world for their ancestors’ misdeeds. Having heard the statement, “If I were alive during slavery, I would not be a slave owner” and rough forms of “Don’t blame me that my ancestors owned yours,” I feel I am in a position to challenge such beliefs. On the contrary, I am convinced any white male in the United States today would have been a slave owner in the past. It was a regular social occurrence, and those who did not follow the rules of society were most definitely stigmatized.

Still, it would be completely absurd and unfair to blame my White male friends for their great-great grandfathers’ past actions, just as it would be unfair to blame me or any other Catholic for the Crusades of decades past.

The actions and guilt of past oppressors should not fall on the shoulders of individuals in current American society. As people in positions of power in the world, it is the responsibility of these descendants to work toward the existence of an American better than pre-abolitionist America. As corny as it sounds, we must make this a better world for our children and their children to come.
Yes, we legally we are ensured equal rights. I can sit in the front of the bus. I can go to school with my male peers. I can succeed if I so choose, within reason, though. Equal rights do not mean equal opportunities in any way whatsoever. Just because slavery does not exist in current American society, there still exists racism and prejudices in a different form: mental and social slavery — if I may coin that as a concept. Politicians and the likeminded criticize urban populations for their inability to improve social status and economic wealth. But, how are we to improve when jails are populated with a higher percentage of the African-American male population than colleges are?

How can an American criticize the actions of oppressive regimes in other nations without first noting the actions of his or her own people? We urge others to aid the poor in other countries, but refuse to see the poverty and miscarrying of justice occurring in our own society.

I am currently participating in the Migrant Experience Seminar, and during our first meeting I gained more respect for the members of my class than I had in any other. These individuals want to learn. They want to experience the lives of those in America that lack the opportunities many take for granted. One girl in particular specifically stated she wants to be “less ignorant” of the lives of those living literally down the street from many of us, in that area of the city you don’t dare drive through without your doors locked. She admitted her ignorance pertaining to poverty and inequalities in the United States, and that is the first step to changing the course of the American society.

It is unfortunate, however, that it takes a seminar of this sort to educate students. But if this is what it takes to make a difference in society, I most certainly encourage it.

Katrina Linden is a sophomore English and Latino Studies major living in Lewis Hall. She can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Katrina Linden

Katrina Linden is a sophomore English and Latino Studies major living in Lewis Hall.

Contact Katrina
  • wow

    “I am convinced any white male in the United States today would have been a slave owner in the past.”

    This is the definition of racism. You are making assumptions about all the members of an entire group based exclusively on their skin color.

    Furthermore you have absolutely no basis for your incorrect historical claims. I am shocked that the Observer continues to print these articles. This is offensive.

  • Johnny Whichard

    Katrina….please realize what people like I feel and think. YOU are the true racist in any debate….you generalize all “white males” in this article. I know you think people like me are “privileged” but please try and start to look at people as “INDIVIDUALS” and you will become happier… this is your second embarrassing piece in a row. You cannot claim you want America to be racism free and then attack white males. YOU are the real problem.

  • Johnny Whichard

    Also, Katrina…read up. The Quakers were white and against slavery…but continue to demonize white men all you want.

  • Seriously?

    First of all, I am absolutely astounded that you are still being given the privilege of posting articles. Someone is obviously drunk in the The Observer’s editing department. All kidding aside, you are absolutely awful. The implication that all white males would have owned slaves is, as my fellow commenter said, racist, as well as incredibly ignorant. You are implying that all white men would commit one of the worst crimes in human history because “it’s the hip thing to do.” You are assuming, based on what I can only assume is a healthy collection of social justice Tumblrs, that all white men would rather treat other human beings like property than be socially ostracized. In other adventures in yellow journalism, (I am aware of the racism of this phrase’s origin, but I didn’t think you’d mind, being a racist yourself) I’m really not sure what you are trying to argue with your fact about African-Americans (which, by the way, is not the preferred term, as it excludes those whose family come from islands such as Haiti and Jamaica) and prison. Are their rights being infringed upon because their high incarceration rate? Who is behind this scheme to put them in prison? There is obviously a bias in the legal system, because white people (or, “the Man”, if you prefer) are concerned with nothing more than bringing minorities down. That is obviously ridiculous, and yet that is the only message that I can derive from your inclusion of the following:”But, how are we to improve when jails are populated with a higher
    percentage of the African-American male population than colleges are?” You need to accept that you are living in the most progressive generation that our country has ever seen. This is a generation that is at an all-time high sixty-six percent approval rating when it comes to gay marriage. (http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide2.php) That’s a rate that is rapidly climbing too, as it was at only fifty-four percent when President Obama was elected in 2008. Unfortunately, we are living in a world that is still, for the time being, controlled by the Baby Boomer generation, but that is slowly changing. What concerns me is that in the face of positive change, we still have people like you who cling to anachronistic social standards just to have something to complain about. You’re standing in the pool while complaining about how dry you are and audibly wishing that you were in a pool.

    A few closing thoughts:
    – I actually laughed out loud at your line about “coining the concept” when discussing mental and social slavery. A simple Google search of “mental slavery” would show you BOB MARLEY LYRICS FROM 1980 ON THE SUBJECT. I cannot expect you to automatically know the lyrics to a Bob Marley song, (even though it’s “Redemption Song”, one of his biggest hits) but seriously, Google before you have a mid-article masturbation session with your ego.

    – The last crusade occurred over seven-hundred years ago… hardly “decades past.” I hate to nitpick like that, but it’s stuff like that, your random capitalization of the “w” in “white” (and general lack of proofreading) that tend to discredit you even further than your grossly uninformed remarks already have. Personally, I see a huge red flag in somebody that leaves errors in a piece that they intend to have published. If you’re going to submit garbage, it might as well be pretty garbage, right?

    – For the love of Christ, stop writing. Don’t flatter yourself by interpreting that as a sort of, “I’m so influential. If I’m pissing people off, my writing is powerful and I’m telling the hard truths that people need to hear. I’ll keep on writing, this is just fuel to my fire of determination to fight for what I believe in!” because that’s not what this is. Having different views is terrific. You are not terrible because you like to pretend to be an oppressed champion for civil rights. You are terrible because you make ignorant remarks without a second thought and don’t check your facts. You are not Woodward or Bernstein. You are not in a lifetime movie. You are a terrible writer who writes terrible, hate-filled articles under the mask of the cry of a minority, which is absolutely shameful.

    – The Irish were enslaved in America up until the 1830’s. Well over one million Irish slaves were sold to Virginia, New England, and Barbados. Irish slave women were used to “mate” with black slaves in order to “breed” new “mulatto” slaves that were then sold at a higher price than others. Next time you decide to write another one of your enlightening articles, read a book first.

    • Johnny Whichard

      Please write to the Observer and shut people like Katrina out….the only reason I respond to her trash victimized articles is because people like you don’t! Here Here!

      • RFH

        Dude, lighten up.

  • Guest
  • Johnny Whichard

    Katrina hates Morgan Freeman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeixtYS-P3s

  • Johnny Whichard

    Your choice of majors clearly is astounding considering you seem to be focused on diversity, Katrina. I wish I could major in “Caucasian Studies” (sarcasm)

  • Justin

    Somebody needs a reality check. Are you under the impression that all white men owned slaves? First of all, less than ten percent of white Southerners owned slaves. The richest of the rich. TEN PERCENT. The rest were poor and had little to do with slavery. Second, that was the South. The North abolished slavery, so that’s another heap of white males without any slaves right there. In fact, it’s a great number of white males who were vehemently AGAINST slavery, righteously going against the “rules of society” you mention. Stigmatized? Actually, it was probably the reverse if you were living in there.

    Third, let’s not forget this is before most of our ancestors were even in this country. My ancestors, and the ancestors of many ND members, were still being oppressed and starved in Ireland. You want to learn about people who are brutally discriminated against? Look there, where British officials shipped food OUT of Ireland during the height of the potato famine. How many multitudes starved to death during those years, leaving survivors to flee to America, only to be forced to fight and die in a war they had no stake in? That is racism, too, miss, and it had nothing to do with skin color. Many “whites,” as we oh-so-racistly say, have also endured extreme oppression in history.

    So when you say something like “all white men would own slaves today,” it simply does not register. My ancestors had nothing to do with slavery, and I will tell you that I rightly feel no relation to slavery or “ancestral guilt” because of it. Again, even in America, proportionally very few owned slaves. So the next time you are bored in class, or wherever when you have these odd fantasies, and begin imagining all of your classmates’ ancestors owning anyone else’s, pay a little more attention to history and think again. Virtually everyone of every ethnicity has ancestors who were oppressed. Still, I do not look around at my British friends and say “I am convinced that you would have oppressed me and forced me to starve to death if we were alive in the 1800s.” It’s ridiculous. What kind of mentality do you have that you assume someone would inherently undergo evil acts just because of his or her identity?

    What a sad world you must live in, Ms. Linden, if you have so little faith in humanity, and, more importantly, so little faith in your classmates.

  • White male

    Katrina how can you generalize all of Caucasian males if you are not one. How bout you take a step into our shoes and realize that you are being the true racist by implying that we would all be slave holders. Look at the civil war. Many white males fought and died for the rights you now have today but you still plan to call us a bunch of bigots? Take a good look at yourself and hopefully you can get past your own ignorance and bigotry to realize you are what is wrong with America. Coming from a white male who loves all races of people and refuses to discriminate because of the color of ones skin you should be ashamed. Everyone has opportunities in America and what you make of them is your own business. My boss is a black man. Do I blame him for taking away my opportunities just because he is a different race than I? No. I don’t. Think before you speak

    • Agreed

      Indeed, the efforts by visionary leaders such as MLK or Ghandi or Nelson Mandela (when he wasn’t planning terrorist attacks) were admirable and were catalysts to racial and ethnic equality, however the fact remains that in the case of America, India and South Africa that is was the white men in power who finally agreed to step down. It was a joint effort. The only country I can think of where an ethnic minority completely took their rights was Haiti, and clearly the rapid inversion of the power structure in that country has led to years of poverty. I am not giving white people the sole credit for equality, but white people have played a crucial role in racial equality from Abraham Lincoln to F. W. de Klerk. Also, everyone here seems to forget that Latino and White are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would venture to assert that Ms Linden has a fair bit of White in here, if she is not totally white. Indeed, (per Wikipedia) Linden is a surname commonly of Dutch, English and German origin. There is also a Swedish surname spelled Lindén.

      My 2 cents

  • Matt

    Whatever merit your argument had went right out the window with “I am convinced any white male in the United States today would have been a slave owner in the past.” This is why racism exists; because people make ASSUMPTIONS trying to condemn a race. What you’ve just done was take the battle against racism in entirely the wrong direction. You’ve made it worse because there are people out there that will be so infuriated by such a statement that they’ll think the racists might actually have a point. You have deepened a divide or created one here.

  • Do you even think?

    How did you get into this university with that reasoning?

    I’m white. I’m male. My great grandfather came over from Italy on a boat in the 1930s seeking a new life. According to your illogical assumptions, he is responsible for slavery? He was continually bombarded with racial slurs by other groups such as the Irish…yet does that make him automatically racist to the blacks?

    Racism and misconceived notions do still exist in America, and they start with you.

  • Crusade

    Someone needs a lesson on the crusades.

  • uncle max

    1) ‘No Irish need apply’

    2) We white folks lost the monopoly on racism long ago, and an argument could be made that we never had it.