US: Diversity is strength | By Justice Markandey Katju


US: Diversity is strength

SOME people criticise the American people for what they did in Vietnam, Iraq etc, but I am their great admirer.

What giants they have produced—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and a host of others.

No doubt Americans have made some mistakes too, but which nation hasn’t? I go to America often, and every American I met was a fine person.

Many people criticise Americans for their ill treatment of blacks, such as the killing of a black man George Floyd by white policemen in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March 2000 which created a furore.
In this connection I would like to relate an incident.

Some time back a delegation of about 20 Americans visited Delhi, and I was invited by an organisation to address them. The delegation had all white Americans, half of whom were women.

There were journalists, lawyers, doctors, social activists, and even a police officer in the team.

Among the things I said to them was that the condition of blacks had greatly improved in America.

However, this statement provoked a strong rebuttal by the members of the delegation (who, as I said, were all white), and they strongly disagreed with me.

I then asked “How many of you have read Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’? “.
Some of them had (probably in school), but many had not.

Then I said that the great American writer Ernest Hemingway said that all American literature begins with that single novel.

In that novel there is a scene where one of its characters, Aunt Sally, on hearing of a bomb blast, asks Huckleberry Finn “My God, was anyone hurt? “. To which Huck replies “No Ma’am, only a nigger killed “.

This showed that at one time blacks were not even regarded humans. Having related this I spoke of the great progress blacks in America had made since the days of slavery.

The Civil War ( 1861-65 ) and the 13th Constitutional Amendment abolished slavery, though even thereafter Jim Crow laws, lynching of blacks, and racial segregation ( validated by the infamous US Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs Ferguson, 1896 ) persisted.

However, the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board of Education, 1954 annulled the devious ‘separate but equal’ doctrine proclaimed in Plessy, and invalidated segregation.

The subsequent civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act, 1964 were further steps in the advance of black people.

Now blacks are Senators, Judges, doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. Barack Obama became the first black President of USA, Kamala Harris has become the Vice President, and the present Secretary of Defence is a black man.

A black man, Gen Colin Powell, became Chairman of the Jt Chiefs of Staff of the US armed forces, and later the first African American Secretary of State (his successor, Condoleezza Rice being another black Secretary of State).

No doubt racialism and animosity against blacks still exist in certain parts of America, and among some people, but we have also to see the great progress blacks have made since the time of slavery.

Blacks are not now killed for having an affair with a white woman ( as used to happen at one time ), unlike in India where dalits ( low caste people ) are still often killed for doing so with a non dalit (called ‘honour killing’). So one has to put the matter in the historical perspective.

One reason for the great progress Americans have made is that America is largely a country of immigrants.

People came there from several European countries, China, India, Africa, Mexico etc and all contributed their knowledge, technical skills, and their great cultural values.

So its very diversity has become its powerful strength. We Indians, who also have a lot of diversity, have much to learn from Americans, instead of being critical of them.

Long live the great American people!
—The writer is former judge, Supreme Court of India.

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