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What are civil rights?

I struggled with what my first blog piece would be. There are so many topics to be discussed. But I thought it best to start with this question.

Many groups yell about civil rights: about them being violated, or upheld, or non-existent. But do we really know what they are?

Civil rights are defined as the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. I am of the belief that many of the world’s problems could be solved by applying a childhood lesson that we often leave in childhood: Be polite; treat others how you want to be treated.

In a world where politeness is often forgotten or confused with political correctness, it’s no wonder there is a fear of the loss of these rights. Looking at policies and not politics, I wonder, if our treatment of others would change for the better if we were to say, "if the roles were reversed in this particular policy, is this how I would like to be treated?”

Before writing this piece, I reached out to several friends and asked what civil rights meant to them. And do you know what I found? Those two words mean something different to each one of them.

Another thing I noticed is their answer was either a lack of specificity or an unintentional selfishness. These are some of my closest friends and family. They are some of the kindest, big-hearted, selfless people I know. But in answering the question, some used a blanket statement of equality or life without discrimination.

Others responded the same but qualified it with respect to their demographic. For example, the Black person mentioned equal accessibility to freedoms for both Black and White people or reminding White America that we are equal. The woman mentioned having the freedom to make life choices that are respected. Or the gay man mentioned living his life without fear.

Again, I know these people. And I know that they would absolutely stand with others even if they couldn’t personally identify with certain challenges. But what are we saying and doing when we specifically define civil rights as it pertains to our personal demographic? Do we really want civil rights for everyone?

If we apply our own narrow definitions, we end up respecting someone’s religion but not their sexual orientation. We end up shouting for their rights as a woman but not as a Mexican American.

We have to not only widen our definition but also be intentionally specific. Naming the marginalized groups empowers us to identify them and seek change with them.

I was guilty of giving the same answers my friends gave me. Writing this post has forced me to redefine civil rights.

For me, civil rights is simply the right for every person to receive civility. Regardless of our religion or lack of, or sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, or gender, our voice is equal and should be mutually respected; not dismissed or undermined.

We each have the right to be treated as others want to be treated. Because, let’s face it: no one wants to be killed in jail over a traffic stop, or arrive at their place of worship to disparaging graffiti, or forced to live a life that’s comfortable for others but detrimental to self.

How will you define civil rights? And how will you actively respect and protect the civil rights of others?

Create hope. Forge a path. Change the world.


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