“De facto” segregation in the modern day

The international community’s views on human rights and the United States.

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

Though some countries within the international community view the United States as a leader in human rights, others are starting to question if the U.S. is actually violating some of those rights. In recent years, the modern-day de facto segregation, or segregation by law, in the U.S. has started to attract the international community’s attention. Many rules and regulations that have been put in place in the U.S. also perpetuate types of discrimination, and this creates many issues within our society.

Dr. Travis Nelson, associate professor of political science and department chair of social sciences, teaches a course entitled International Human Rights. Nelson said that the course starts by examining a document from the United Nations called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This doctrine is the most highly translated document in the world, being translated in 298 languages, and serves as a constitution of sorts for the international community. Nelson’s class talks about how this document is viewed by many as western-biased and discusses its clear lack of mention of gender and sexuality.

This doctrine holds thirty articles with both very general and oddly specific rules about what standards the international community should be held to. It is clear, though, that because of anarchy within the international system and the lack of a central government, these rules are not always being enforced, especially not in the great powers. 

According to Article I, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

It can be argued that the U.S. violates this article in that not all human beings are born free and equal. If you are born a female, you are not born equal because you will most likely face the wage gap. If you are born a person of color, you are not born equal because education and careers may be harder to obtain due to unconscious bias. The U.S. prides itself on being the “land of the free,” but how much freedom does it really offer?

Article III states that “[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” but with the current rise in police brutality in the U.S., the international community is starting to question if everyone is truly being granted the right to “security of person.” 

According to Reuters, a UN working group said, “Police killings of black people in the United States are reminiscent of lynchings[,] and the government must do far more to protect them.”

This idea can go along with violating Article V, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and Article IX,  “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

In an article released by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, it is stated that “‘[a]ny unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary use of force by law enforcement officials is incompatible with the absolute prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.’” 

The U.S. government needs to reconsider its criminal justice system and start thinking in the interest of all its citizens.

Race is not the only form of de facto segregation that the U.S. uses. There are many other factors to consider, like capital punishment, gun violence, male circumcision, classism and even culture. Dr. Claudine Pied, assistant professor and program coordinator of the sociology department, said that the U.S. needs to consider the role of culture and how we discuss it in order to talk about segregation on all levels.

Pied said that discussion of culture can often lead people into thinking that cultural differences lead to segregation, and in recent years, the U.S. has let this happen. In her course, Life and Culture in the United States, Pied covers a section on gated communities. Within this section, she discuses the idea of “niceness.” Niceness, Pied said, is often times used as a codeword, meaning white, middle-class and straight. This idea pushes segregation to the forefront. People look for gated communities that house others who are like them, and this makes them feel safe. The issue this leads to, though, is an underlying fear within the community of those outside the walls, and thus leading to a sort of structural racism and/or classism, ending in segregation.

Classism can also lead to economic segregation, as well. Pied said that it is obvious that the more money someone has, plus the more power they have, the greater access they will have to goods and services. This includes housing, healthcare and jobs. These factors all lead to gaps and inequalities within our society. 

It is clear that there are still many issues related to segregation and inequalities to overcome in the U.S., though progress is slowly being made. With the change in political climate, the international system continues to keep a close eye on the notable actions of the United States.