The Cultural Value and Practice of American Equality

Equality is commonly declared as a high cultural value in American society. And it is true in many regards. Many legislative norms and practices demonstrate widespread equality in American daily life. However, American equality is still inconsistent and far from ideal in some respects.

What Is Social Equality?

Social equality means that all members of a society are treated equally. This may include having access to civil rights, freedom of speech, autonomy, and certain public goods and social services. Social equality implies that there are no legally recognized social class distinctions and that there is no discrimination based on a fundamental aspect of an individual’s identity.

The best form of equality is equity. Therefore, social equality means that individuals have equal opportunity, not necessarily equal availability. Ultimate social equality means that all individuals are equal in their opportunities,

  • regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation,
  • regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, social class, income,
  • regardless of their origin, language, opinions,
  • regardless of their health, and disability.

The Progress in American Equality

The history of American society has been quite controversial in terms of democracy and social equality. Even though American leaders always declared these social values, real legislative norms and practices were far from ideal.

The 20th century has made substantial progress in this regard. It has been especially true since the 1960s. Thanks to the efforts and persistence of countless American people and leaders. America has now come much closer to the ideal of equality upon which the country was founded. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom became a crucial momentum in this regard. One can see clear evidence of the progress in equality. For instance,

  • Race is no longer a barrier to entry at a lunch counter.
  • Restrictive covenants cannot legally state that only certain types of people can purchase certain types of homes.
  • Literacy tests are no longer a barrier to voting.

However, let’s take a closer look at the realities of today in various areas of American life. Studies have obviously demonstrated that real equality is still an ongoing process. Equality is still just a dream, rather than a reality, for many people in the United States.

Is Further Progress Good for American Culture?

On the one hand, many liberal and progressive men and women believe that social equality is good and is a desirable value for the future American culture. On the other hand, many conservative men and women may not think so.

For instance, white Americans, and white men in particular, have a tendency to view efforts to reduce prejudice toward black men and women as being prejudicial to them. This is especially true when the target population is black men and women. We have seen a lot of this conservative backlash against diversity and racial justice.

“The misperception that equality is harmful is stubbornly persistent, resisting both reason and incentivization.”

And the psychology of advantage can explain this social psychological tendency in beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Whether we identify as conservatives or liberals, we tend to hold on to our advantages at all costs (Brown et al., 2022).

“Self-interest…is a massive motivation for those advantaged in society to preserve the status quo insofar as it benefits them.”