The Declaration of Independence features what is arguably the most famous line in American history, and it’s all about equality: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” It’s a lovely, profound sentiment, but one that has, from the beginning, been more aspirational than true in practice. We’ve made a lot of strides since 1776 (I mean, when the U.S. was founded, slavery was legal and women couldn’t vote, so there was really nowhere to go but up, was there?), but if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go before everyone in this country gets to live on an equal playing field.
The events of the last year or so, from the SCOTUS ruling that legalized gay marriage in the U.S., to horrific terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, to the current #OscarsSoWhite hashtag dominating social media, have led to many important discussions of gender, race, sexuality, and religion, but as much as these discussions have offered productive points of view, they have also given rise to a mess of problematic quotes from politicians and other public figures that demonstrate perfectly (and depressingly) that prejudice and inequality is alive and well. Basically, for every insightful, thought-provoking comment that had us nodding along (or, you know, jumping up and cheering “YAASS QUEEN”), there was another that had us head-desking so hard we risked brain damage.
“Inequality” is a pretty small word for giant, multifaceted issue. Inequality exists across so many planes — including, but surely not limited to, race, gender, sexuality, class, economic status, culture, religion, and disability — that it would be impossible to list them all. And we know that these planes intersect in profuse and complicated ways. We use a lot of different “isms” (sexism, racism, ableism, and so on) when discussing inequality, but — though these words are useful and necessary — they don’t capture the full complexity of how prejudice and discrimination work on different fronts simultaneously to limit people’s rights and opportunities, to allow some to be seen as less “human” and deserving of respect than others, and to create an uneven distribution of power.
Keep reading for a small sampling of quotations from the last twelve months that prove that we still have a long road ahead of us.* Be warned: Some of this stuff is really offensive.
* Side note: Obviously, one of the loudest voices in the “Let’s Be Prejudiced And Intolerant Game, 2015 Edition” was (and still is) Donald Trump. I’ve limited myself to only a few quotes from him here (so as not to leave out other deserving people), but one could easily fill a whole post with horribly offensive, potentially dangerous, things that he’s said. Oh, look! Someone did. (And here’s another one!)
Donald Trump, talking about Mexican immigrants.
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
From Trump’s presidential campaign announcement, June 2015.
Ben Carson, comparing Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.
If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably going to put your children out of the way. It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.
From a campaign stop in Alabama, November 2015.
Mike Huckabee, “joking” about transgender people and bathrooms.
[W]e are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your 7-year-old daughter, if she goes into the restroom cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man. Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’ You’re laughing because it sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it?
From a speech at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, 2015.
Donald Trump, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.
From a rally in South Carolina, December 2015.
Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, talking about women in science.
Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.
From a speech at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, Korea, June 2015. (Hunt later apologized).
Charlotte Rampling, missing the point of #OscarsSoWhite and the proposed Oscar boycott.
[It is] racist to whites. You can never know if it's truly the case, but maybe black actors did not deserve to make the final stretch.
Donald Trump, discussing Megyn Kelly’s “blood.”
You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.
From an interview with CNN, August 2015.
Ben Carson, after being asked, “You think being gay is a choice?”:
Absolutely. Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight -- and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask you that question.
T.I., on why he can’t vote for a lady president.
Not to be sexist but, I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman. Just because, every other position that exists, I think a woman could do well. But the president? It’s kinda like, I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally — they make very permanent, cemented decisions — and then later, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen. And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke. [Other leaders] will not be able to negotiate the right kinds of foreign policy; the world ain’t ready yet. I think you might be able to the Loch Ness Monster elected before you could [get a woman].
Donald Trump, discussing opponent Carly Fiorina.
Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?
From a profile by Rolling Stone, September 2015.