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Who have been the most oppressed group of human beings in the history of humanity?
Unfortunately, in the history of human life, the question begs to be asked, "has the straight, white, mentally fit, Christian male never been oppressed?"
Ever since the beginning of recorded history, we have heard about one story continuously: how it was the "white man's burden" to educate, reform, and compel change in the "minorities" that were "running rampant" across lands that were meant to be in their white hands. I would argue that there is no group outside the straight, white, Christian, mentally fit male that has never felt oppression. But, for the sake of example, here are the five most notably oppressed groups in American history (with no disctinction made as to the level of oppression, because how could we possibly define one oppression as "worse" or "better" than another kind?) (Also, I don't mean to imply that only Americans have ever been oppressed, just for the point of this article.)
1. African Americans. This was the largest portion of the American population that was kept in bondage, and even after their freedom was granted, it took 100 years before their rights as American citizens were protected. Starting in the 1600s, American colonists brought Africans to the colonies in order to serve as labor. In 1789, it was written into the constitution that African Americans would be counted in census's as three-fifths of a person. They suffered horribly in slavery, with families being separated, being whipped, and humiliated. And even after the 13th amendment, which ended slavery, and the 14th amendment, which guaranteed rights to all American citizens, and 15, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race or previous condition of servitude. And yet, African Americans were still oppressed. They were denied access to establishments, couldn't mingle or share public spaces, and generally could not enjoy life as white people could. It wasn't until the civil rights package in 1965 that African Americans had protection written in law against discriminatory things like the Jim Crowe laws. Still, it took another 43 years before America would elect its first black president, Barack Obama. The country is still home to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which means there is still some oppression to eradicate.
2. The GLBTQI community. There have been recorded examples of homosexuality since the Roman empire. It was actually a common and accepted practice, until Christianity arrived in Rome and replaced the original pagan religion. Since that time, homosexuality has been condemned, from murders during the Spanish Inquisition to murders during the Holocaust, to modern day murders of members of the glbtqi community. In the November 4, 2008 election, four states passed ballot initiatives that restricted marriage to men and woman, and in Arkansas, restricted glbtqi parents from adopting children. The only two states that currently allow same sex marriage (as of November 2008) are Massachusetts and Connecticut. Under that same 14th amendment that failed to protect the African American community, everyone is guaranteed equal protection; however there are currently very few laws in place protecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and intersex people, and no federal laws.
3. Women. Regardless of race or socioeconomic standing, women were denied sufferage as a group until the 19th amendment in 1920. The fight for women's sufferage had started much earlier with first wave feminism, beginning with movements such as the Seneca Falls convention and the Declaration of the Rights of Women. After women were given the vote, however, they still were not equal to women. They began to flock to the workplace in the 1910s and 1920s due to WWI and the Roaring 20s. But once there was no longer a need for women in men's jobs, they were pushed back into the home. When the 1940s rolled around and American men were called to war, the women were called into the factories and the military desk jobs. But when the men returned home again, they were sent back to the homes. And so it went until the 1970s and 1980s, when women finally started to go to the workplace without the push of a world war. Still, however, women are rarely in high level positions. Again in the 2008 presidential election, the first woman, Sarah Palin, was on the vice presidential Republican ticket.
4. Native Americans. As the name suggests, they were the original inhabitants in the Americas. Their peaceful lives ended with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores such as Columbus and de las Casas. They chronicled their travels across islands such as Cuba and Haiti, and the treatment of the natives there. Not only were tribes wiped out from disease, but they were murdered and enslaved by these white invaders. Then Europeans begin to settle what became the United States. Indian tribes were pushed farther and farther west as Americans pursued their manifest destiny, and were shuffled from place to place on marches such as the Trail of Tears. Still, there are tribes that are not recognized in the United States.
5. Chinese and Japanese. Though immigrants built the United States, some immigrants were eventually deemed undesirable by the predominantly white population. In 1882, the government passed the Chinese Exclusion act, barring Chinese immigrants from entering the US. This was in response to the mass immigration of Chinese nationals to the US in earlier years--immigrants the US accepted when they needed cheap laborers to build their transcontinental railroad.
Japanese immigrants had it a little easier, until 1941. On December 7, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States declared war against Japan and Germany, entering WWII. For the "safety" of her Japanese citizens, America rounds them up and sends them to consentration camps, not entirely unlike the process that was happening in Germany under the Nazi party. While those of Japanese decent were not harmed (the government made no distinction between those who were American born or Japanese born), the fact is that the Japanese were rounded up, stripped of their rights, and made to live in communities where they could be watched by the US government. It took nearly 50 years for the United States to issue an apology to those Americans she disrupted, and to begin issuing retribution checks to surviving family members.
More groups than just those five have been discriminated and oppressed in the United States, and there are many more groups worldwide who are oppressed in the country that they call home.