Diversity and Value

Steve Russell
8 min readSep 8, 2019
One Artist’s View of Diversity from Pixabay

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Indians know diversity, and knew it before Columbus got lost. My people, woodland hunters and farmers, traded with coastal tribes in one direction and in the other direction copper ornaments smelted in Cherokee country turned up in Southwestern pueblos, where they grew the Three Sisters crops on dry land farms and built with stucco. When the Spanish proved unable to keep track of their livestock, many tribes took up the buffalo culture on the Great Plains. Athabascan speakers live in icy Alaska and desert Utah. We know diversity.

To the colonists, we are all “Indians,” one of the most exotic minorities in modern politics. We all have this experience at some point if we leave home: “Do you want to be called Indian or Native American?” Tribal identity requires explanation, and it does get tiresome.

African-Americans, by the tragedy they have endured, bigfoot any discussion of diversity in the United States. The Civil War was, much as the Confederates denied it afterwards, about slavery.

The Civil War added three amendments to the Constitution, 13 to 15, but it was the Fourteenth Amendment that most clearly imported into law the statement of faith in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

Republicans, then the anti-slavery party, controlled the Congress and the Presidency, but the Supreme Court changes much more slowly and it remained in the hands of Democrats. The Democratic Court quickly gutted the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) and the Equal Protection Clause in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). When the Court informed us in The Civil Rights Cases (1883) that the laws passed to enforce the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments could not reach private acts of discrimination, legal equality died for another half century.

Homer Plessy’s case was particularly ironic. Plessy was one-eighth African-American by blood quantum, and so considered himself a white man — but the Court found he was not white enough to sit where he pleased on public transportation. There things stood until Rosa Parks came along not claiming to be a white woman, but merely insisting she was a human being.

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)