The golden rule that appears in some form in many religious and ethical traditions is that "we should treat others as we wish to be treated." This is a wonderful guide for individuals, and logically, it should also extend to society. Societies should thus work to see that all people in the society are treated fairly regardless of inherent differences.
Unfortunately, the Catholic Church turned its back on the golden rule and the teachings of Jesus when it issued the Doctrine of Discovery in the 15th century. This doctrine was based on the idea that non-Christians were inferior beings. Thus European Christian powers were permitted to steal lands and to commit barbaric acts against non-Christians if they didn't convert. In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially recognized the doctrine and the implied inferiority of native cultures to invalidate claims of Native Americans to their own lands.
The enslavement of and brutality practiced against African Americans in the U.S. represented another horrific violation of the golden rule and religious tenets. Shamefully, throughout much of U.S. history, Whites viewed blacks as lesser beings, and many people still share this appalling view even today.
Making matters even worse, politicians enacted laws that discriminated against African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, non-heterosexuals, Muslims, low-income whites and other groups in this country. Society thus created and supported systemic violations of the golden rule, whether it be in housing, education, banking, jobs, health care, security or the injustice system.
Part of the problem is that we didn't interact with the other, the people who were victimized by the systemic denial of equal rights under the law. It was easier to discriminate if you didn't really know discrimination's victims and if you viewed them as being inferior to you.
If you don't really know the other, it also becomes easier to fear and to hate them. Stereotyping is much less work than getting to know those outside your group.
When the other protests for equal treatment, members of the dominant group often respond with vitriol and/or violence against those the dominant group views as inferior. The current response to "Black Lives Matter" demonstrates this response. BLM is pointing out that society and its police tend to accept the killing of blacks as normal and that a black life doesn't count as much as a white life.
Fortunately, there is more interaction with and acceptance of the other among the youth today than in the past. Hopefully, youth can be the driving force for a fairer and more open society.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.