We The People

Why has it been so difficult for the United States to overcome issues of sexism, racism, and white supremacy?

Mark Charles explains the fundamental design of the founding documents of the United States of America that allows white, landowning men to flourish and maintain power . He examines how the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence did not recognize all the people as having full human rights. From this understanding, we can clearly see why it has been so difficult to overcome the problems of inequality within the system that was designed to keep white, landowning men in the seat of power and control.

In his final State of the Union, President Obama was talking about the need in our nation for a new politics and he said, “We the People…our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean ‘all the people’, not just some.” 

Now when I heard that, as a native man, I had to stop and ask when? I’ve read our founding documents, I’ve studied our history, and I had to question when did we decide as a nation that “we the people” actually means “all the people?”

Literally 30 lines below the statement “all men are created equal,” The Declaration of Independence refers to natives as “merciless Indian savages,” making it very clear the only reason our founding fathers used this inclusive term “all men,” because they had a very narrow definition of who was actually human. 

Now, a few years later, our founding fathers wrote another document. They started this one with the words “we the people of the United States.” This, of course, is the preamble to the Constitution. However, if you read just a few lines later, down to Article One, Section Two, the section of the Constitution that defines who is and who is not covered by this constitution, the first thing you will note is it never mentions women. Second, it specifically excludes natives. And third, it counts Africans as three fifths of a person. So who’s left? Well, white land owning men is who could vote. 

Now we have to ponder this for a moment. The reason our Constitution was written, the purpose of our Constitution is to protect the interests of white landowning men. So today, we act shocked that women earn 70 cents to the dollar. This shouldn’t shock us. Our Constitution is working. We act surprised that our prisons are filled with people of color. This shouldn’t surprise us. Our Constitution is working. We act outraged that in 2010, the Supreme Court sided with Citizens United and ruled that corporations now have the same rights to political free speech as individuals. This is what opens the door for Super PACs, unlimited contributions to candidates. This shouldn’t surprise us. The constitution is doing exactly what it was designed to do is protecting the interests of white landowning men. So this makes our Constitution a systemically white supremacist and sexist document that assumes the white landowning male has the authority to decide who is and who is not human. 

See, we would rather believe that the United States of America is racist and sexist and white supremacist in spite of our foundation. But the truth is, we are white supremacist, racist and sexist as a nation because of our foundations. And we don’t know what to do with that. 

There’s an Aboriginal leader named George Erasmus, and he says where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. If you want to build community, he says you have to start by creating a common memory. I think this quote is brilliant. And it gets to the heart of our nation’s problem with race, which is we don’t have a common memory. We have a white majority that remembers a history, a mythological history of discovery, expansion, exceptionalism, and opportunities. And we have communities of color that have the lived experience of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, boarding schools, ethnic cleansing, genocide, internment camps, mass incarceration, and family separated at our borders. We have no common memory and I think we all can agree that community on a national level is absolutely in the pits.

I’m proposing that the United States of America needs a national dialogue on race, gender and class – a conversation on par with the truth and reconciliation commissions that took place in South Africa, in Rwanda and in Canada. If we can acknowledge the vile racism, sexism, colonialism and white supremacy that our founding fathers embedded deep into our foundations, we might just be able to leave a different legacy for our children’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren – a legacy that for the first time, “we the people” might actually mean “all the people.”

Coming soon

For more details of the history of white supremacy in the United States, watch the full history lesson here:


  • “Somnium” – Zachary David

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