When I was growing up in Asia and Africa we had limited choices in the products and services that were available. Supermarket shelves were small and sparse, with only a few options of each item, if even that.
I find a lack of consumable things comforting. It’s one less thing to worry about. There’s only two kinds of soap? Okay, I’ll take the rose scented one. The drink options are water and Fanta? I’ll take water.
Coming to America, I walk around the supermarkets, my eyes bugging out. A simple chore like buying shampoo becomes anxiety-inducing. Who needs fifty different bottles and brands and ingredients of what is essentially the same product?
I’m thankful to be gluten and preservative free. I’ve already figured out the few areas of the local shops with the things I can eat and I avoid all the rest.
Having lots of choices is a big thing here in America. When you order a salad in a restaurant they offer a litany of different kinds of dressings — ranch, Italian, Thousand Island, ceasar, honey mustard, cool ranch…the list goes on. This is tantamount to a right. Give us a variety of choice in what we can consume or we will go to the shop/restaurant/mall that does.
Ironically, this right to choose does not extend to human rights.
While choice in a restaurant or supermarket is a given, a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will have a baby, take birth control, take a morning after pill, is not a granted. There are even states in America that prosecute women for having miscarriages.
You can choose from 100 different kinds of shaving creams or breakfast cereals, but a major life decision like choosing who you want to marry is not a given, unless you are in a heterosexual partnership. There are even some places in the USA where it is still illegal to marry someone of a different race.
The moment a baby is born, whose right to life has been defended by the religious fundamentalists, it no longer matters: education budgets are cut to spend more on the military industrial complex, universal health care proposals are vetoed, citizenship is not granted if the parents are not nationals, welfare mothers are vilified, if the baby is gay then the child only has the right to marry in six of America’s fifty states.
Basic human choices are blocked at every turn by politicians whose main goal is to make a profit. The average Congressperson makes significantly more than his or her constituents because of kickbacks based on legislation they do or do not pass.
This is the democratic state we “choose”?
But when hundreds of thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters choose to speak out against a corrupt system that caters to the wealthiest 1% of Americans, they are arrested, pepper sprayed in the face and beaten to silence the voices that are, in theory, protected by the US Constitution.
Yes. The right to choose is very important in the USA.
Scratch that. The right to consume is what’s vital. The right to choose, not so much.
On a day that honors Dr. Martin Luther King, what would he say about the ironic state of choice in America?
©2011 Sezin Koehler