People, we gotta talk.
Seriously. Sit down for a minute, and listen.
Things are getting serious around here. There are Nazis marching in the streets. Actual Nazis. In 2017, in a Virginia town. There are white men marching as if they haven’t owned the planet for the last ten thousand years, demanding their birthright to dominate the earth, perpetuate the patriarchy, and to reign unchecked, the rights of others be damned, because that’s the way it’s always been and they don’t want it to change.
That’s the way it’s always been.
Well, it’s time to make a choice. Yes, you. It’s time to declare where you stand, and march with your people. I keep hearing you say “This isn’t the America I know.”
But it IS the people you know. These people are our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers and our families.
This is the America you know, whether you know it or not. It has always been America. We weren’t born a nation that respected the freedom of ALL our citizens. That’s never been true, and still is not. This argument about civil rights started in a pub in Philadelphia, where they decided to put off the question of slavery until 1800. Where our Founders protected us from ourselves with an Electoral College, and allowed our states to elect our Senators in our place. Where black people were forcibly, brutally enslaved by the men who wrote such high-minded words about liberty and the pursuit of happiness while they owned other human beings.
- The America you know first codified slavery into law in 1642, when black women were declared taxable property by the Virginia House of Burgesses.
- The America you know created generational slavery in 1662 when the same Virginia legislature decreed that children born to black women were born slaves and would remain so for life.
- The America you know legalized the casual killing of enslaved blacks in 1669.
- The America you know, in 1691, codified banishment from white society for white people who married blacks. You had three months to leave forever.
- The America you know decided in 1705 that the fine for a minister who marries an interracial couple would be ten thousand pounds of tobacco.
Are you sure you know America?
This thing that you’re seeing that scares you so badly — this is America, for better or for worse. It’s always been America. The argument about whether women had rights in America didn’t even begin until 1848. We couldn’t even discuss a woman’s right to vote, or to own property. She was taxed without representation or franchise, and her human rights given to her husband to do with as he pleased. Denied education, held to a stricter code of moral behavior, and prevented from the pursuit of self-improvement.
- The America you know didn’t allow women to participate at all in civic life until 1869, when Wyoming passed a suffrage law.
- The America you know didn’t allow women to vote for Federal offices until 1920.
- The America you know prohibited the use of contraception by married women until 1965.
- The America you know did not recognize marital rape as a crime until 1976.
Are you sure you know America?
If racism and sexism and hate and violence and fear and terrorism aren’t a part of your view of America, then you are one of the people that America was set up to provide for and protect.
When you say that this isn’t the America you know, what I hear is that, so far, you’ve had the privilege of not knowing America. If racism and sexism and hate and violence and fear and terrorism aren’t a part of your view of America, then you are one of the people that America was set up to provide for and protect. If you’ve ever wondered what white and/or male privilege is about, well, this is privilege in America, distilled to its base form. Congratulations — America has been yours from the beginning. That probably feels pretty good. It should — despite my lamentations, America is a pretty great place. It’s not all about wrong or evil or oppression, really, it’s not. In fact, it’s always been about eliminating those things. Let me explain.
You’ve been taught all your life that America is exceptional, that we’re different and better, but maybe nobody ever told you why. America wasn’t created different and better. America really wasn’t anything but a piece of paper and a few guys in weird hats, in the beginning. But America was always willing to go through whatever it took to better fulfill her promise, her higher purpose. We’ve often been very bad at it. But we always tried to get better, and always knew we had to do better.
Maybe that’s the America you thought you knew, because while you were learning about America, some really great Americans were trying really hard to make America a better place.
When our grandparents came home from the war they built for us a nation based on what we now call American Exceptionalism. They built homes and businesses and families and communities and they paid for their responsibilities and they understood that throwing money at the top of society while allowing the bottom to rot was like gilding an outhouse. It was common sense to them – when you buy a building, you inspect the foundation and you repair the rot so that the structure stands forever with minimal maintenance and repair. Building a nation was the same to them – investing in education and healthcare and infrastructure was like buying war bonds – the safest bet in the world. They built a foundation for success – investment in schools and roads and doctors meant less money spent on prisons and welfare and Medicaid.
We allowed ourselves to be further guided by principle, year after year. America did things because we could, before they had to be done, because they should be done, and being the right thing to do was enough for us. And we still got it wrong quite a bit, but we learned. And we moved ever onward. We freed slaves in 1865. We freed women in 1920. We guaranteed Civil Rights in 1964, and we guaranteed reproductive rights in 1976. We kept working. Kept building. Kept learning. Exceptionalism was never something we thought we deserved – it came about through our effort and our will and our desire to form a more perfect union, no matter how difficult, no matter how far we’ve been from that goal.
Even the people who didn’t really care about Americans different from themselves participated. There were a hell of a lot of them, and they weren’t very happy about it, but these were people who understood that you do what you have to do. You can hate people unlike yourself all you want, but if you want your nation to succeed, you have to contribute to the shared success of all people. You can’t have a safe neighborhood if the people across the tracks are desperate enough to steal. You can’t have industry if your potential employees are uneducated, underfed and unhealthy. It’s common sense – if you want to succeed, you keep your house in order. Your whole house, even the part where your mother-in-law lives.
But somewhere along the line, we decided that American Exceptionalism meant that we deserved the dividends without having made the investment. Life got so easy for us that we allowed our differences to overcome even our pragmatic necessity and our desire for exceptionalism, let alone our higher calling. We stopped repairing our foundation, stopped maintaining the social contract, stopped improving the blueprints of our house. The people who benefited from their parents’ investment started saying “Do it yourself – I did.” when nothing could be farther from the truth. And when the stitch-in-time investments in schools and roads and public health became nine stitches of prisons and poverty and a crisis of care, suddenly some pigs were more equal than others, just like before. Just like we’d never learned a thing.
See, meeting your responsibilities is always cheaper than patching things up as they become necessary. Any adult knows this. Changing your oil is far less expensive than engine repairs. Keeping your house in order is always a better deal than fixing it as it falls apart. When you keep your house in order, spending what you need to prevent catastrophic emergency later, you always have enough for everybody because the expensive catastrophe never comes. But when your house is falling down and you have to choose between the roof and the pantry, someone has to go hungry, and suddenly, one nation under God, indivisible, becomes True Patriots versus welfare queens, thugs and superpredators, Hell-bound heretics and deviants of religion and sexuality. Less than deserving of human decency. Unworthy. Assuming responsibility for society’s good is not an option – our grandparents are long gone, and nobility with them.
That’s the America I know. It’s the story of America during my youth, like the old joke about the pastor spending the building fund on cars and jewelry while the church collapses, all while convincing the congregation to raise their own money to repair the roof, getting offended when someone demands accountability, and downright belligerent when another suggests that our shared resources should be used to benefit our shared society. How dare you question authority or suggest there might be a better way? I’m a white male. I want my country back, the way I thought it was before. I deserve it, and I’m the decider, because I’ve always been the decider. That’s the way it is, so it should always be.
Let me break down a universal truth – if you don’t invest, and you still want to receive the dividends, your only option is to see life as a zero-sum game. You have to take from others. You have to Make America Great Again for you, because making America great for everybody requires work and investment and commitment to her principles. Who’s got time for that?
And to take from others, you first have to define ‘others.’
You have to see people as ‘us’ and ‘them’.
That’s what hate really is.
So I’m asking you right now. Are you with us? Or are you with them?
Because it’s time to make a choice.
The days of turning a blind eye are over. There are people marching in our streets who have decided that they deserve something just because of who they were born. These people are our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers and our families. They might be causing problems for someone else – which is to say ‘not me’ – but they are our problem. OUR problem.
It is time to make a choice.
- If you commit acts of racism or sexism or religious intolerance, or tolerate anyone that does, you are one of them.
- If you choose to look past a photo of a man you know assaulting another man because of the color of his skin, you are a bigot, not just him.
- If you choose to support people who believe that women are best barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, you might as well be running the company store.
- If you see your Uncle Dave on social media wearing a white polo, khakis and red hat, and carrying a Tiki torch, and you don’t tag him in the photo, you might as well be chanting “You Will Not Replace Us.”
- If you are voting for officials who wish to take away the rights of any human being, you are just as guilty. There are plenty of politicians who agree with you without being horrible people.
- If you support a political party that tolerates the presence of hate for political expediency, you are complicit in the crimes committed by those groups of hate.
- If you employ people who you know to be campaigning against the rights of others, you are aiding and abetting seditious acts.
- If you choose to keep quiet while police shoot people of color in the streets, you might as well be pulling the trigger.
It’s time to choose, America. Your silence is no longer acceptable.
Either you believe in the idea of America, or you are an enemy of the American people. There is a very clear definition of what it means to believe in America, written down for everybody to see. There are truths we hold self-evident: All human beings are created equal, and shall be equally protected by the law. All human beings are endowed by their creator with certain rights – among them, but not limited to, life, liberty and the practice of their own lifestyle as pleases them and does not abridge the rights of others. All citizens are entitled to freedom from government interference in their speech, a right which does not absolve them of the social consequences of that speech. All citizens are entitled to petition the government for redress of their grievances, even if their grievance involves something you cherish. And sometimes you lose, because sometimes another person has rights, where you only have an opinion, and in America, rights supersede opinions.
This isn’t about the America you know. It’s not about the America you think you know, or think you deserve. It’s about the America you want your children to know.
Which is it?
An America that believes she has exceptional citizens who deserve to stand on the backs of her most vulnerable? Or an America that works hard to be exceptional, century after century, to eventually get it right for all of our citizens?
It’s time to choose.