America The Beautiful
Imagine you have a relative that generously pays your way through college. Imagine this relative celebrates with you about 30 times a year; not just personally important occasions but days you have not even been alive long enough to understand their importance. You enjoy hearing about this relative’s past, because in your eyes this relative is a hero. When you were younger, your relative was famous for saving people and had developed a reputation as someone who felt they needed to defend those who could not defend themselves.
This relative had also developed a habit of taking what was not theirs; whatever they wanted, they took, because they believed it was their birthright and because deep down they believed they were doing the right thing. Befriending people only to kill them or enslave them was not your idea of the right thing, but one thing this relative could always do is justify things that happened in the past. I did this for you, they said. I did this for us, they said. You believed in them. You supported them. You started rationalizing the behavior as well. Maybe it had to do with how you heard the stories; you read them in books published before you were born, so this maybe impacted how the stories resonated with you. Maybe it had to do with the sense of pride your family instilled in you and how your family was filled with supporters of your relative’s actions who thought they could do no wrong. Either way, you wore the family colors and sang the family song and never once thought there was anything wrong with it.
Then, you started to get older and even though you still loved your relative you began to question if there was a better way to handle those past conflicts. Could the relative have just worked with those they enslaved? Could they have found a way to coexist so people would not have had to leave their homes with their belongings? As you began to age you began to question, all while your relative once again involves themselves in conflicts that do not have much to do with them. Under the ruse that they were trying to help, they went in and tried to steal what was most important to the people they were stealing from. When they were unsuccessful, and you tried to tell them what others were saying about them, they brushed off your points as “unnecessary” or “not worth responding to.” You privately stewed, but you continued to take the presents they gave you and continued to dream of how much more you could get out of them as you got older. You started to make your peace with their transgressions even if you saw that friends of yours had been hurt by this relative. Some had even been killed by this relative and when they saw you blindly supporting this relative? Well, you lost these friends that had tried so hard to explain to you why they were terminating their friendship. It hurt them to do it, because they believed that if you listened to them like your relative should have listened to their relatives then maybe things would not be as bad as they are now. Sure, they are better than they were in the past. You can acknowledge that while simultaneously acknowledging that your relative could still be better. Not just for you, but for the distant relatives they have ignored.
Then your relative was badly hurt. Some of the people he hurt in the past had finally had enough and they came back and retaliated, but during the retaliation they ended up hurting people that had nothing to do with what your relative did. They were caught in the crossfire, sadly, and after this incident your relative decided to fight back. This was the first time in a long time that someone had brought the fight directly to your relative. Your relative won the last time, and by golly they were going to make sure they won this time too. A lot of your friends once again lost relatives at the hands of your relative, but almost everyone agreed; your relative could not let this incident go unanswered, right? No, no way. So your relative answered, and he went and got some old friends and then went and got some new friends and they went to fight back. In the vacuum of that fight, your relative created another generation of people that wanted payback and would do nothing to stop it. When they could not reach your relative directly, they went after your relative’s friends. They used dastardly tactics, things that really bothered you, but things that did not really bother your relative enough to respond. Your relative even said that, while their thoughts and prayers were with their friends, they could not get involved this time despite their friends supporting your relative during their darkest hour. It was a crazy time.
Even through all of this, you still love your relative. You want to stay with your relative. Things are seemingly better with your relative, even if you are starting to question if that is true. Even though your relative took things that did not belong to them; even though your relative kills, and has raped, and has enslaved, and continues to allow for systems to be erected that limit everyone’s ability to benefit from their relationship with that relative like you do. Your relative does not listen. Even as you yell at your relative that black lives do matter, and that we all should have the same chances, your relative does not listen and instead your relative gets offended. Your relative pretends to listen and then when they spew back what they think you said? That is when you realize they did not hear you at all. So, your relative and some of its children tell you to leave. They tell you that you can go to one of your relative’s friends if you do not like being with your relative enough. If you are going to ask your relative to be better, you can just leave. Your relative’s other children ask you to stop being a victim. They yell at you that you need to stop using your color as a crutch because the reality you live in is not real. Your relative just wants what is best for you, they tell you. On top of it all, if you do not like it you can leave. Your relative is the best relative in the world.
Your relative is America. The United States of America, as it were. Yesterday was your relative’s birthday, and some of your relative’s children told you to leave if you cannot ignore the stuff your relative had done both in the past and in the present. You were being ungrateful, they said. This was not the time they said. We are here to celebrate your relative, they said. There was no space for nuance, they were apparently saying. You could not love your relative if you did not embrace or ignored everything they have done. You are either with us or against us, they said.
Some people I respect continued to say that yesterday, and I found myself conflicted because while I love America I know that America could do a better job showing that it loves me and people that look like me. There are people that will tell you that you cannot have both. I’m here to tell you that it is not true. Love this country, the same way you love the relative that made mistakes, but hold it accountable to not repeat the mistakes they have made. Push it to be better for everybody, from the kid working a factory job in Kansas that is struggling to pay for his inhaler to the single mom working three jobs in Brooklyn to pay for her children’s daycare. It is not an either or. For those that say that we can leave if we have a problem with how the country treats us, I am curious: your ancestors did not leave when Native Americans were already here, so why should we?