O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

— Langston Hughes, “Let America be America Again”

As a college professor of early American literature, I usually began my first day of class with an exercise. I would give my students a basic, blank map of the world and ask them to draw out what they know of the origins of this country. …


On a cold February morning in 2017, I pulled into the parking lot of the community college where I had spent the last 15 years as a professor and administrator. I could not get out of my car. For the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed by a panic attack.

I had driven to work listening to my local public radio station, and that morning the reporters were highlighting the current administration’s relentless pursuit of the Muslim Ban. What triggered my panic was not so much the deliberate and callous way the administration sought to criminalize people and…

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