Let’s Be Honest — We Created 2020.

Photo by daniel james on Unsplash

2020 once felt like an aspirational year for progress. Obvious symbolism aside, we started the last decade with signs of momentum, milestones of success, and a sense of optimism. Unfortunately, those sentiments were not unanimous. As the tides turned, we lost clarity and slid sideways into 2020 with palpable division, uncertainty, struggle, and fear.

And then the pandemic happened.

So, here we are. On top of the collective trauma of COVID-19, we’ve witnessed the murder of more black lives and the resulting protests. We’ve seen daily shock-and-awe like PR moves from the White House that appear to be obvious, tangible evidence of an unfit President. We’ve had time to think, to grow, to get angry. And in this already dark state, I’ve just binge-watched the Netflix series Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. I think it’s safe to say that my optimism is at an all-time low. Yet as I sit here, distancing from a virus that took thousands of lives in my city, stunned by the horrific sexual abuse this wealthy and powerful man got away with for so long, while simultaneously witnessing centuries of systematic racism and police militarization come to a boiling point, I can’t help but notice the commonalities.

This country has some deep wounds cut by our obsession with wealth and power, and our desperate attempts to amass and protect wealth and power.

It fuels our white supremacy and our resulting racism. It fuels our heteronormative narrative and resulting homophobia. It fuels our traditional gender roles and resulting sexism. It fuels our capitalist ideology and resulting classism. It fuels our Christian world view and resulting religious discrimination. It fuels our fear and our resulting hate.

The story of the American Dream paints a beautiful picture of a land of plenty where people came to escape persecution and lead honest lives in the safety and comfort of a peaceful, free, and fruitful country. But this idyllic origin story conveniently omits the generations of opportunistic individuals who thrived in the no holds barred culture that defined this country long before the Wild West was a territory to be claimed. For all our accomplishments, we have a very ugly past. An ugly past that was, and is, disproportionately ugly for those without power and wealth.

Truths are not mutually exclusive. It can be true that as a country we enabled this ugliness in order to benefit the majority. It can also be true that we are different people capable of working towards a different destiny. Both can be true, but we will never start meaningful conversations and make real progress unless with confront our most shameful milestones head-on, with deliberate honesty. Shameful milestones like…

How quickly we justified displacing and killing the indigenous people of this land. Let’s be honest — we wanted the land, so we took it.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How easily we concocted elaborate kidnapping schemes to steal people from their homes and ship them back to “our” land. How confidently we built empires on the backs of slaves with no regard to their basic humanity, let alone their lives. Let’s be honest — we wanted the labor and the material reward, so we stole it.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How effortlessly we oppressed our wives, our mothers, and our daughters and kept education, self-expression, careers, sexuality, property ownership, and basic personal authority just out of arms reach. Let’s be honest — we wanted them to remain beholden to us, so we ensured that they’d have to.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How swiftly we put the breaks on accepting the legal declaration of racial equality. How quietly we allowed men in white robes to terrorize and murder the very people for whom we should have rolled out the red carpet of reparations with humility. How conveniently we shoved them to the backs of buildings and vehicles instead of inviting them to sit with us and understand where we went wrong. Let’s be honest — we wanted to preserve our place in society, so we did.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How calmly we forced men who love men and women who love women, in all combinations, to hide in shame and fear for their lives just to protect a family unit ideal that never really existed. Let’s be honest — we felt entitled to control how others lead their lives, so we criminalized it.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How regularly we treated immigrants and the poor like an easily replaceable set of hands. How deliberately we paid them “just enough” for their time. How simply we denied them entrance to our housing, schools, and hospitals when “just enough” wasn’t enough. Let’s be honest — we knew it wasn’t enough.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How handily we blamed attacks on our soil on entire religions and cultures, instead of focusing on the people directly responsible. Let’s be honest — we wanted to feel in control, and that’s easier to achieve with a bigger target.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How willingly we let powerful and destructive people escape the arm of the law. Financial sleight of hand artists who’ve turned banks into casinos on the backs of taxpayer dollars. NRA funded politicians who offer thoughts and prayers for the thousandth time yet refuse to legislate. Pharmaceutical CEOs who bankrupt sick families to pay out record dividends. Con-men who flex their millions to traffic and rape teens with a slap on the wrist from the Federal Government. Officers of the law who repeatedly murder the disenfranchised behind the protection of a badge. Let’s be honest — we wanted the balance of power to stay the same, so we did nothing.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How enthusiastically we handed over one of our most important assets, our votes, not to men and women with a servant’s heart, but the already rich and powerful. Let’s be honest — we hoped we’d be rich and powerful someday and get to enjoy those same privileges, so we voted accordingly.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How dutifully everyday people passed this on to the next generation. Teaching little Johnnie to aspire to be rich and powerful and make his family proud, and to always cross the street if he sees someone he doesn’t recognize. Someone who looks out of place. Teaching little Amy that she deserves things other people only dream of, and to call the cops immediately if she ever feels scared. To be specific in her description. That’s how you help the police protect you best. Let’s be honest — we wanted the best for our own, and only our own.

Of course, some people saw this and took a stand.

How surely we dressed up fear of the unknown in “better safe than sorry” clothes. How willingly we believed false prophets who manipulated those fears to win our loyalty. How assuredly we spoke, not to God, but for God. Let’s be honest — God didn’t tell us to do any of this, we did.

Of course, we can see this and choose to take a stand.

It’s easy to let myopia become comfortable. To see only what we want to see and let the inconvenient details of our past blur away into the background. Or we can take off the rose-colored glasses and put on the pair that corrects our vision to 20/20. 20/20 isn’t special. It’s average. It’s honest. It’s human. 2020 isn’t where we’re going, but it’s where we are right now. And let’s be honest — it’s where we need to be in order to move forward.

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