“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let us be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
I often dwell upon the state of our nation. How could I not? It seems that everyday we awake to the news of a new American tragedy. Cruelty has become the norm for us. Peace has become an afterthought as we consume the next bit of negativity on schedule, seemingly desensitized to the new horrors of the day. Through all of this, a phrase has emerged that puzzles me: “this is not My America.”
Everyone from popular, political pundits to pastors in pulpits have uttered these words over the last few years. The phrase brings with it a sort of innocence. A poetic symbol of shock at the state of our country. It’s the metaphoric enemy of the popular declaration “Make America Great Again.” Both phrases, while earnest in their nature, are falsifications of what America truly is.
They remind me so much of Langston Hughes and his poem “Let America Be America Again.” The difference between Hughes’s call for America is that it was devoid of illusion. His words cut deep into the truth of this country. The murky appearance of America’s purity was instead washed with the blood of truth, a red lineage of failures as long as the stripes on the flag itself.
So the question arises, what is America? The land of the free? The home of the brave? The epicenter for the pursuit of happiness? Perhaps, but in reality like Hughes, this was never America to me.
For some this may be true, but I will not allow myself to see it this way. My blood flows with the strength of America’s slaves. My heart carries the kindness of America’s natives. My mind is filled with the willpower of America’s immigrants. For me to blindly love this country I would need to be subservient to its fairytales and believe that prosperity and freedom here is truly available to us all. Our collective reservation for fiction is astounding but not surprising. Who would willingly admit to their own blemishes? Not many of us would, so we tell tales of heroism and collectivism to cleanse palates of listeners. From slavery to the border situation, America has time and time again proved it is not what it was advertised to be. For this country to become what it believes itself to be, it must atone for how it has failed its people.
That atonement starts with all of us. The recent outrage on the state of America largely comes with the election of our 45th President, Donald Trump, but the problems didn’t start there. For many this is the first time they had to face these evils. For others, these evils never left.
America’s first black president came packaged with its own black veil. The Obama presidency allowed us the freedom to ignore America’s ugliness under the guise of a post-racial society. We seemed to be past the age of racial discrimination and onward into a unified society where every life truly mattered. Look at how far we came! Surely we have reached the pinnacle of the American Dream if our President was a black man? The reality of this is that we were not. The lives of Travyon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and many others beg to differ. The thousands of immigrants searching for a better life from across the border beg to differ. Their voices are louder now than ever before.
Many will read this and come to the conclusion that I would consider myself unpatriotic. That I would consider myself a dissenter from the beloved American illusion. That I would even consider myself not American. These assumptions could not be farther from the truth. From my understanding, it is the American tradition to go against a force to which one does not believe in. I do not believe in what America is, but I believe in what it must become. For better or worse this is my home and as with any proper home, I cannot idly sit by as the mess accumulates and spreads like a disease. Would that not make me explicitly the most American? To love this country despite its blemishes? Perhaps this is the nature of love. To exude passion for someone even in the face of disappointment. Lady Liberty holds this weight over me.
But what is America to me? It is everything it should be: freedom and justice for all, equality and equity with harmony devoid of dissonance and division. This is what America should be. The division and hate we all harbor will never allow America to reach this potential; this is the conclusion of the hopeless, the ones who truly believe we will never achieve this American dream. Call me a fool or even naive but I carry hope everywhere I go, as should you, and in this new year we should all grasp at the hands of hope a little tighter.
As young people in this country we have the power to dispel our nation’s disappointment. We have the power to change the narrative and direction of this country. No matter our personal path in life we need to come together to make America a better place. We all have a purpose that contributes to the betterment of the people around us. Work to find your purpose and embrace it. Repel the feelings of despair and the fear of responsibility that comes with it. You claim that this is not your America. You claim that this country has not yet seen it’s best days. Instead of dreaming, wake up and work tirelessly to change it to the one you envision. This is the shared responsibility of us all. 2019 will bring with it more headlines, more hardship and more tragedy but we cannot give up hope for it is the greatest weapon that we all possess. The ills of our society will one day reach a boiling point where even the most neutral of us will be forced to act. The only question that remains is will you be willing to answer that call?