My sister has always been beautiful. On top of that, she’s always been popular, always been a natural leader, and always been talented. To add insult to injury she’s always been tall, always been compassionate, and always been able to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of the mission—whatever the mission may be. She is kind, and she legitimately cares about other people.
While I’ve always been judgmental and elitist (help me, y’all!), she’s always been open-minded and welcoming. When I’ve found myself impatient, she’s always taken things one step at a time, and one day at a time. She can endure. She can delay gratification. She can maintain stability.
I move. I quit. I abandon. I throw the baby out with the bath water, time and time again.
When we were younger, it was hard for us to understand each other. Although we were civil, we were emotionally distant. We genuinely believed that our perspectives and our worldviews were irreconcilable. She was Beyonce—beautiful, revered, and iconic. I was Beyonce’s little sister (before Cranes in the Sky).
Our divided nation is much like this.
Although we Americans are a family, we are made up of distinct people groups. Some of us are resentful because we feel overlooked. Some of us are resentful because we feel that we work hard, but our work isn’t rewarded or appreciated. Sometimes we feel as if we aren’t treated as well by others, through no fault of our own. Some of us deny that we are a family. Instead, we compete. We degrade. We criticize. We look for faults and exploit them.
If we are overcome with self-interest, we are malicious and cause harm. We feel threatened when we are held accountable for these feelings. We feel confronted when we are challenged to a higher standard.
Part of the issue is denial and an outright rejection of history.
America was founded on genocide and conquest. For the sake of creating what is now the United States, millions of indigenous people were slaughtered. This land wasn’t ours. In the aftermath, suicide rates are highest among indigenous groups. Substance abuse rates are also greater than among other racial/ethnic groups. Native Americans weren’t granted the right to free speech and jury protection until 1968 with the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act. This was 48 years ago.
During the Transatlantic slave trade, more than 12.5 million Africans were shipped to what is now the Americas. They were separated from their husbands, wives, and children. Their mothers, sisters, and daughters were raped by white slavemasters. On the ship, they were made to sleep in their own bile and feces. Some who were perceived as weak were thrown overboard in chains, and drowned. Some suffocated on others’ feces and died in their sleep. Others were beaten to death. They were stripped down naked and traded like livestock.
Slavery was officially abolished in 1865. This means there are African-Americans living and breathing among us whose grandmothers and grandfathers were slaves.
Women got the right to vote in 1920. In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was founded. Some KKK members still march and organize today.
In order to make America great again, we have to deny this history. We have to willfully reject these facts. Part of the issue is power and privilege.
It’s a hard thing to admit that power and privilege exist. It’s harder still to admit that we have it, especially if we feel trapped or if we feel unfulfilled in subtle or not so subtle ways. I empathize, but my knowledge of history (and my acceptance of it) requires me to hold myself accountable.
I expect the same of everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. I expect more from those who belong to the dominant racial group. By denying these truths, we are complicit.
Part of the issue is that we are fearful.
It doesn’t always feel like there is enough to go around. Instead of focusing our attention on public and private greed, we focus on people who are in similar situations (although perhaps, we don’t realize it). We blame them for taking something that belongs to us. We blame them for having the potential to take something that we want. We think of it as self-preservation, despite whatever harm may follow.
To be fair, the analogy of my affection for my sister is banal and overly simplistic when juxtaposed against our current social and political climate. I’ve always loved and respected her, no matter our different viewpoints. I’ve always wanted the best for her and everyone she loves. America has not always loved and respected many of us. America has not always wanted the best for us.
My sister would go out of her way to protect and support me, as I would for her. America has a history of disenfranchising groups, of creating systemic policies that impact said groups for generations, and of undermining progress and reform previously made. America has not always protected and supported us.
Not all of us have the benefit of time, waiting for America to self-correct and to self-heal. I have no doubt (although I am simultaneously fearful) that some of us will be martyred in the process. I have no doubt (although I am afraid) that there will be more violence.
I’m still grieving, but I’m hopeful. We are better than this. Reconciliation is still possible.
Heartache to heartache, we stand.