“Not the America I know.”
Because the America you know was founded on the basis of “religious” freedom? Because the America that you know is the land of the free and the home of the brave? Because you read somewhere, “Give me your tired, your poor…”?
“Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” -Howard Zinn
To paraphrase, America is not one big happy family, but just to clarify things further:
History books are at least 50% propaganda – they exist to instill pride equally as much as they exist to inform. How else would you explain the textbook glorification of and national holiday for a man who accidentally bumped into a land mass and then attempted to kill the people who had already settled on it? Here’s how: You narrate him as a great explorer, overlook the casualties and if they must be mentioned – call it survival of the fittest, not a gang of violent, entitled thugs who were late to the party and couldn’t accept that. That’s the beginning of the American legacy.
When this country’s European forefathers came here for “religious freedom” they had the money necessary to jump ship and create a brand new country. Religious freedom is pretty cool when everyone shares your religion, right? Yes, they worked their butts off, but they were who they had in mind when they coined America as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That was a nod to their celebration of their freedom. Not Native Americans, slaves, immigrants, etc.
So, the fact that people of color feel out of place here is by no mistake. “Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class… at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty the ruling group found…the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality.” -Howard Zinn
“Give me your tired, your poor” because every strong economy has a strong working class, so yes send them over to help Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan build their wealth. It was our delayed grand opening sale catchphrase. The best marketing campaign of all time. Folks came, some people prospered, many traded in their dignity for “liberty” and the hunter continued writing history.
America is the land of opportunity. What the fine print fails to convey is what kind of opportunities. We cannot just look at the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Civil War and “less overt racism” over time as good enough. Not when the KKK is emboldened by their president to walk our streets protesting in 2017. Not when Black Wall Street was burned to ashes. Not when the Tuskegee Experiment and HeLa cells were and are an actual thing. Not when the people who owned this land first and those who built this country for free – are not receiving an education that will prepare them for college and still need to defend the need for affirmative action. Not when their access to healthcare is left in the hands of folks who afford life-saving surgery in a week’s notice. Not when black men fill our prisons because they created their own opportunities for survival. The door of opportunity leads to a number of outcomes, not excluding negative ones, but we seldom discuss that.
Yes, people of all colors, creeds and backgrounds have been able to come here and thrive. When we do, it’s in spite of the work that still needs to be done and we have every right to continue to push conversations, policies and curriculums that empower us in a system that overlooks those who walk through our streets with torches in attempt to scare and dehumanize us.
So the next time you hear someone say, “this is not the America I know,” inform them
that our textbook companies all seemed to have the same type of amnesia when it came to stating how the actions of our country’s forefathers impacted anyone who was not a wealthy, white male. Because for all of the education and opportunity that some of us have in this country, the America we know was built by but not for us and we are still working to ensure that it lives up to its historic marketing campaign, whether it was meant for us or not.
For further reading on the topic: A People’s History of the US by Howard Zinn
Featured Image: www.Slate.com via Getty Images
Naa-Shorme | Creator, Write to Live