Friday, July 5, 2013

Dear America

Dear America,

 6 months back as your resident, as a pedestrian to your streets, an observer to your rituals, a face in your crowd, I have a lot of questions.  How is it that your history has been rewritten and immortalized in colorful school textbooks when its omissions scream silently from the sidelines?  How is it that a country like you can still have sidelines? 

We prize ourselves on liberty, justice, freedom, in a country where we imprison and alienate many.  Our prisons are overflowing.  Our schools are failing.  Our children are divided.  We have accomplished little on this day besides setting some things on fire.  We are on fire.  Dear America, killer of nations, imprisoner, slave-holder, rapist—your many ‘accomplishments’ belie the true nature of things.  A country of convenience, we have covered up a litany of crimes against humanity.   We have conveniently written entire communities out of our history.  It’s not convenient to remember these things.  We raise our white privileged children well.  They learn about Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, the first of many white men who take front and center in American history.  If you want to learn about African Americans, there is an alternative class you can take at university, but until then, you won’t see people of color as makers of history, as people who breathed life into communities, who struggled and saved and loved and cried tears into the rivers of the Midwest and the deltas of the south.  As people who lived.  As the Native American people who were clawed, murdered, and torn out of their native land.  America, we are liars.  History isn’t a book, or a page you can turn or rip out.   History is us, and is written into our daily interactions, into our income, into our relationships, and into our quality of life. 

I’m so goddamn ashamed of you, America.  Ashamed of me.  Our history is not a complicated one.  It’s main theme;  the othering and subjugation of others.  It’s the only story our America has.  Since the raising of the smoky and bloody star spangled banner to the fireworks and beer of yesterday, it’s our only story.  If we want to tell it the way we have, with only white Europeans starring front and center, then it will always be a story of murder and oppression.  Until we change the uniquely narrow view that we frame our world around, America will be a place purely framed off of acts of genocide and slavery. 

On the other hand, if we start America’s story thousands of years ago, we would have different sort of history altogether.  A tapestry of stories about a land inhabited and worshipped by thousands of families until. 

Until.  And that’s when our America comes in. 

If we aren’t careful, Americans, we will always be the bad news to come after ‘until.’  We will always provide the rupture, the tear, the trauma in others lives.  There’s nothing remotely impressive or noteworthy about July 4th.  For most people, it was just another day to watch family members die at the hands of white Europeans, and another day to lose their former freedom and life. 

These borders are carved in loss and violence.  What freedom we have is not shared by all. 

Instead of seeing every fourth of July as a day to wear patriotic colors and wave flags, lets try to make it a day of discussion and reflection.  It’s an easy day for complacence, but the only way things will ever get better for communities of color is if we shake off that complacence and stop teaching out of the same history books we all learned from.  We need a massive paradigm shift in the way we choose to remember our nation, and the way we choose to frame ourselves in the story.  We should all grow up feeling connected to America’s past, whether it’s our past as slavers and imperialists, or our past as native people.  It is what happened and it is what we as communities wrought upon others. We all have convenient stories of ancestors immigrating to America a hundred years ago, long after the civil war, long after slavery, long after the trail of tears…we all have safe dates.  Those dates don’t matter.  We aren’t exempt.  We are all implicit in the very fact that racism, oppression, and slavery still exist to this day.  We can’t say things are better or that there is freedom until it is that way for all people in America.  We can’t change the past.  We can however change the way we tell our story as Americans, as a start, in hopes that if we tell the true story it can help us move towards rewriting the part we are in now. 

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