“Divorce yourself. That’s the price of being an American.”
When I heard this statement from Greg Carr, Associate Professor of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, it was shocking to me. Not in the sense that I couldn’t believe what was being said, but because of the sad reality. To become an “American” means to accept things as they are in the U.S. For those of us who were born in a white casing, in one of the states, that’s not always a big deal. To others, it’s everything.
Carr, preceded by Michael Eric Dyson, professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, spoke to a group at The Washington Center on Wednesday morning about race and equity. Though the session was full of great material about race and discrimination, as a straight, white, Christian male, I opt to openly declare my inability to understand oppression. (Here’s a blog post I wrote about that last week, if you feel like reading more about my reasoning.) However, I certainly understand the power behind an identity.
According to Dyson, “identity is at the heart of what it means to be an American.” Though that sounds welcoming, it’s a rather exclusive statement. Dyson, and the actual history of American immigration, indicate that an American isn’t something you ARE, as much as it’s something you BECOME. *Cough*(Unless you’re white. In which case, you earned it?)*
Immigrants are expected to learn American history, laws, customs, and English. From the time they enter our land, they are expected to speak in our tongue and do things the “American way.” Yet, we make no effort to learn things about them. Because… why would we? Why would we ever be curious about a person who is just a visitor? They’re not one of us. Right?
While talking with an international student, I was opened to the true trials that come along with being a citizen. I won’t go into details, because it was just a casual conversation and I wasn’t talking for the record. However, it’s obvious that those of us who did nothing to “earn” our status will never truly understand what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.
This insane idea of becoming an American doesn’t only extend to immigrants. The idea that I was literally born an American, while my black classmates were somehow born “African American” will never make sense to me. Same hospital, same day, same time… different paint job? It’s unreal.
While Dyson and Carr offered many points to support the lack of unity in our country, there weren’t many options offered to help the mending of issues. The battle against discrimination is, and has always been, a difficult battle. However, if we don’t find a way to come together, we’ll never see change.
Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t fix things. Even when he signed the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King didn’t end racism. Even when he had a dream. Barack Obama didn’t cure racism. Even when he won the presidency twice. So, where do we go from here? What is the answer to lead us into the future?
It all begins with the realization that America doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means. America doesn’t mean white entitlement. America doesn’t mean “speak English or go home.” America is so much more. America is unity. America is love. America is a smorgasbord of different, tossed into one big pot. At least it should be.
Where it doesn’t begin? The White House. I mean… Trump? His entire campaign was surrounded by hate and bigotry. What kind of example will that set for the Americans he intends to lead? His personal convictions aside, even if he were to make a point to target racism and hate, Trump will not be able to change the people.
Those who wish to see change will be the ones left to fight for it.