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What is This Day?

Fourth of July 2018. I am having a difficult time finding a reason to celebrate on this day. I am having a difficult time celebrating the malformation of this once great country, fueled by the hatred in the White House and the bigotry in the hearts of so many of its citizens. I am ashamed of what we are saying and doing to other countries, I am ashamed of what we are doing to the people in our own country, and I am ashamed of my own naiveté. I never thought we needed to “make America great again” because I thought it was great all along.  Until now.

When I first learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance in 1stgrade, facing the American flag in the front of the classroom, with my right hand over my heart, I said it with gusto.  After all, I was part of the “republic, for which it stands,” part of the “one nation,” and I believed in “liberty and justice for all.” My friends thought nothing about their status as Americans, but I never took my citizenship for granted because my mother would tell us stories about how she earned her citizenship after marrying my father.  She earnedit.  She had to pass an extensive written test in English (not her native language) to qualify for her citizenship. When I was a child, the prospect of a simple spelling test would strike fear in my heart; my young mind boggled at imagining having to learn everything I could about the history and laws of this country, for the privilege of living here. That Pledge of Allegiance?  I bought that thing, hook, line, and sinker. My chest puffed with pride, and when I sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” tears sprang to my eyes; I sang it over and over at home so I could memorize every word. “The Star-Spangled Banner” chokes me up every time, even today. They touch me because I am keenly aware of the meaning of the words. We really were “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” because our ancestors fought for their independence, and then they turned around and paid it forward, allowing more of our ancestors to immigrate here. I was a child of the Seventies and an American diplomat’s daughter, living in Moscow during the Cold War.  You can’t even imagine what the Bicentennial meant to us in 1976.  Our country’s 200thbirthday! We could not have been prouder. I grew up with my parents constantly scolding us to behave properly in public because while we were living in foreign countries, we represented all American children.  If we were rude or behaved poorly, the citizens of those countries would think allAmerican children were rude or behaved poorly.  I learned the term “Ugly American” when I was seven years old: an American citizen abroad who makes an ass of himself and the country he represents, by throwing his privilege and entitlement around while belittling those in his host country.  I would never have predicted that this great country of ours would stoop to actually electing an Ugly American to be President.

The thing that bothers me more than the Ugly American in Office (our Constitutional checks and balances shouldn’t allow for any President to have a disproportionate amount of power), is my dawning realization that our country is populated by many more racists than I ever could have imagined.  I am not entirely naïve – I understand that racism will never go away completely because there will always be fear and ignorance to some extent in the world. But I really felt things were improving when we elected President Obama – it really felt like great changes were taking place.  Today, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of our forward progress didn’t actually eradicate any racism, it just forced the bigotry underground.  They were shamed into hiding over the years, as racism was publicly renounced. Now that we have an Ugly American in the White House, it is suddenly trendy to raise that particular freak flag, in the name of Nationalism. Wait. Doesn’t that sound familiar?  I seem to hear history screaming…and repeating itself. All the bitter resentment in the hearts of people who were so quick to blame other races for their problems, those embers of anger secretly kept smoldering under cover, fanned to a roaring fire, and fueled by the brazenly racist actions of the current leader…are we sure this isn’t July 4, 1942?

Are you one of the secretly racist? Do you get nervous if anyone with darker skin than yours walks by you on a sidewalk or sits next to you on a bus? Do you blame others for your economic problems? Do you resent having to share the rich resources of your country with others because you feel they should stay in their countries of origin? Check yourself. Chances are, a few of your ancestors left their countries to pursue happiness in the New World. Chances are a few of your ancestors may have murdered some of this country’s original residents just so they could get their hands on a few acres of land. Chances are a few of your ancestors then reached out and brought a few more of your ancestors over to join them in this country. Did you know that the very first arrivals on Ellis Island, back in the 1800s, were three unaccompanied children from Ireland? They travelled here to join their parents in America. Don’t you find it tragically ironic that we have done the opposite with our latest would-be immigrants, separating children from their parents? You may comfort yourself by pointing fingers at ICE and blaming them for these horrendous acts, but if you are U.S. citizens like myself, then you need to accept this responsibility.  This is our country. You did this. I did this.  We did this. Other countries of the world are shocked by this country’s callous attitude towards basic human rights and we should all hang our heads in shame. Not enough of us voted for the right things in November 2016. Too many of us were so caught up in voting against candidates we hated that we neglected to pay attention to voting for the right issues. In our division, we allowed the unthinkable to happen, and now we are living with the consequences. We made this mess, so it is on us to clean it up. In four months we have great chances to vote for people that can represent us and help us with this chore. Your citizenship is not just about the right to speak or the right to pursue happiness; it is also a responsibility to keep this country honest and noble. We have new opportunities every two years, to do such things, but right now we have to take our heads out of the sand and see that we have failed.

So, what exactly are we celebrating today? Surely, you can’t be celebrating the “national pride” that led to the election of a bigot. Surely, you can’t be proud of an Ugly American representing you, giving the impression to formerly friendly foreign countries that all Americans are racist, greedy, and selfish. Surely you can’t be hiding your head in the sand and throwing “hopes and prayers” at these problems like our country tends to do following the never-ending mass shooting murders of school children? Pride in this nation today is unwarranted. Americans who celebrated July 4, 1945 – now they really had something to celebrate – they actually stood up and fought against hateful oppression and won; and they fought that war not only for us, but also on behalf of people in foreign countries. Today, we cannot even protect people in our own country. Independence Day?  Are we celebrating an independence from rational thinking and compassion? I look around and see lots of flags waving, I hear about burgers and beer, and my poor dog experiences the fear of fireworks exploding. This is what this holiday has been reduced to.  It has been relegated to the shallow celebrations of those days of the year that we mark as special while not really knowing why. July 4, 2018. Happy Halloween, America.

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Do as I Say, Do as I Do

There was a teenage boy walking to his bus stop just a few hundred yards from his house. In the distance, he could see a boy his age pounding a folded umbrella on the head of another teenage Asian boy, who had his arms up to protect his face, begging the boy to stop.  Running as fast as he could, the first boy reached the bus stop when the umbrella broke because it was hitting the Asian boy so hard. The first boy grabbed the umbrella away from the hitter and flung it as far as he could so the hitter would leave the area to get it. He asked the Asian boy what happened, and the Asian boy replied that the hitter was boasting about the greatness of Trump and the Asian boy said that Trump was racist, misogynistic, and would be a dangerous president to have (this was the day before the election).  The hitter apparently could not come up with a coherent response so he angrily began hitting with his umbrella. The first boy asked, “why didn’t you fight back? You needed to protect yourself!” And the Asian boy replied, “My parents taught me to never hit; to not fight.”

The bus then arrived and everybody started boarding.  The bus driver told the hitter that he couldn’t bring the broken umbrella onboard  due to safety issues.  The boy cried, “But I only JUST broke it!” And the Asian boy piped up, “BECAUSE HE WAS USING IT TO HIT ME.  He was attacking me at the bus stop!”  The bus driver said nothing; did nothing; just waved the boys to their seats.  The first boy was dumbfounded that an adult in a position to right a wrong; whose job it is to make sure school children are safe, said nothing at all.

When they arrived at school, the first boy encouraged the Asian boy to report the incident to the school, since they didn’t know if there would be more aggression from the hitting boy wanting to finish the job he started.  They walked to the school safety officer (a police officer assigned to the school) and the Asian boy said, “I was just assaulted by another boy.”  And the first boy said, “I witnessed it.”  And the school proceeded to do exactly what they were trained to do.  They interviewed the boys, had the boys write out statements, identify the aggressor through photographs in the yearbook, then the Asian boy was sent to the nurse while the school contacted his parents to report the incident.  The first boy got a tardy slip and he went to his classes and finished his school day.

Later on that night, over dinner, the boy told his parents what had happened.  They had all just been discussing how many of the boy’s friends said they liked Trump, but when the boy pressed them about their views, it turned out that they were just parroting their parents and didn’t truly understand the dangerous consequences of Trump becoming president.  Then the boy said, “This happened today…” and the story about the bully at the bus stop came out.  The parents were shocked; the father wanted to contact the school, while the mother worried about how the Asian boy was doing.  The boy insisted that his Father not call the school, because he thought the Asian boy’s parents would be causing enough fuss.  The boy worried about the repercussions of his intervention.  He wondered if the bully boy’s parents owned a gun.  He planned to have another friend drive him to school the next day, just in case the school did nothing to punish the aggressor and he was waiting at the bus stop wanting revenge.  Both parents did this:  they praised the boy for being brave; for standing up and doing something; for not being afraid in the moment, of the bully, and protecting someone who could not help himself.  They told him they were glad that, even though he was strong enough and he really wanted to, he didn’t throw the bully on the ground and fight him; that defending yourself is different from using the bully’s type of violence to pound him into the ground.  And they talked about how the other kids at the bus stop stood around watching the whole thing and didn’t even say anything.  The family talked about how similar Trump’s rise to power was to Hitler’s, and how many of Trump’s followers were very similar to Hitler’s followers.  They worried about history repeating itself, and how easy it would be for people like the bus driver and the other kids at the bus stop, to look the other way while a bully was hurting someone who could not protect himself.  They talked about how quickly something can escalate into violence when people with violence in their hearts are given permission to act out their aggressions on others.  They ended their day going to bed with worry in their hearts, for the possible future that could throw their country against the world and against their fellow citizens; a frightening future that could reach into their home and put them in danger.

This didn’t happen in an inner city neighborhood; this didn’t happen to a stranger that I never met, whose story is far away and hard to care about.  This happened in a prosperous suburban neighborhood in the whitest county in the nation’s 20 most populous counties.  This happened here, just steps from my house.  The boy walking to his bus stop was my 16 year old son.  He was brave; did everything we ever taught him to do.  He stood up for what was right and defended someone who was being attacked by a bully.  But he was outnumbered at that bus stop.  There were many other kids who witnessed the bullying before my son could make it there and intervene.  Why didn’t they do something?  Parents, why aren’t you telling your children to speak up and take action?  Why aren’t you sitting them down and having this SPECIFIC conversation about standing up to bullies?  As parents, why aren’t we being good examples to our children by practicing what we preach?  Post-election, we now have a bully that will be in charge.  He will most likely advocate and encourage other bullies to attack the vulnerable in our country.  It is up to us to protect the ones who can’t fight back.  It is up to us to get involved in our government and do what we can to resist the dangerous changes. And let me add to the phrase we all know so well, “If you see something, say something, and DO something.”

Studies have shown that it only takes ONE person to speak up in a dangerous situation to move others to join them and defend what’s right.  I am speaking up right now.  Join me.

 

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