What is an American?

With the current political climate, and everything that I’ve been reading lately, I have to wonder, what does it mean to be American?  I used to think that words to describe Americans were: inclusive, hard working, diplomatic, democratic. Is this still true?

When I was in grade school I learned about the new settlers to this country, and I read about it romantically. The hardship! The loss! The struggle! The bravery! We learned the poetry by heart, we cherished the flag, for these were stories that set the stage for our country. But then I learned about the mass murders of native Americans, and slavery.  I learned about people who were so racist that they would murder another just because of the color of their skin.  I learned about lynchings, and the internment camps, and Tuskegee.  And with every new horrific historical tale, I learned that often, not always, but often, when the good band together, it eliminates the bad.

Vietnam, Cambodia, World War I, World War II. I questioned our motives, but cried for those who fought, some of whom returned battered and worn, and without support from our government. But history is history, and I was always proud to live in America, because of its opportunities, and the hard working people, and, since I was born here, it was where I knew best. And America always seemed to try to do the right thing, maybe a bit later than it should have (WWII) or when it maybe shouldn’t have (Vietnam), but the intentions were more often than not, good ones.

But are we doomed to repeat others’ history? I read that at certain political rallies people just say whatever they want about whomever they want. That the racism and bigotry that has always been an undercurrent in America is now bubbling or has risen to the surface. There are those of us who hear about this and are genuinely scared, because the color of our skin could dictate how we are treated, if this election turns to the right.

So what are we going to do about it? Americans are hard working. They are proud. They are strong. And they are fair. But it seems like most of us are just sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Or we are “sure” that a bigoted, insane zealot will never be elected as President?

His supporters are out there. They are very loud. And they are gaining momentum. Even if he does not get elected, they will still be out there. And now, because we allowed them to vocalize at their political rallies, they may feel that they can vocalize whenever they want to whomever they wish.

Racism has always been strongly present in America. Now it is floating free. This is what people in other countries are thinking when they think about Americans. Is that what we want included in our definition now?  Inclusive, hard working, diplomatic, democratic, and racist?

I think it’s time for us to once again decide what it means to be an American. We need to decide what it means to live in America. And it’s time for us to end the racist, sexist, misogynistic, discourse that is pervading our society.

We never should have taken a crazy man seriously. If we hadn’t, he would not be so close to the most important office in our nation. And our identity would not be in such peril.

The next time you turn off your radio when a certain political figure is on or refuse to talk about politics because it’s just too hard right now, think about it. Instead of turning away, what can we do to stop the hate? What can we do to change the course? What can we do to heal? And how can we find ourselves again?

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