I will not mince words: I am deeply disappointed in this nation.
A lot of people talk about how America has "lost its way." That we were founded on the ideas of liberty and justice for all people. Trump and his friends have ruined it all, and all of a sudden the police are brutalizing people of color, undocumented immigrants are being severely abused and unfairly deported, millions of Americans are without healthcare, LGBTQ+ rights are undermined, and every day, efforts are underway to overthrow our very democracy.... I really don't need to go on. Supposedly, all because of Trump.
This narrative is comforting for the average American. It implies that all we have to do is vote the big orange man out of office, and just like that, we can go back to "normal." The notion that America before Trump truly upheld out supposed values of liberty and justice for all is naive. The reason these problems are coming to light now is because they have become so blatantly visible, privileged Americans can't ignore them the way they used to.
Now that I'm done trash-talking America, I would like to propose a new narrative.
We have been taught history, not just that of the United States but that of the whole world, through a horribly racist, misogynistic, and classicist lens. Our "shared" American history is ultimately grounded in the perspectives of white, Christian, land-owning men, particularly those of high social status. We are taught to view the actions of those in power as a way to judge all Americans. In the past, and today as well.
We see the coronavirus numbers surge, we see the angry protests, we see politicians practically flaunt their corruption. I can't tell you how many times I have found myself thinking, "God I hate this country." I am embarrassed to see how other countries view America, as collapsing in on itself due to completely inept leadership and a populace that refuses to take even the most basic safety measures. It is true that we are unique among developed nations in that our mask usage is abysmal, but I would like to point out that a strong majority of Americans do regularly wear masks.
And on that note, Trump's approval rating as of writing this paper is at 40%, according to FiveThirtyEight. So if we are to judge all of America by the stupidity of our president, is that really fair, when over half of voters disapprove of him? Does opposing your own leader mean you are no longer American?
We must not fall to black and white thinking. The United States is the third most populous nation in the world, with 328 million people. That is an awful lot of people to be summed up in one harsh judgment. Let us take a moment to appreciate all the progress brave Americans, whose efforts are either omitted from history textbooks or heavily edited, have made.
Abolition of slavery didn't happen because white people woke up one day and realized "Wait, maybe slavery is bad?" Abraham Lincoln is immortalized for being the hero who freed slaves, and I in no way mean to disrespect his legacy, but his reasons for abolishing slavery had strong political motives as well. By the 1860s, a growing number of Americans in the Union states, even white Americans, no longer supported slavery. This was entirely due to the tireless efforts of current and former slaves alike to make their stories heard and fight fiercely for justice.
Frederick Douglass is a great example of an American who represents the complete antithesis of the cruel, racist, misogynistic American identity maintained by the powerful white men who maintained the status quo. Douglass wrote multiple books about his experience as a slave, all bestsellers, and gave animated speeches criticizing the state of this nation. He was also a staunch supporter of women's suffrage, immigrant rights, and rights for non-black Americans of color. He is one of the most influential figures of the 19th century. He was American too.
Harriet Tubman, who is estimated to have freed over 300 slaves (she herself gave a more humble estimate of 50), was American too.
At the height of the gilded age in the 1890s, working-class Americans living in cities, particularly immigrants, were abused for the sole benefit of the upper class. They fought through strikes and demonstrations against the establishment and we have them to thank for minimum wage, child labor laws, 40-hour workweeks, and more. They were American too.
The suffragettes who dedicated their lives to the radical notion that women should have the right to vote. They were American too.
The soldiers and medics who fought wars on foreign soil throughout the 20th century, both those who volunteered and those who were drafted. They were American too.
The civil rights activists who marched, fought, and died for racial justice when the average white American still viewed people of color as second class citizens. They were American too.
The LGBTQ+ people who stood up during the Stonewall riots, and in the 1980s fought for the HIV/AIDS epidemic to receive national attention. They were American too.
It's not only the Americans of the past who bring honor to a nation whose history seems so starved of it; look around you today. The people marching in the streets, demanding justice for centuries of racism and police violence. The healthcare workers who give not only their time, but put their very lives on the line, and subject themselves to the trauma of seeing so many sick and dying. The governors and other politicians who take a stand against Trump and protect the people they were elected to serve. The hardworking people who make a living in roles that go unnoticed and vastly unappreciated - the grocery store clerks, the garbage collectors, local small business owners, and more.
They are Americans too. They are far more American than Donald Trump, his allies, and his supporters. They paste the flag everywhere they can, and disrespect it when they claim it their own. They do everything that the official US flag code specifically forbids. They hold the identity of the United States hostage, clinging to a sense of moral superiority and cursing those who dare to criticize their country.
But who is the true patriot - the person who allows their nation to be swallowed by fascism? Or the person who sees this country for what it is? We are good, bad, and everything in between. America isn't the best country on earth; no country is. It's certainly not the worst either. We have our share of evil, and then some, that is plain to see. And yet, there is still so much good, an American tradition of standing up for the values our Constitution holds dear.
Many of the men who wrote it were slave owners, powerful men who never quite upheld the idea of equality and justice, but it was the generations of courageous Americans who followed that truly embodied those ideas. I am not proud to be an American, but I am not ashamed either. The government of my country has routinely betrayed its people, but the government is not the people. "We the people," the Constitution said - and the people who held us to a higher standard, they are the foundation on which the flag pole still stands. I can only hope to live my life honoring them, refusing to let those who abuse power speak for me, magnifying the voices of the oppressed. If I can do something to make a difference and make the nation I call home just a little bit better, then there should be no shame in saying:
I am an American too.