To be an African American in the United States of America today is a duality that’s fulfilling, enjoyable, painful, and infuriating at various points in one’s life and, at times, simultaneously. The fulfilling part of being Black and an American is realizing that this is the greatest country in the entire world to live, and living in America enables one to fulfill any of his or her dreams if one is willing to do the necessary work to succeed.
However, being a person of color in this great land can be painful because many of our fellow citizens try, for no logical reason, to keep others from achieving their maximum potential and having the opportunity to enjoy this nation’s greatness.
To understand what divides us in the 21st century, we need to understand that it is the same thing that divided us at the turn of the 20th century — as W.E.B. DuBois stated, “the color line.” Demographics in America have shifted and will never be the same. Gone are the days when a presidential candidate, or any candidate, will be able to use divisive racial tactics and wedge issues to win elections. In 1988, George H.W. Bush carried approximately 60% of the white vote and won the presidential election with 400 Electoral College votes. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried almost as much of the white vote and got beat decisively. Our country has been transformed into a virtual “salad bowl” of races, nationalities, and ethnicities.
What keeps us divided are the extremists who have used their minority status in the public conversation to “scream and shout” louder than the majority who want to celebrate this diversity of thought and opinion. Unfortunately, these voices, occasionally, organize and take over certain groups, organizations, and/or political parties to their detriment and to the detriment of the American collective. Their toxic mix of anger (feigned), hatred, vitriol, and bigotry creates an atmosphere where love, tolerance, and acceptance are even harder to achieve and maintain for the betterment of this country. Ironically, they use the excuse of “love or country” to justify their confused behaviors and some will even invoke God to excuse and/or justify their wretched actions.
Are we or have we been united as a country? The answer is not as clear as some would have us think. After 9/11, there appeared to be a sense of unity within the country, but was it unifying? That is the harder question. If catastrophic events, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or Superstorm Sandy, were truly unifying, then, that unity would be long term and transformational. Unfortunately, we rally around each other for the short term, and, like 6 year olds with the attention spans of gnats, shortly thereafter, if not during the crisis, we go back to our separate “corners” and begin the cycle of disharmony, intolerance, hatred, and bigotry all over again.
However, there are unifying people in our communities, and this, once again, speaks to the fulfilling enjoyment of what being an American can be. For instance, my friend Kevin has been a bright spot in my life for the past 3 years. His sense of fairness and compassion emulates what Jesus spoke of in his famous, Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”. My friend Louis has loved me like a son or little brother, unconditionally, since I was a little boy and my friend Morris loves and has loved me when I didn’t love myself. There are many heroes, men and women, who live their lives in this form of service to others. As their numbers grow and grow, our country will be truly united in words and deeds. This is what being an American is to me, a challenging but encouraging adventure.
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