What Have We Become?
As Americans it seems too many of us have lost sight of how we and our ancestors got here. Instead, we have begun to unravel the amazingly wonderful amalgam of people that has made our country great. Rather than celebrating the richness of our diversity, more and more of us are retreating out of fear behind mental and physical walls intended to keep all the “others” out, whoever those others might be.
This phenomenon is personified by our President who wants to build walls to seal off both our borders and our minds. These are walls of fear, walls of anger, walls of bigotry, walls of class and even walls that server as barriers to trade. Race and gender walls are also part of his mix and far too many of us are following his lead.
In fact, by his speech and conduct President Trump has opened our national door of acceptability to racial and cultural stereotyping, giving them legitimacy. Demonizing Latinos, middle easterners, Muslims, Asians and the poor has become acceptable. Apparently, he fears them all and wants to sanitize our land from what he sees as their dangerously contaminating influences. But in the long run his walls won’t work and will fail just like China’s Great Wall and the attempt by Japan’s rulers to seal that nation off from the rest of the world during the Seventeenth-century.
However, in the short run it gives license to fearful segments of our populace who are terrified by the prospect of being faced with the reality, expense, competition and trouble of improving American society as a whole. For them, so long as they are comfortable and protected in their enclaves, everything is just fine. They want to ignore the facts that they or their ancestors for the most part came to our shores as either persecuted minorities, poor immigrants or were forcibly brought here as slaves or indentured servants. It was that openness that has led to our nation’s success.
This sort of thinking desires to short change public education and other government services so its children can go to private schools. It is happy keeping the poor, people of color and immigrants in rundown and ignored ghettos. Such conditions of poverty and living in uneducated squalor, ends up condemning many of them to lives of crime in order to survive.
In the words of a renowned African-American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, out of fear “we have created a new cast system that forces thousands of people into [poverty and] homelessness…and renders them virtually unemployable.” Local and state governments have been forced to shift funds from education, health, welfare and sanitation services to pay for mass incarceration. Today we spend $80 billion a year incarcerating up 2.3 million people, the majority of which come out of our inner cities and other poor ghettos.
But if we were to open our hearts and minds to the plights of these fellow Americans at an early age in their lives, we could provide education systems that could truly equip the majority to be productive citizens when they reach adulthood. Instead, we condemn them to poverty by ignoring these issues and create the conditions that pave the path to the very crimes so many of us abhor.
Together we need to face those fears and tear down all the unnecessary walls that so many want to erect. Walls, which in the end don’t work but instead only make things worse, as well as impoverish the rest of us in terms of our moral, cultural and spiritual lives. They are the walls that if left in place will destroy our nation’s future. Instead, we need to collectively reembrace the challenges of our wonderful amalgam of diversity to continue our nation’s ongoing quest for greatness.