Many of us are, or are descendents of those who have come from far away to be in America. The place we were born and the one in which we landed conspire to make our identity. We say we are Italian-Americans, or Americans of German ancestry. Some brought the homeland with them, for instance, naming a place in Maine after Denmark and another after Poland. Those of us lucky enough to be from my city mostly just say we’re New Yorkers.
As citizens of the United States, however, we are always recognized by our distinctive Americanness. Who are you? I am an American.
What does that mean? I am an American. It means I honor the hard-won rights, liberties, and responsibilities of all those singular and distinguished Americans who forged this “more perfect union.” Some of us continue to struggle to keep the ideals of our Constitution (and its amendments) intact. We are united in the laws of our land. We are one under a flag that represents American values. Nothing should divide us, although many things do.
Sometimes it’s our background, or place of origin that keeps us from acknowledging that we are all one people. Sometimes, it’s our ethnic heritage or religious beliefs that we hold above being an American. Sometimes it’s the ethnicity (or choice of worship) of our fellow Americans that we disparage, showing disrespect not only to our compatriots but also to our way of life. We allow differences in political orientation to distract us from who we truly are. We are not Republicans or Democrats. As denizens of a democratic republic, we are in truth both. We need to celebrate and esteem our “nation, indivisible” and recognize the unity that is these UNITED STATES of America.
Who needs civil liberties? The rights of our citizens were hard-won. Freedom did not just emerge from the blood and sweat of the Revolutionary War in documents of federation and constitutional laws. Some Americans had many more years to struggle to see their rights recognized. Many of our privileges evolved in the amendments to our Bill of Rights over the 3 centuries since that war established a United States.
The simple single answer is we all do. Remembering, as always, that with rights come responsibilities.
Sometimes it is not possible to quell the anger, fear and hatred of a policeman who stops a citizen for a tail-light violation. Situations get out of hand. The driver is arrested.
Many of the folks incarcerated have committed only the crime of “driving while black.” Responsible parents in the Afro-American community teach their children how to mitigate the outcomes of this very serious circumstance. It is one which affects the statistic in which 14% of a county’s population are prosecuted or jailed for more than 50% of the crimes committed there.
When 14% of a county’s population in places like Mississippi, for instance, are prosecuted for more than half the crimes committed in that county, it looks like that 14% are the bad seed. Looks can be deceiving. Statistics like these are clearly skewed. They are also deceiving.
Reconstruction was the period in American history when the country sought to heal the wounds of a civil war. “Civil” war is such a deceptive phrase, really. Really? It is probably the very definition of an oxymoron.
Our Pledge of Allegiance was one of the products of reconstruction. It was used as a symbol of the nation’s unity.
During that war from 1860 to 1864, the country was divided, fighting under two separate flags, not for liberty or justice, but for the sovereign right of one part of this nation to earn its living by enslaving human beings. Since that project, slavery, slipped away, Americans turned to “taming” the west, which turned out to be a project in which it was necessary to kill off as many Indians as possible. Native American tribes stood in the way of our country’s westward progress. We couldn’t have that, and fighting them off their lands became an all-American enterprise.
The wild west was so called not because of all the nightclubbing and disco parties, but because of the untempered vunityiolence it allowed, even encouraged.