In a previous post I wrote about the outrage many of us feel over the Trump administration’s draconian decision to tear families apart in his attempt to preserve the myth of racial purity in the United States. As an American it’s been hard to watch this happen.
I love America and I love our history, but learning about American history hasn’t always been easy. I’ve celebrated events like President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed Southern slaves and mourned President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that interred Japanese Americans during World War II.
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Northern Virginia. It was an odd place as Virginia joined the Confederacy in 1861 but I lived in an area where most of the adults I knew worked for the federal government and were from somewhere else. I mistakenly believed that this insulated me from the sin of racism.
I was aware that Virginia had a long history of racial discrimination but I assumed it happened before I was born. But when I was in high school I learned that racial discrimination happened around me and I didn’t even notice. I saw the 2000 movie Remember the Titans with horror: it described the difficult nature of integrating a high school football team. It’s a true story that happened 20 miles from me when I was in middle school. The movie has a happy ending but there’s no way around the fact that some students like me and teachers like my teachers fought long and hard to keep racism in place. It was reprehensible and showed their cowardice.
Earlier this month I rejoiced to meet my 21 month old great nephew for the first time. As I look to his future I am filled with hope. But I’m also aware that some day he’s going to learn in history class that during his lifetime we were a nation that so vilified (admittedly undocumented) immigrants that tearing children from the arms of their parents was justified. He will learn that many of our leaders weaponized xenophobia for their own political gain and others went along for fear of losing their jobs.
I hope he asks us what we did when we saw these events happen and I hope we have a good answer. I hope we can tell him that we expressed our outrage, that we were willing to lose friendships, influence, and social standing to stand up for those who weren’t able to stand up for themselves. I hope we can tell him that we recognized that our ancestors came to this country for the same reasons and with the same hopes as these immigrants: to work hard, to make a better life for our children, and to find pride in calling us (and them) Americans.