LOOKING FOR AMERICA

Recently, a friend and I were talking about a very destructive, mean-spirited person and my friend asked if I had any thoughts about what made them that way. I replied that I didn’t care what might have gone awry in their past because, at a certain point, we all choose who we want to be in this life. That’s true for countries too. In a few short months, America has been hobbled by the pandemic of Covid-19, suffered economic decline as a result, and is now bleeding from the wounds of racism that have remained open and festering for more than 250 years. We are coming apart at the seams, which can either be a good thing ultimately — if we rebuild ourselves differently — or it can be the end of this country as we know it.

America began as a dream in the imaginations of men who longed for freedom, who believed they could craft a system of government that would be immune to tyranny. It hinged on the idea of “We the People.” The future of America, if there is one, depends on how we interpret  those three words. Who do we the people choose to be?

Are we going to be the white men in a  pickup truck chasing down a young black man out for a Sunday jog, men who think nothing of charging him with a loaded shotgun and then killing him? Are we going to be the mother whose child’s blood soaks into the dust, the mother who had “the talk” with her boy about what it means to be black in America, whose tears fall on his body and who knows that the white men with guns almost always get the last word? History stretches out behind her and behind every parent who has cradled their child’s dead body — notches on tree branches from lynching ropes, signs forbidding anyone of color from entering, lifetimes of slavery, torture, imprisonment on false charges. Are we going to be those parents, whose hearts are broken but who still, somewhere inside, believe there  might be a chance for this country? People like that are out in the streets earnestly protesting for a better country; they are not the ones destroying businesses and setting things on fire.

Are we going to be the privileged white woman who resents being asked by a black man to put her dog on a leash and in a split second feigns being threatened so maybe the police will come arrest an innocent bird watcher? Or are we going to be the man who had the foresight to film the whole encounter and who later said he wasn’t going to hold a grudge? Are we going to be the cop who knelt on a man’s neck for nearly nine minutes until he killed him, with his hands in his pockets, casually, like he was sitting on a park bench? Or the 17 year old girl who had the guts to film it?

George Floyd’s murder was the tipping point in an achingly long pattern of unarmed black citizens being killed by police officers. There is no sliding back into what some think of as “normalcy.” Not anymore. We are going to have to decide right now who America is going to be. There is no grace period. There is no middle ground. Are we going to change or is the dream of what America could be going to die? Blood has been spilled, lives have been lost, and the anger isn’t going to quiet down. At this time in our history, how we deal with the black and white of us will write our future.

4 Responses to LOOKING FOR AMERICA

  1. David Laurell says:

    Oh Patti, sometimes when I read your essays, I so wish YOU were running for president! Peace and love to you my beautiful friend.

  2. Rex McGee says:

    Perfect.

  3. Philly Brooks says:

    This piece is a true gem. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Brett Roth says:

    I agree– WHO are we going to be?? What world did the cop with the knee think he was living in? If I dare offer a silver lining: the next day, the four cops were FIRED. That is new. Not so long ago, that wouldn’t have happened. Another has been charged with murder, and HOPEFULLY the other three will be charged with something as well. Our only hope to save our future will be in the response of the MANY (society) to the actions of the FEW (killer cops). I loved your essay. Is it November yet??

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