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Make America What It Was Intended To Be


I read an interesting line today from an author I respect, Jonathan Tobin: "Those who marched in the past for civil rights did so not because they felt that America was an irredeemably racist nation that needed to be completely rethought, but because they thought racism was a betrayal of the nation’s founding principles." (https://bit.ly/2zXjzVI)

One of the essential questions at this moment seems to be this: is racism an inherent part of America, or a violation of the ideals that America is based on?

I believe it is the latter. That is not to say that racism isn't systemic, but rather that it is not sanctioned or promoted by American ideology. To admit that there is institutional racism in America does not mean that America is a racist country. It means that we have not lived up to our ideals.

The difference is significant and not just semantic. In either case, there is racism that needs to be countered and corrected. But in one case, the system must be shattered and rebuilt, and in the other case, it must be improved and held up to the lofty standards that it has already set for itself.

In other words, do we say of ourselves that we mean well but we have failed to be our best and we need to be better? Or do we say that we are corrupt at the core and we need to be shamed, broken, and remade? Do we build each other up, or do we break each other down?

Psychologically speaking, casting blame and shame is not the most effective way to convince people to change. It is human nature to resist and fight back when one is attacked and put on the defensive. We will be far more inclined to improve when we are made to see our inherent goodness and potential, and we are inspired to be the best versions of ourselves.

But aside from the question of motivation and human dynamics, there is the question of history and truth. We are allowing history to be rewritten by denying and erasing the noble values and ideals that were written into our Constitution. Yes, there are unforgivable atrocities and abuses woven throughout our history, but our country was founded on the fundamental principle that all people are created equal. Can we not recognize the beauty and integrity of our country and simultaneously work to make it better? Why must it be one or the other - that we must be either a racist, imperialist, materialistic culture, or a paragon of altruism and absolute equality?

The reality - of our country and of each of us - is that we are flawed, but we are not inherently evil or irredeemable. Our intentions are good, our potential is great, and when we work together with empathy and generosity instead of accusation and vitriol, we will elicit the best in each other rather than the worst.

"Make America What It Was Intended to Be" - that should be the new slogan. It is admittedly a bit clunky. But it recognizes both our flaws and our intentions.

And of course the truth is that our country (and our world) will only be as great as it can be when each of us admits our own shortcomings and works to live up to our own potential. Perhaps what we need is a personal motto rather than a national one, and if so, perhaps it should be "Make Me What I Was Intended to Be." We were all intended to be human - that means that we are inherently flawed, but we share a humanity that enables us to see beyond each other's imperfections and recognize the common drive within all of us to live, and love, and give, and grow.

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