There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”
On July 27th, 2004 a young, relatively unknown state senator from Illinois with a funny sounding name spoke these now iconic words with an optimism rarely seen in the world of politics. It was during this speech that a politician dared to evoke a word typically saved for church rather than the campaign trail.
On that night, Barack Obama described an America where people weren’t separated by the color of their skin, the god they prayed to, or who they voted for. He argued that putting our differences aside in order to do what is right could solve the issues that plague our nation.
Does anybody really believe that is the America we’re living in now? That the America painted by Obama that night has somehow moved closer into focus? If you’re being honest with yourself, the answer is clear.
Just think about the tragedies that have occurred in the United States in the last month alone:
Forty-nine individuals were murdered at a mass shooting targeting the LGBT community.
Two men were added to the unbearably long list of African-Americans killed by police in the last year simply because of the color of their skin.
And just last night, five police officers were ambushed and murdered by a man pushed to his breaking point over police shootings, determined to punish white members of law enforcement.
All of this occurring while a major party presidential candidate has built his entire campaign out of fear by accusing Muslim-Americans of being accomplices to terrorism, Mexican immigrants of being rapists, and referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as thugs.
Our politicians are split down party lines more than any time since the Civil War, going as far as refusing to compromise on common sense legislation to ensure reelection by their base. This divisiveness, in combination with our 24-hour news cycle dominated by ‘journalists’ more concerned with ratings than reporting, has only furthered this hatred of those who don’t act or think like we do.
I am not saying we need to “Make American Great Again” like a certain baby-handed, egomaniac. And with a basic understanding of U.S. history, you should be aware the deck has been stacked against many for decades and certain group’s history could never be referred to as ‘great.’
But doesn’t it feel that we could be doing better? Don’t you want to believe that the optimism from Obama’s speech is more than just optimism, but an attainable end game?
The motto of the United States reads ‘E pluribus unum.’ You’ve all heard it before and more than likely know it means “Out of many, one.” In other words, although we are a collection of very different individuals, together we are a singular people. And if we truly are a singular people, shouldn’t we care about the pain and suffering of our fellow man, woman, and child even if they don’t look or think like we do?
When the police kill an unarmed black teenager, everyone should hurt. When someone makes a Muslim-American feel unwanted, everyone should be angry. When a same sex couple is being denied the right to love freely, everyone should come to their defense.
Perhaps this is an extremely naïve way to look at the world. Perhaps I’m afforded this naivety because I’m a white, heterosexual male who has benefited by those facts my entire life. The only thing I know for certain is that we, as a nation, must change and the first step is sympathy for those that differ from you.
I’d rather believe in the America Obama described as a possibility, rather than a nice thought. And I don’t have the answers to decade old problems, but I’d like to believe attempting to understand the struggles of others is a great place to start.
A little later on in that speech back in 2004 Obama asked, “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”
I know my answer.