Wednesday, October 29, 2008

American Awakening

A common refrain earlier this political season was: "there's more that unites us than divides us." We are all Americans, after all. We must focus on that which unites us for the civility of our public lives. We must set aside our skin color, though we are still proud of our heritage. We must set aside our religion, though it is still paramount to each of us. We must unite as the American race.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Statue of Liberty National Monument, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
Such were and will be the ancestors of the American race because we are a race defined by our love of liberty and united by our differences. Out of many different ingredients, we have created one American race in our great melting pot. This race is defined by an ideal that transcends time and place, a dream of freedom, a dream of unity for which we all strive.

We know of the slave's dreams of freedom and equality. We know of the African-American's dreams of liberty and justice. Americans have heard of these dreams deferred. We see how beautiful our black siblings are and we are ashamed of our wrongs against them. And in our shame we have fought for those dreams and for our own unity. We fought and died. Through that tumult we were able to advance our American ideal of freedom. But, though we remained one country, our civil fabric was horribly torn.

Dream of the American race transforming the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood! Hold fast that dream within your heart! That dream brought countless Americans to Washington DC on an August day in '63. America responded with the Civil Rights Act of '64 and other incremental steps toward our American ideal: Loving v. Virginia effectively legalized interracial marriage, Jim Crow laws were repealed, and affirmative action policies implemented to name a few.

As Americans we are dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal. Again and again our tweaks begin to approximate equality and rectify passed wrongs. Our instruments of change are not perfectly tuned. We see the over correction in affirmative action when one American is granted a job and a "more qualified" American is denied that job. Affirmative action is a blunt instrument that can mar our civil fabric. If affirmative action works it will someday no longer be required and if it does not work, then all it does is foster racial strife. We can do better. We must.

To end affirmative action by legislative decree would be far too jarring, rending the civil fabric. Yet, America’s first woman Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, captured the feelings of many Americans when she remarked that the Court “had tried to be careful in stressing that affirmative action should be a temporary bandage rather than a permanent cure.” We need a mechanism to allow affirmative action to fade away while it continues to right past wrongs for a time. This is our dream of a future free from shame and bright beyond the telling of it.

There is a mechanism to gradually bring about that future—an American approach that is a novel appeal to individual liberty. When presented with a job application or when applying to college, indicate that your race is only American. In so doing, you opt out of affirmative action. Some Americans will do this and some Americans will not. In time, as we realize our dream of unity and mend the fabric of our civility, more Americans will do this than will not. In time, affirmative action will pass away by our collective resolve to be American.

Americans are foremost in the fight of the battles of the free because we dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. Our common American heritage is what unites us, but we lack an analytic tool, a metric, that would allow us to asses our unity. We do not know when one American has slighted another. We only learn of injustice and resentment when it boils over in violence described in the news. Oh, then we know the civil fabric was torn. We must know ourselves better. We must look into our soul.

We must be introspective. The American centre can be the cap stone that prevents things falling apart. When you complete the census form in 2010 and when pollsters enquire about your race, indicate that you are American. If permitted and so inclined affirm your other racial identities. Claiming to be part of the American race demonstrates your solidarity with other Americans. Choosing not to identify as American communicates that we are not collectively living up to the American ideal. You are rendering a judgment on the sins of other Americans when you do not self-identify as American and in so doing you anonymously challenge us to work harder toward the American ideal. Both are required, both patriotic.

It is the contrast of these choices that creates our introspection. The mere act of self-identifying as American does little, though we hope and pray that it may mildly warm our civil fellowship. Poll after poll, census after census, we will begin to see the places where more Americans self-identify as such and where fewer do. O beautiful American dream that sees beyond the years! We will learn what brings Americans together and what sunders them. We will see hideous racism and glorious integration. And we will know better for we will know ourselves. If America is to become a greater nation, this must become true.

Americans are not constrained to a single race. This is captured in the label African-American. These Americans identify as both fully American and fully African. It is as if two roads diverge--a choice between two races, two identities. But it's a false choice. Americans, African-Americans, gladly choose to travel both and be one traveler. And that makes all the difference. The individual American striving for that ideal of liberty and unity… the American whose heritage includes European, African, Asian, or Native American blood… the American whose ancestors were Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Atheist, or Jewish… these Americans wear the great seal on their hearts: E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One. Just as the individual American is One, though of diverse origin, so our body politic is One, though of diverse composition. Let our future radiant shine with sweet hopes American!

There is much change and promise in this American future. Will we rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others we know not of? We will soar on wings like eagles because, united as Americans, our strength will be renewed. The change here proposed is an appeal to all Americans to make a positive difference in a small way. The magnitude of this change is amplified by the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities. Every American is empowered to play a critical part.

The American soul yearns for racial reconciliation. The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty is justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on this experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. There is no shortcut. But we will laugh as we go because we will learn that we all have something in common: we are American.


Anonymous said...

Could not agree with this post less.

We are not heading towards unity.

Our differences should be special.

But, when some differences are special and others are not, you can never achieve cultural unity and tranquility.

dsm said...

It is exactly because we are not heading towards unity that I wrote it. The civil strife that we seem to be aiming for can be forestalled, I believe, by focusing on that which unites us: our American race. We often choose to disparage or down play that unifying force. I think emphasizing our "special" differences undermines it. While fine on small scales--various churches, little Italy/Chinatowns, gun clubs, etc.--emphasizing our differences on the national stage fosters disunity.