On Thanksgiving morning 2004, I walked through Hallandale Beach, Florida, at two in the morning. The Dixie Highway was devoid of traffic, and the only other movement under the sea of streetlights was a group of locals making their way south.
As we approached one another, the tall, lanky kid in front, about my age, asked me if I had a quarter. I didn’t.
A couple of minutes later, a lonely car passed our little rendezvous. If the driver looked to his right, he would have seen five or six black men in a circle; taking turns at kicking a white kid around like he was a hacky sack.
Later that morning, I watched the sunrise from an IHOP corner booth, my table damp with coffee and blood. I was still wondering what had just happened.
When I told that story to a few natives of the area, their response stupefied me. Their reactions were filled with f- this and n- that. One person said that if I didn’t hate black people after that, what would it take to convince me?
Let’s take a step back, first, and for a few idyllic moments, pretend that America is a still an outpost of liberty and opportunity, and that this is a nation free of racism and bigotry.
In 1620, a band of English settlers pursued their religious freedom by fleeing to a place called America.
1787: A group of revolutionaries against the English crown proclaimed their independence. They declared their new nation free to speak, assemble, and worship however they liked.
It’s 2011, and we, the descendants of those traitors, allow radical ideas like individual freedom, responsibility, and tolerance to sway us when they’re challenged, and yet we persist in our ignorance, playing quick-draw with our six-guns, shooting our enemies with fear and loathing, but have the audacity to assert our position as the greatest nation on Earth.
Just imagine if America fulfilled those ideals we set out for her. If she never lost sight of her purpose, and kept it intact through love and war and tragedy, we’d be that place refugees still dreamt of retiring their status as burdens. We’d be that place composed of understanding, open-minded humans, free to practice peace as well as our religion.
Just imagine if America let human potential live up to human potential.
We’d be those people that world looked to when they needed guidance. We’d be standing next to every person in the world demanding their freedom, fists in the air, in every Tahrir Square across the Middle East, and we’d be the ones maintaining that if you don’t have a place to go, I’ve got an extra couch and an ear if you need it. I may not comprehend your story now, but I want to, so tell me, and we’ll write this history together.
The truth is that we demanded our freedom once, but we’ve forgotten what it’s like, so we need you to show us how to stand up for our rights as humans, because in the midst of this political madness, we’ve been dividing ourselves into little groups and factions, screaming at each other and slinging grenades, when all we need to do is sit down and listen.
One day, we’ll understand that it doesn’t matter what’s on our bookshelf, and it doesn’t matter what god we pray to, or whether we grew up in the desert, in the mountains, or the city. We’ll realize that we’re all in this together: that group of kids in Florida, you, me, and Muammar Qaddafi.