Sunday, November 20, 2016

There’s the American dream, and there’s the American reality...

The freedoms our country wears as a badge of honor have a serious dark side, and we’re seeing that dark side now more than ever. Our staunch emphasis on individualism, and our rejection of the need to ever make our own wants secondary to what’s best for the community as a whole, have assured that we will never become a truly unified people if we don’t make a dramatic change to our culture and our politics. 

We have individual freedoms based on our heavily-amended Constitution (which is long overdue for a 21st century update), such as the freedom to assemble and protest, freedom to carry deadly weapons, and freedom to pursue happiness; our satisfaction with the Constitutional freedoms has lulled us into the delusion that our American brand of freedom is complete and flawless. 

But are we free in the ways that matter most? I’m far less concerned about protecting people’s freedom to carry guns than I am about people’s freedom to not be mistreated based on their race, gender, or religious affiliation. I’m far less concerned about protecting people’s rights to picket and harass outside of legitimate businesses than I am about people’s freedom to be Muslim, black, or female in communities and industries that are historically run by white men. 

We can’t truly call ourselves free when people of color, Muslims, and women can’t walk down any street alone without having to worry if they made a mistake by walking down that particular street, or by walking alone at all. We aren’t truly free as long as there is any justification for admonishing independent women that it’s foolish for them to walk alone at night, or travel alone. We can’t call ourselves free as long as one group’s exercise of what their religion calls their rights robs anyone else of theirs. We can’t truly call ourselves free as long as people who worship in anything other than a Christian church have to worry about someone barging in and harming them during prayers or defacing their building overnight. 

I don’t deny that the freedoms in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights are important, but as a nation we have made the mistakes of assuming that these are the only freedoms that matter, and of taking for granted that they are inviolable. The truth is they are violated all the time, by being protected for some and not for others. 

What we have is the illusion of freedom—or a partial, underdeveloped freedom at best. We are more free than some people around the world in some ways, but less free than those same people in other ways. I have the freedom to write such comments on my blog without thought-police knocking on my door two hours from now and making me disappear, but I don’t have freedom from the threat of someone else’s prejudiced, fear-based, outdated moral code being imposed upon me in laws that don’t make me any safer to walk down the street alone, assure I’ll be paid as much as a man doing the same work, or assure that my prayers for my Muslim and black and transgender friends don’t have to include their protection from harassment and assault by bigots.

The American experiment is incomplete—It’s as if the Bill of Rights, the Constitution itself, were never finished, like a partially-written term paper that was never submitted to the professor and then edited and revised for a passing grade. 

So, how do we want to finish it? What grade are we striving for? It’s time to ask ourselves what actions are the most likely to get us a passing grade on our karmic score-cards for civil rights, religious rights, gender equity, racial equity, and every other right and freedom that’s been up for debate these past two weeks. Will hurling insults at conservatives and wallowing in our hurt over the 2016 presidential election results change our nation’s karma for the better? Will living in fear and suspicion of anyone who voted Republican promote understanding and beneficial compromise between our political extremes? 

It’s time to stop perpetuating the American nightmare and start creating a new American dream that we can make into a sustainable reality. 

Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker 

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