As the son of two immigrants from Greece, I always knew, and was told, that the United States of America was a country built by immigrants. That concept really didn’t take too much convincing considering all you had to do was a quick Google search or open a history book. Remarkably, and tellingly barking at my privilege, I never once considered that even before the waves of immigrants that came from Southern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before the waves upon waves of Irish immigrants and Anglo-Saxon ones, the first Europeans who colonized the New World for their home countries also brought with them immigrants from other places.
It is a healthily disputed, but widely held belief, that the first such immigrants came in 1619 aboard an English privateer named White Lion. What’s remarkable isn’t the date or the name of the ship but the passengers aboard. The crew and leadership of the boat weren’t alone, the aforementioned immigrants were on board and they landed at what today is Hampton, Virginia, not to seek a better life or live the American Dream as my parents and countless other immigrants to America have in the last centuries.
Instead, those immigrants likely came from what is today Angola and they were on that ship, and in the New World, against their will, as slaves.
To truly understand, on a thoughtful and deep level, the pent up frustration and anger following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Dominique Clayton, and in particular George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers one can simply go back to the American Civil War. Fought between April 1861 to April 1865, the American Civil War began as a war to save the Union on one side, and a war to halt federal government intrusion on state’s rights on the other. Very quickly, as both armies were fighting each other and recording losses and victories with no significant territorial changes, President Abraham Lincoln decided to call on America’s better angels and make the war about a higher cause than just to save the Union: to emancipate the slaves. The Union emerged victorious from the struggle, the slaves were emancipated and the time to heal began.
A grand total of six days passed after the effective end of the Civil War with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House before Abraham Lincoln, out with his wife to enjoy some theater after the soul-sucking four years he had endured as the Commander in Chief charged with preserving human dignity and the Union, was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, and with the death of Lincoln, so too died the prospects of a healing Reconstruction Era that maybe would’ve prevented to a large extent the racial unrest of the 1960s and the current predicament we find ourselves in. Let us not let every single Commander in Chief after Lincoln off the hook, even the “great” ones, for their inability, or unwillingness to confront the wounds that have ailed America since its conception, the original sin of slavery.
I am here to tell you that I still have an unshakable faith in the United States of America. I do not ever believe we should ever stop seeking a more perfect Union, nor does our history allow us to.
Americans have reached to the stars, stood up to tyrants the world over and changed the world itself, but we have in recent decades neglected our own backyard. Foreign policy is often the sexier option for politicians to tackle, but the politicians are voted in by the American people, not by some far-off land that we identify as if by putting on a blindfold, pointing at a map, and in that way deciding to ‘liberate’. We are evidently at a crossroads here, a perfect storm of events that have fomented a restlessness and fed up with the status quo sentiment not seen in 50 or more years. I believe that not all police officers are bad, in fact I believe that most are good. The bad ones however, cannot be allowed to get reassigned to another precinct or enjoy immunity simply because they are being covered for by their colleagues or superiors. There are just some professions like the police force, doctors, pilots, just to name a few where ‘bad apples’ cannot and should not be accepted because that means lives are at stake.
The racism in this country never went away after Lincoln emancipated the slaves. Perhaps it would have not been allowed to fester the way that it did had he lived, maybe it would have, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that it took until 1965, a century later, for their civil rights to be federally protected, and it was only passed due to cunning legislative maneuvers by Lyndon B. Johnson, who capitalized on political sympathy points from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
It is clear that with the COVID-19 global health pandemic that there is no going back to normal, and the same should apply to how we treat our fellow Americans.
When American military personnel were ordered to fire tear gas on Americans in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC outside of the People’s House, The White House, it became very clear that we are in the dawn of a new era and we have and, rightfully so, left the old one behind. America needs to heal, we need to be each other's keepers and take care of one another. We are losing our moral high ground around the world and we are the laughing stock of billions because we preach high ideals and kneel on the necks of unarmed civilians. We are better than this, and we need to show that too.
Vote, your voice matters, it is heard and that is how you create lasting change, not by setting things ablaze and looting. I applaud the peaceful protestors seeking elusive justice and change. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let’s get moving and make progress along that arc.