I just spent days keeping Facebook browsing to a minimum, while I spent time with family and avoided watching the news. I spent hours binge watching that TV show about that tax-exempt organization that describes itself as a church but is criticized by former members who liken it to a cult. It was fascinating, the things people do – the things people allow in their lives – and the reasons they allow them. People will ignore things that are inconsistent with what they want to see. People will suffer things that they don’t have to suffer because they don’t believe they really have a choice (when they do). People will allow themselves to become acclimated to terrible things because they don’t see ways to change them. It’s like people are imprisoned by the funhouse mirrors of distorted reality in their own minds.
Patriotism is propaganda. The American Dream is marketing. America is like a cult. And for all I know, American exceptionalism is a big lie.
Now, I have lived in this country for my entire life as a black female – these are not new revelations to me. I’ve long believed that “liberty and justice for all,” has never yet existed in this country and isn’t intended by the people with the most power. I’ve long known the economic game is rigged and the American Dream comes off like folklore to many Americans from humble backgrounds. It’s the cult-like framing of American exceptionalism that has become more prominent in my thinking in recent days.
As I sat there listening to former members of that organization saying things like, “they didn’t give us what they promised us,” “we’ve been conned,” I could relate. When the ones who grew up in that organization describe how they went along with terrible things because they didn’t know any different, because they thought that any existence besides being in their organization would be exponentially worse, I could relate. When they said that their observations of the actions and events around them convinced them that they have been misled about the nature of the organization, causing anger and frustration, I could relate.
It made me wonder, and not for the first time, why we stay. The violence. Police brutality. Class warfare. The politicization of caring for the poor, the elderly. The politicization of educating young people or healing the sick. The general disintegration of civility in public discourse. People in Flint still don’t have clean water. People in New Orleans were left to die in the Superdome. Children in schools are being left by Congress to the whims of anybody with guns and ammunition, despite regular and deadly reminders of their vulnerability. White people have been caught on camera harassing people for speaking Spanish, and calling the police on black people for non-emergencies because they feel uncomfortable, because someone didn’t smile and wave. Why do we stay?
Besides the fact that we were born here, and we have families here, there has to be more. I mean, I know immigrants. They’re not totally cut off from their families, they just don’t see them as often because of the expense of travel. And if you can grasp the language and find a source of income in a new place, the new place can become home. So why do we stay?
It can be scary to think about leaving the only place you know when you live in a place where 1) you’ve been told your entire life that you live in the most free, the most safe, the very best place there is on this planet, and 2) the culture of the place you live doesn’t put respeck on the name of the immigrants who come here and the awesome things they’ve done. We are told, leave America? Where would you go that’s better than here? Other countries persecute the press, their officials demand bribes, they have inferior economies and education… You don’t know how good you have it. You need to thank God you were born an American citizen. That’s why the immigrants come here! Because in America we provide the educational excellence, class mobility, first-world amenities, stable government, and freedom that they can’t get in their own countries. It’s a terrible world out there, and America is a beacon of light.
But we see darkness in this country that we overlook every day! And most Americans aren’t experts on other countries. Most of us, myself included, don’t really know what’s going on out there in the rest of the world. America isn’t the only place that immigrants move to – there are other countries that welcome new workers or retirees.
And so, like people who’ve been blinded by the cult rhetoric of your current situation being the best and only option, we watch, or just complain, as this country continues to default on its promissory note, like Dr. King said fifty years ago. We stay and we agonize. Should we wear a hoodie? Should we risk getting shot at when asking for directions when we’re lost? Should we send our kids to school and hope that they’ll come home without mental or physical trauma? Can we risk getting pulled over on the freeway by a trooper?
Is this anxiety – are these abuses – just the price we have to pay to live in the “home of the brave?” It’s like we’ve been messed up by mental programming. The shit is just disturbing. I’m still turning this stuff over in my mind, working through it. But I know it’s wrong that I saw that headline about those kids getting massacred in Santa Fe, Texas and I legit scrolled past it. I didn’t want to go through the emotions. I didn’t want to hear the bad news. It’s so frustrating and unjust and wrong. I wanted to be able to look past the ugly and keep living my comfortable life, cause I don’t personally feel like I can change the evils I see. Just like these people who were in that cult-like organization who went along with everything because they didn’t know what else to do. They raise their children in it. (Subjecting their children to the same conditioning.) They give their labor to it. (Expending their energy to keep the dysfunction going.) It’s not okay. What are we doing here? I don’t have the answers, but I believe I’m asking some damn good questions.