I was in the seventh grade when we went to the library to meet a World War II survivor. He spoke about a Nazi soldier who pointed right and left, telling each person which line to enter. He held out his hand like a hitchhiker, one thumb swinging back and forth in absolution, and in that gesture, families were broken. This man said that he watched his mother and sister go one way. Suddenly he was alone. It wasn’t until later he realized the other line had been sent to die by poisonous chemicals.
This moment left a scar on my heart. I had nightmares about it. I imagined what I would have done if it had been me, unable to hold my mother’s hand. He concluded with tears streaming through his eyes as he recalled the day an American soldier lifted him into his arms and liberated him from the death camp.
My peace with this story came from knowing that my country, the United Stated of America, would never commit such crimes against humanity. That these were ancient practices by cruel people. It was in the past. We were all safe now.
I am so wrong.
So motherfucking wrong.
We destroyed the Native Americans who lived on this land. We sold human beings on slave auctioning blocks. We forced Japanese Americans into internment camps. Children are shot by guns at school. Just a few from a very long list.
So I just need to ask, can we be the heroes?
I want to be the America who saves people.
I want to be the America who remembers white folk are immigrants, black folk were stolen from their homes, and every shade in between is too big for the word beautiful. I want to be the America that embraces refugees at the border. When someone says Help I want America to say I got you.
I want to be that America who lifts a scared and starved boy off the ground in a foreign land to save him from horror.
Oh, you want to talk about the economy? Farming, food, and hospitality industries would collapse if every “illegal immigrant” vanished from this country (are you listening, white people? Did you come here legally? Have you recently checked the definition of hypocrisy?)
Oh, you want to talk about food stamps? You want to talk about Medicaid? You want to talk about social programs? Think the people who don’t have two nickels to rub together and abuse the system are ruining this country’s viability in the global market? Wake up. I need you to wake up once you’re done punishing the people at the bottom for all the injustices committed at the top.
Do you want to be the hero or not?
Do you want to help people or not?
Oh, want to talk about how you had to work for everything you’ve got so you don’t want to hear the word privilege? You don’t see how your white skin helps you? So, you’d change to black in an instant. If there’s no problem, why not be black?
Oh, you want to talk about crime? Give people an equal opportunity to thrive. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t even have boots.
Imagine the America who invents the next plant-based thing that reverses ocean pollution. Imagine the America that builds factories for solar energy panels for every house. Imagine the America that lets you eat cake.
Imagine saving the 22 veterans who will commit suicide today.
But who is going to pay for this kindness?
We’re the richest country in the world. Let’s figure it out.