How to Love America

ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times From left to right cousins Sarah Johnson, 5, and Regina Stripes watch the fireworks display from the Boom to Bay event on Thursday, July 4, 2019 in Tampa. With lots of family visiting from of town, one member of her family, Kim Folkes, said of the display “It’s not as big as Atlanta and New York, but we’ve been enjoying it!”

As a kid:

I used to scramble up to my moms bedroom at the sounds of crackling in the sky.

I’d pull up a chair to sit myself down right in front of the window and watch the fireworks explode across the Baltimore Sky.

Giddy with anticipation and a slack jaw smile, that was the Fourth of July.

Last Year:

On my drive back from Downtown Tampa taking photos for the Boom To Bay festivities on Fourth of July, I was admittedly quite tired, but full of joy.

This was still hours before I found out that the photo I’d just taken of two little Black girls watching fireworks on the Tampa Riverwalk made the cover of the Wallstreet Journal.

I was already on cloud nine as I made my way down 275 at 11:30 pm, glancing at the fireworks exploding on either side of the highway, like a special show just for me.

Last Night:

As I sat by my bedroom window listening to the blasts of a homegrown fireworks show erupting from my neighbor’s backyard, I found myself a little giddy, perhaps as a reflex, still smiling despite it all.

Right Now:

The country and less abstractly, the people within it, are at a critical point of widespread reckoning and I do still love America.

Not with blind enfatuation, or the kind of puppy love that takes in only the best parts of their beau…

But with a new love, an honest love.

I’m learning how to love with open eyes because real love has never been blind.

Real love, healthy love, recognizes the flaws, the mishaps and the cruelties that mask our ignorance, fear and pain. That kind of love offers neither excuses nor denial — rather real love holds the beloved accountable, encourages growth and assists in the infinite transition that is becoming.

Not from a place of hatred and disdain, but out of a honest goodwill that believes better is always possible.

To love the United States of America with open eyes

is to understand that America has a history built on the backs of enslaved African people who were brought to this land against their will. Those generations of people were forced to build a country where they were treated as less than human for so long that racism soaked into everything and it’s still here.

To love the United States of America with open eyes is to know that America’s inception was only made possible by the mass genocide and dehumanization of Indigenous people whose land and livliehood was stolen from them.

To love the United States of America with open eyes is to sit with the fact that although inherently immigrants ourselves, America continues to devalue and belittle the humanity of immigrants and refugees that come to our borders seeking the American Dream we all claim to believe in.

To love the United States of America with open eyes is to understand that within our own borders people are and have long been sick, starving, marginalized, forgotten and struggling to take advantage of the “freedom” and “opportunity” we said was for everyone.

To love the United States of America with open eyes is also to understand that at the core, we can still cherish an American Dream and it’s a dream that should include every single American.

It’s a dream of opportunity, justice and freedom that will be impossible to fulfill without acknowledging the horrors of both our past and our present.

You can’t fight a war blind and this is a war against our past that we must fight — it’s a war we have to win.

And we can win, you know why?

Because “America”, the country, is only the sum of its parts.

Made up of people who, in some way or another, have a choice every moment of everyday to either remain complacent or fight for an America that works for us all.

And perhaps “complacent” isn’t always the right word, sometimes “ignorant” is a better one. Perhaps “dejected”, “hopeless” and “disempowered” are others.

What gives me hope is the fact that in so many ways over the last few months I’ve seen people become less complacent, seek out new information, listen to new voices and become more invested in pushing onward knowing that if we don’t try, we’re a part of the problem — I’m incredibly proud to be one of those people.

These are the Americans refusing to tolerate the symbols of racism that have long been accepted as “normal”.

These are the Americans having conversations with their loved ones about how the rights of other people are being threatened everyday and finding ways to do something about it.

These are the Americans who are questioning everything they’ve ever known because growth demands that we question everything.

These are the Americans that have taken up the mantle of civic duty and patriotism that stretches far beyond the polls and deep into the ways we invest into our communities, advocate for ourselves and empower the people around us.

That’s the America I love. That’s the America I’m rooting for. And it’s never too late to join us.

There are no Democrats and Republicans, no Liberals and Conservatives, only us, bonded by the land we live on and fighting for a new American Dream. A dream that reckons with the past in order to set the precedent for a more inclusive future.

As a proud, Black, Afro-Latina, daughter of an immigrant, American woman, I’m recommitting every day to dismantling the history I inherited.

I wake up with a commitment to recognize White Supremacy, the patriarchy and the deeply entrenched colonialist mindset that has indoctrinated my brain from my first breath — and I choose not to perpetuate any of those mindsets.

I do it all with a love for America and the country I want America to be, the country America is becoming.

Most importantly, I do it with love for all of the American people.

Because if anyone really does believe that all lives matter, and we should, then we have to recognize that right now all lives aren’t being valued. In the United States, all lives has often meant White lives, male lives, Cis lives, Christian lives – We need to change that.

We need to change.

We have to love America and fight for change simultaneously because while we can’t re-write history, we can make sure the future looks a lot better.

After all, love is encouraging something to grow — let’s grow, America.

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