Rebuilding our country – and finally admitting we cannot do it alone.
I was raised by Republicans, wonderful people who have taught me everything I know.
I grew up in a politically conservative household in Sacramento, California. My mother lived on a ranch bordering town throughout her childhood, her family altogether distrusting government. No one can blame them – they were victims of eminent domain half a dozen times. An Ohio native from a broken family, my father largely raised himself. Instead of going to college, he enlisted in the Navy and started his own construction company shortly after he met his future wife in San Diego, where he and the other sailors frequently partied with the sorority women. You can guess how I came into the picture.
Fast forward twenty-five years, my parents have built a successful business in real estate. They have taught me everything my younger brothers and I know about working hard, instilling in us early on that regardless of one’s attributes, such as their race, they can be successful. They particularly reinforced this with me. We did not come from money, but they told me that I could be whomever I wanted to – a Fortune500 CEO, the first female President, you name it. They celebrated my straight A’s, student government leadership, community service, overseas mission trips, and especially my political activism. Throughout high school and college, I regularly volunteered for elected officials including our congressman – all Republicans.
Lately, I am questioning all of it.
Recently, I have realized my achievements were not entirely the result of my hard work, as Republicans like my parents told me. I will never forget when President Obama declared in a 2012 campaign speech – “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” As people whose purpose was to literally build homes, you can imagine how offended my parents were. That same year, I was chosen to attend the Republican National Convention as a youth delegate, where I cast my vote for Mitt Romney – someone I thought understood the trials and tribulations of folks like my mother and father.
Nobody including my parents or Governor Romney outright said they did not like President Obama because he is black. They largely focused their criticism on statements like this, representative of his fiscal progressivism. They also said he had worsened rather than improved race relations by dividing our country over Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray’s murders. I knew the facts that Barack Obama was not the same color as us, that he was demanding justice for these young men, and that he was condemning our country’s ever-persisting racial inequality, were unsettling for white individuals like my family members and myself. I did not understand why until now.
I am realizing that we all – regardless of political views – need to evaluate ourselves, and our country.
I recently finished the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo clearly articulates the reasons white people, both conservative and progressive, are so uncomfortable talking about racism in America. White progressives are also offenders, claiming to be color-blind or celebrating of diversity, and thus failing to acknowledge their inherent biases that perpetuate the systemic racism in our country.
But white conservatives still must come to terms with an inescapable reality: the United States is not, and has never been, an egalitarian nation. It simply cannot be when it was built on slavery, and today people like Breonna Taylor are shot while sleeping, Ahmaud Arbery hunted down on a run, and George Floyd knelt on his neck by a police officer. Worse, two of these murders were committed by individuals sworn to protect.
This is not an easy realization. It contradicts everything conservatives like me have always believed about our beloved country – that America is the land of the free and home of the brave, where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. And it thereby forces us to really think about what President Obama said. Perhaps we did not build entirely on our own. Maybe I am not an accomplished twenty-five year old woman because I myself have achieved everything I set my mind to.
And we must admit we all have work to do.
In her book, DiAngelo discusses how Americans are tied to this notion of individualism. It’s no wonder Obama’s statement was so controversial. But what he was simply saying is that we have to stop shirting our collective responsibility to lift each other up by assuming our only duty is to ourselves.
And this goes for all of us, whether we identify as Republican or Democrat, support Black Lives Matter or not, or intend to vote for Trump or Biden later this year. This Independence Day will be different from any other we have celebrated. Instead of complaining about no fireworks or parades, I hope people will instead consider how they can help others succeed and protect them from harm, making this nation a better place, ultimately realizing our Founding Fathers’ highest hopes for America. To me, that’s the most patriotic thing we can do. We are all in this together. And we will not be able to rebuild – to erect a more equal and just society – without each other.