But we as Americans can’t let the smoke obscure the very real issues we must confront.
It isn’t easy work, looking in the mirror. As patriotic Americans, we want to believe that our nation is beyond racism. As individuals, we don’t want to believe that we harbor subtle stereotypes and prejudices. But it is important work, because the greatness of America doesn’t come from the status quo; it comes from our constant struggle to live up to our promise.
This, to me, is not a political issue. It is a patriotic issue. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” our country certainly didn’t live up to that promise. But generations since have pushed the boundaries, bringing equality closer and closer to reality. That is the American story, and we must remember that it’s a painful story for anyone left out of the promise.
Ibram X. Kendi: Am I an American?
When I moved here in 1968, I thought I was coming to the greatest country in the world. I was. I didn’t know much about the nation’s inequality then, but I’ve learned a great deal since. That knowledge doesn’t make me love America any less, but it does make me want to fight for our country even more. I’ve tried to do my own small part, supporting after-school programs in our inner cities and, when I was governor, settling a long-standing lawsuit, to ensure that all students had qualified teachers, textbooks, and safe, clean, and functional schools. But today, I know that we can all do more.
“Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, sound, and solid blueprint,” Martin Luther King Jr. told a group of graduating students in 1967. We need a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint for fixing our country.
We didn’t get here in one administration, and we can’t fix things in one administration. When we built the interstate highway system, we made a plan. We knew the work would take decades, we knew it would be hard, but we did it anyway. If we can do it to make our roads better, we can do it to make our society more equal.
Patriotism isn’t just the blind love of our flag. It is the work we do to improve our country for every American. I want the unlimited opportunity that drew me here in 1968 to exist for every American, regardless of skin color.
And the next time we send a rocket into space, showing the world that we can soar past the limits of our atmosphere, I want every kid in an inner-city school to see it as a symbol of the possibility that lies ahead for them, instead of a symbol of an America that doesn’t belong to them.
We can do better. We have to be willing to listen, to learn, to look in the mirror and see that none of us is perfect. We have to be willing to see one another as Americans, and not as enemies. We have to be willing to sit down and do the hard work of reform without worrying about stupid party lines.
I’m ready to listen and work to make America better every day. Are you?