When the conservative presidential candidates said that immigrants, refugees, and Muslims weren’t welcome, I knew that they, not I, were the ones rejecting American values. When Texas refused to pass the H.E.R.O. bill, I knew that they, not I, were rejecting the essence of the phrase, “All men [humankind] are created equal.” When lawmakers have tried to limit women’s reproductive rights, I believed that that wasn’t what America was about. But recently my beliefs about American values have been shaken. What are “American values,” anyway? What makes an action or statement American or unAmerican?
After the terrorist attack in Paris, the Western world was understandably shaken. But less understandable is the subsequent outpouring of anti Muslim and anti refugee sentiment that has flooded European and American political dialogue. I have always believed that America is about equality, liberty, opportunity, hope for refugees, and the chance for economic success. At least, that is what the Founders had in mind, right? But perhaps, like everything else in the world, America’s values have evolved (or should I say devolved?). Perhaps we have become an ugly distortion of what we were meant to be. Perhaps the practical application of modern democracy and of “by the people, for the people” has become a sham, a way of telling ourselves that we are giving everyone a fair chance when really the privileged few have become more privileged and the disadvantaged are becoming even less privileged.
Since the attack in Paris my husband and I have been made to feel even more unwelcome than ever. People glare, and are rude, and we are a bit worried about our safety. I wonder if American values have changed irreversably, if the days of equality and optimism about the intentions of others are long gone.
Is that what America has become has become? A place where Donald Trump is cheered on by crowds of people who share his prejudices, where a woman in a hijab is afraid to walk alone (that happened to me yesterday, by the way), where the darker your skin is the more you suffer, and where we are still debating to what extent a woman should be able to control her reproduction? Where a Muslim praying in public is automatically considered to be extremist but if someone looks sideways at a Christian praying in public everyone cries “persecution!”? Where college students are still fighting for the right to be safe on their campuses regardless of skin color, where saying the mentally ill should be forcably locked away is a valid point of view, and where embracing your own cultural heritage is considered unAmerican? Where state governors are banning Syrian refugees from their states? It horrifies me to think that this is what America looks like these days. The worst part is, these things are all true.
We as Americans – especially non-minority Americans – must take a hard look at ourselves. We must admit to our racism, our prejudice, our fear. We must ask ourselves if the ideals we love are being carried out, or if they are a sham, a veil that hides our ugly reality.
Today, I am discouraged. I do not feel welcome in my own country and I fear that the ideals I hold so dear are being cast out of a once merciful country. I hope that our national ideals are salvageable….