Essay: An America I See in The Distance

Image: A woman holds a U.S. flag during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas

A woman holds a U.S. flag during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas, Texas, U.S., July 8, 2016. CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

My militancy is not militancy, but patriotic necessity.

Hours after the first report of another American, another father, another son, killed without the provocation all I could do was repeat this mantra to myself as I searched my home, for something to remind me of why we must go on; why we’re not allowed to give up on an America that seems, in some ways, now more distant than ever.

Today our nation struggles to find its breath after the loss of Alton Sterling. As we are still grieving the loss of life in Orlando I try, alongside the rest of the world, to make sense of the loss of Philando Castile.

In the barrage of questions being posed by experts on television screens and news feed updates, I whisper back, “Where are our solutions?” And I apologize (to who or what I am unsure) for not having done enough, in the wake of these executions.

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Amidst these acts of terrorism, I am left at a loss for not just words, but of an ability to fully comprehend the true amount of loss we’ve suffered. I’m searching for an America I can still believe in.

Sitting on the floor with my back to a mismatched dresser, reclaimed by my father from an era that he describes as “when we still built things,” on the ground before me are my most prized possessions:

A book of Baldwin’s essays that I leaf through in a kind of act of prayer, wishing that I could somehow do for others what it is he is seemed to have an innate ability to do — so that in moments like this when sense, hope, and goodness seem distant they can discover strength in their own resolve.

A postcard sent to me after the murder of Sandra Bland from my uncle. In his best English he transcribed Patrick Henry’s words about America not delaying in the combat of the formidable adversary. My uncle signed off, “keep writing, be brave,”

A tattered picture of my parents’ wedding—a photo that my father borrowed money to be able to purchase. A photo that my father, while he was still in the process of learning to scrawl English letters, wrote the words 'American dream.'

Even now, I question my voice. I question who I am to speak out against these injustices, in an arena where there are many more lettered than I.

There are so many great orators, so many men and women of eloquence speaking out. I question what the son of an Egyptian cab driver and a Dominican seamstress could do to elicit change, when so many of our leaders seem unable to address the problem of homegrown terrorism and the rapidly multiplying narratives of hate that continue to grow in strength and opposition, power and prevalence. And yet, I am also reminded of the responsibility of testimony.

Keara Lipscomb leans on Ayo Akinmoladun during the Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter protest against violence by police July 8, in Memphis, Tenn. Yalonda M. James / The Commercial Appeal - AP

I am a son of two immigrants with a shared belief in the promise of America and its actualization in the form of hard-earned opportunities for their children. A son who visited the factories where my father worked and felt the calluses that still mark his battered hands; who, watched my mother stretch our cupboards’ to feed her children; who observed humility and grace while my parents confronted bigotry and racism in the pursuit of establishing homes within communities that could not yet comprehend that my parents’ presence would create the equality and equity that America has for too long only represented in writing.

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And I know, like many of those around me that the qualifications of my experiences, as a student within our public schools, as a teacher within our schools and prisons; as a victim of racism, of police brutality, of our justice system; the survivor of micro-aggression and macro-aggression; bearer of every derogatory term said in front of me or about me; and witness to the curriculum of my community— I know these experiences grant me the ability to speak to this very moment in our history.

Even now as we are witnessing the systematic and sanctioned genocide of the peoples and populations on whose backs this nation was not only built upon but continues to exploit. In that, I am reminded that just because the law frowns upon lynching does not mean that there are not still legalized ways to instill fear and compliance under the protection offered by the rhetoric of civic duty.

I recognize that these assaults are the result of a sanctioned curriculum meant to hurt, paralyze, and control a populous. And despite all these factors, I remain American in my resilience and resolve, in my ability to dream. I remain patriotic in my recognition that, in a time when there are men with much to gain by the breaking and burying of American ideals, ethics, and morals, I know we must fight and take up arms in a manner incredibly different than what our country has become accustomed.

I know we must encompass something more than sense of power to create change. We must restore a sense of compassion and freedom that illuminates the rhetoric of America’s founders. Though these notions of compassion and freedom were not applicable to the nation’s current populous, America can be, and has already in many ways been re-founded and re-defined in the 21st century.

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Sandra Sterling, Alton Sterling's aunt, visits his memorial at the Triple S Food Mart July 7, in Baton Rouge, La. Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

It is by the hands of those, like my parents, who sought and chose to be American that America has been redefined. Their sacrifice establishes the vision that, for most of its life, has been America’s fairy tale. It is in their lives, and the lives of their children, that I see the evidence that we can grow, that we will be great.

It is in that same vein that Black Lives mattering is not a negation of the rights of other individuals, but a needed imperative to correct the record for a nation whose Congress once legislated the counting of people as property and now sanctions their death at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.

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Because, in truth, the men and women who live narratives of hate — regardless of race — are no more American, than those who look to divide us and foster hate or fear within us. These individuals are terrorists and nothing short of that.

For each of those who work against equity, of life, of liberty, to those who kill the innocent — for each one of us you kill — you only strengthen our resolve.

You only strengthen the discipline with which we hold ourselves accountable, increasing the heights we dare to dream.

We are the sons and daughters of men and women who against insurmountable odds survived, who in every moment inhabit the American ideals in ways that our forefathers could not have imagined.

We can not allow violence or fear, to shrink us back or lead us to hate or division, because in ways that only love can sustain — we are dreamers, we are doers, and we are, in our resilience and resolve, bravery, selflessness, and love.

We must, keep living and be brave.

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