What Color Is An American?

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In the second decade of the twenty-first century, every American lives in a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This does not mean the every American is identical to every other American, or that we all live in the exact same circumstances or have precisely the same talents, preferences, hopes or fears. It means, insofar as it means anything, that every one of us is a citizen of the United States and of the state in which we reside.

Recent census data reveals that the population of the United States is 63.4% White and 36.6% Non-white. There are 114 million Americans who can be described as “people of color.” Despite this demographic reality, there is abroad in the land a belief that “real Americans” are pale Americans. There is neither a factual nor a philosophical basis for this belief, but it persists.

If this was not so, the persistent nonsense that refuses to dissipate regarding President Obama’s birthplace would be recognized and ridiculed as the hogwash it is. This slanderous, libelous conspiracy mongering continues because there is a market among a segment of the 63.4% of the American citizenry who could be derided as ofey for the notion that any legitimate President is a White person. How large segment is has not been determined with any precision, but it exists. Furthermore, this segment of blatant and closeted bigots survives and prospers because the larger share of the 63.4% does not relentlessly denounce the notion of a color line in the Oval Office.

The country is only as good as all of us are determined to make it. Genuinely patriotic Americans should affirm and advance the maxim of authentic patriotism:

“Our country right or wrong – when it is right to be kept right and when it is wrong to be put right!”

This was true in the nineteenth century and it is true today. Every person who drives around with a “Proud to be an American” bumper sticker on his/her car or in his/her heart who does not feel a burning commitment to keeping America right or setting America right as and when necessary is living a lie.

Americans are not identifiable by color. Americans are made authentic not by how they look, but by what they truly believe and how they actually behave. If any lesson came through clearly and unforgettably amidst the mud, the blood, the fury, and the fear in Vietnam it is “We are all Americans.” Regardless of our shades or our shapes if we are dedicated to the proposition of full human and civil equality, we are authentic Americans.

This principle of unifying equality has been proclaimed since the very inception of what would in time become the United States. Wise and benign political leaders have reminded us of this repeatedly. One courageous American leader told the nation that this principle infused his dream for the land he loved. Nearly fifty years later, too many nominal Americans are still ensnared by a nightmare which allows them to feel proud only when they can disparage, disadvantage, and despise others. It is as though they believe treating others as equal brother and sister citizens takes something away from their own stature or status. This has to stop and it has to stop soon!

With the changing demographics and the evident trends driving this change, America and Americans must put aside foolish prejudices and habitual responses. We must see within each and all of us the same core of principle and promise the Founders and the Framers challenged us to affirm and advance. We must be resolute in the true affirmative action. We must affirm the humanity of our brother and sister citizens and take action to ensure that what we always said we believe pervades the communities in which we live.

If America is to remain a great nation, this must become true. Another great, young president put the challenge directly before us. He was the first ever to do so in such clear and cogent terms. He said:

“…when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.”

He was both daring and correct to do so. The only question which remains is – “What have we been waiting for?” We may have a million excuses, but we do not have a single, valid reason.

“Our country right or wrong – when it is right to be kept right and when it is wrong to be put right!”

Our nation will not truly be a great place for any of us to live until we make it a good place for all of us to live. Let’s get to work and let us keep at it until we have put our country right on this once and for all.

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