Race is a difficult topic to talk about, it is almost intimidating putting it to paper. Almost. Everyone is walking on eggshells when it comes to this topic. The recent flair up in Charlottesville is just an ugly example of this. The landscape in politics is intense and race has been used as a political football for a long time. Over-generalizations and ignorance stoke the flames and build rhetoric. It’s going to end poorly if we keep going this way. Like the song “Stuck in the middle with you,” I feel like I’ve got clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. White supremacists need to learn empathy and love. Antifa and Black Lives Matters needs to understand violence and suppression is only a means to recreate the monster you’re fighting against. This isn’t a race to the bottom.
I was told this year, for the first time in my life, that I’m racist and my privilege discredits any voice I have. I was slapped a with a label as if my story and heritage can be automatically assumed. As if I come from a background of slave ownership seeking the return to glory days. Here is my story. My heritage. My great grandparents fled the Russian conscription of Poles to escape to America in search of a more secure future in freedom from tyrannical oppression. My grandfathers fought against real fascists and imperialists in World War Two. My grandmother’s brother kept his life but lost his sanity at the infamous battle of Guadalcanal. My grandmothers, like our family’s own ‘Rosie the Riveters’ contributed to the war effort. Relatives who lived in Oświęcim we’re forced out of the ancestral home to make way for the Nazi officers who ran the infamous Auschwitz death camp. My uncle received the Purple Heart in Vietnam and my own brother serves proudly in the U.S.A.F. I come from a heritage of freedom fighters, not oppressors.
What my heritage is carved from is that of immigrants who escaped the hardships of late 19th and early 20th century Europe with nothing. From the ravages of famine in Ireland to the forced oppression of the Poles, my blood consists of the hope that America promised to those who would shed their old life for a new one. A life where hard work matters and makes your future family tree. A life in a place that really is unique in the history of the world. They took a chance but for what?
“That all men are created equal.”
The history runs deep. The American experience is born from struggle. Nobody is free from a life without it. What’s an important starting point through this is understanding others and where they come from. Media and political parties love playing identity politics and putting people into blocks. We can do better than that and empathy is the antidote here. The founder of The Free Hugs Project, Ken Nwadike Jr., gets it as a bold man stepping in front of hate and breaking the ice by hearing other’s stories.
The American struggle is a shared experience. Our African-American brothers and sisters do not have a separate history from other Americans, it is our history. Our descendants from Europe are not clumped as one. Our history. Our Latin and Asian brethren have walked difficult roads too. Our history. This is the melting pot where culture and ideas collide. This is American history. Our Declaration of Independence doesn’t tolerate the supremacy of one people over another in any direction. Let’s look at each other as individuals instead of buying into the manipulation of group identity politics.
While looking at the stains of our shared heritage can be painful, it doesn’t diminish who we are. The hope for our country, the hope that caused my great-grandparents to settle here, doesn’t lie in our stains but in our freedom to be independent to make of our lives as we wish. That hope is for all citizens. How’s about we share our story with each other and empathize that we’re trying to move our family tree forward in this messy but beautiful land we call home. The framework is there and it’s available for all who pursue happiness. There is no promise of a struggle free existence but when you dig deep, work hard, don’t quit, and treat people with respect; no one is going to stop you from Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Everything else is an excuse. Speaking as the third generation from ground zero, your future family tree will thank you. Let’s stop racing to the bottom.
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Gal 5:13