Though We Would like to Believe Otherwise, This Is Who We Are
Between April 19 and May 31, one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-five children were taken away from their families by U.S. Border Patrol. Most of these children were placed in juvenile immigration shelters while their parents were labeled criminals, charged with a federal misdemeanor immigration violation, and sent to jail. All because they were seeking a better life in America, the land of opportunity.
The story gained national attention as we read articles and watched news reports of children crying themselves to sleep. We learned about Marco Antonio Muñoz, an immigrant from Honduras who took his own life after the U.S. Border Patrol forcibly ripped his child from his arms. Then we saw a few of the juvenile facilities where children slept in cages with little more than mylar blankets for comfort.
As a result of the public outcry, this past week the practice of separating children from their families was curtailed. The zero-tolerance immigration policy is still in place, but it is unclear how the administration will implement it going forward.
“We are better than this!”
Since learning about the impact the zero-tolerance immigration policy was having on families, I have had countless conversations with friends and family members emphatically claiming that this is not who we are.
Every single person who has expressed that sentiment is white.
And I get it. It’s easier to believe that we are the exceptional country we learned we were in grade school. It’s easier to believe that these last few weeks were an aberration. It’s easier to believe that we truly embrace and live by the values espoused by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
People of color know better.
It’s time for us to acknowledge the truth of who we are. It’s time to recognize that the story of American exceptionalism is nothing more than propaganda. It’s time for us to wake up from the Dream and join the struggle. In the words of Ta Nehisi Coates, it is time for each of us to become “a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” We must reconcile ourselves to the truth before we can move forward. Each of us must acknowledge, understand, and accept these moments of truth as part of our heritage:
These are just three examples where we forcibly separated innocent children from their parents. In each case, the families targeted for this inhumane treatment were people of color. A more in-depth piece would include a discussion of poverty and our criminal justice system, both of which disproportionately impact people of color. Systemic racism takes many forms. But if we can acknowledge this truth, if we can look at our past without averting our eyes, we just might be able to come together and build a more just and equitable society for all of us.