We must accept that before we can heal, and sadly white Americans have real trouble in holding the good and bad of our heritage.
In the last few days, news of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction and the subsequent rescue efforts have replaced political scandals and social unrest at the top of the news cycle. First responders have inspired us with their bravery and dedication. Other citizens have donated money, volunteered time, and in some cases, hitched their boat to the back of a pick up truck and headed to Texas with no plan other than to help where they can. No doubt our social inequalities are visible even amidst all this heroism, but it’s good to see some light in our country.
My social media is flooded with memes attesting that what’s happening with the rescue efforts in Texas now is what America is really about; that we’re not defined by what happened in Charlottesville or by the rest of the hate and chaos that has taken over our country.
Except in reality, we are defined by both. We must accept that before we can heal, and sadly white Americans have real trouble in holding the good and bad of our heritage.
Our founding fathers laid a strong foundation for a country based on individual freedoms. They also oppressed anyone who was not a white man.
Many Americans lost their lives during World War II in the quest to fell the Nazis. Americans also turned away Jewish refugees who were seeking asylum from that same regime.
We are a country that shows tremendous generosity to individuals who are trapped in a flooded house but will later allow many of those same people to live in poverty as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
We live in the extremes.
If we want to be a better country we need our compassion to ignite for problems that are less visceral than a hurricane. The generosity that motivates us to give to the Red Cross needs to press us to provide health care for all, even if we ourselves are healthy. The love that motivates people to risk their lives to pull a disabled person to safety needs to become a commitment to a society that includes all people. We need to accept that it’s not enough that we outlawed slavery or that we keep people safe from a flood in Houston, we must provide people with meaningful and sustainable recovery.
At the end of the day, the recovery efforts in Houston don’t prove that our country is a good one, but they do show what our potential could be. It’s up to those of us who aren’t waist deep in the floodwater to see that potential to reality.
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, and Mamamia. She lives in Southern California with her partner and son.