By Ernie McCray
Donald Trump, on the stump, has been talking about making “America great again.”
And I’m thinking, again? We were great once and that greatness came to an end? When? I mean, I’ve been hearing about how great America is all my life, with no let up.
And I was a believer for a while, with all the fireworks and all. All the parades. All the “Oh say can you see” at the beginning of games and “God bless America” at the 7th inning stretch near the end.
And we love to say “That’s what makes America great” or “Only in America,” especially when some one of us: takes to a stage and makes us cry or laugh or jump up and boogie; gives forth with paintings and sculptures that are pleasing to our souls and our eyes; wins a noteworthy award like the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was Americans who got us all google-ized, constantly tuned in world wide, walking past roses to be smelled, looking down at our cells, mystified that we almost got hit by a future runaway driver who’s texting his girlfriend to let her know he’s running late for their date.
Hey, the U.S.A. is full of people who are great and things that are great and places to visit that are great. But is such as all that the criteria for us considering our country great?
It seems to me that before a country can sing “How great thou art” to itself, it should be based foremost on how it treats its people. In this regard I have no points to give my beloved country for “greatness.”
Now, that’s not to say I don’t love this place because I do with a passion: it’s home; it’s where I roam; I know the code, the secret handshakes, the lingo, who to call, who to know…
I’ve actually managed to make myself very much at home in America but that has taken some ingenuity because the country has gone way out of its way to make people like me not feel at home. I could cite examples but writing a book takes too long.
Anyone could look our “true” history up and see for themselves just what’s wrong. But we won’t do that and that’s the problem kind of in a nutshell. We refuse, as a nation of people, to even take a peek into our “melting pot” so that we can understand that there are “huddled masses” in it still “yearning to be free.”
We blow chance after chance to try to understand each other. I remember a classic example, a night I was having a couple of beers with some guys back in 1962, at Roberto’s, a white bar in South Tucson. The only black person I ever saw in the place was me, in the bathroom mirror.
It was rare back then for bars and cafes to be accessible to “colored” folks but the owner was a U of A basketball fan and, in that category, I was “the man” and I’d stop by his place to hang out every now and then.
On this night I was having a real good time, talking trash about sports, and the like, and a little local politics and the National Anthem became a topic somehow and one of the guys, nearly with tears in his eyes, spoke to how precious the song was for him and his family and his ancestors, and I was impressed with his sincerity, with how well he told his story.
And he looked at me, particularly, for some reason, as he ended his homily and said: “You know, Ernie, how the Star Spangled Banner is playing and you’re just so filled with pride that you get goose bumps?”
Having not ever felt that way, and meaning no disrespect at all, I replied: “No, not really.”
Whoa, did it get quiet. Like the Grim Reaper had stepped into the room and we were hoping he didn’t say “Next.”
Then came “Aren’t you proud to be an American?” And this man didn’t like the answer to that either.
At that point I could tell that nothing I had to say would erase the feeling I had that, figuratively, somebody there might go looking for a rope and a tree. So I copped a “Feets don’t fail me now!” stance and moonwalked myself out of Roberto’s and never returned.
Those guys were heavy into America is great, too shocked that someone might see the world in ways other than how they viewed things, too blown away by what they must have seen as my Un-American-ness and commie-ness and my naivite, to simply ask “Hey, Ernie, how come you feel the way you do?”
I had listened to how “the bombs bursting in air” and “our flag was still there” turned them on but the vibe in the room left no room for me to explain that the War of 1812 doesn’t resonate with me with all its symbols of racial inequality; that I stand, never-the-less, out of respect for my fellow Americans when our anthem is sung or when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited although empty claims about “One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all” just don’t speak to me.
And, come on, as a society, without hoses and dogs and police batons and guns and bombs and marching and singing freedom fighters being involved, when have we pursued such a society?
I just wish that we would quiet our boasts about being great and stop blowing opportunities to get to know each other and begin to do something collectively to create a society where we all feel that we belong, where life is as equal as possible for all our citizenry.
Such a precious undertaking before the very eyes of the world would be some kind of great. And it would make me one very proud American.
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