I confess that this Thanksgiving I wasn’t feeling very thankful. I personally have good things to be thankful for. But because our national fable and mythology of America was hollow. I struggled to give thanks because our mythology of the U.S.A. causes us to view any contradiction of that mythology and fable as an aberration. Mostly, these aberrations are individual actors or un-American groups who are labeled throw backs and regressive.
Symbols of our mythology and fable (like the Statue of Liberty) are trotted out as proof, in the face of fear of immigrants and refugees, that we’ve always welcomed immigrants and refugees. When even a cursory glance at our history shows that there’s always been hatred and animosity towards any group of immigrants or refugees. Not to mention that immigration was never random and open, but always regulated by quota’s and the makeup of the U.S. was not accidental. Our mythology and Fable makes us look at the internment of Japanese Americans as an aberration even though it is consistent with White American xenophobia throughout its history.
This mythology causes us to believe that there was a pure non-xenophobic, non-White, non-racist idea of America a beacon of justice and hope for humankind. We tell ourselves that we very quickly (almost immediately) fell from this ideal reality and have been working towards fulfilling. Yet if such an ideal existed and was held by true Americans at a certain time, why has it so rarely been achieved?
We are unable to look at our system as fundamentally flawed and in contradiction to the mythology that system needs us to believe about it. Yet, we also need to believe it. The reality is too stark. Easier and more comforting to believe the mythology and fables we tell ourselves, and create scapegoats of those who in perusing the ends of the system do so in ways that to readily and easily puncture the façade of our fables and mythology of the city set on a hill and the manifest destiny of America, the great democracy that will save the world.
However, if we really want justice and true change we will have to face that the America of our ideal doesn’t exist has never existed and in fact was never meant to exist except as a fable and mythology of national unity. The U.S. is a nation state that both accepts and reject immigrants and refugees. The U.S. is a Nation State that has committed war crimes and genocide. The land that makes up the U.S.A was stolen; it’s wealth is founded upon slave labor. Its system was created by Whites for Whites. People who continue in this vein aren’t being un-American, they may be the most honestly American, using the mythology as a cloak to hide behind. The rest of us just use it as a blindfold to keep us from seeing who we really are.
We want to believe the enslavement of Africans is behind us that our conquering and displacement and removal of the Native Americans is just a phase of our history that we can leave in the past. Yet, there are still reservations, yet the wealth of this country and its position in the world is in part due to the exploitation of Africans as slaves. In the middle of the 20th century and by a “progressive” administration and President, Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps, their property confiscated. These things weren’t done by an illiberal and America hating people, but by the U.S. Government in the name of advancing and protecting American ideals.
This isn’t to deny the good that is mixed with this evil. Rather it is to say that we aren’t special but just like any other nation state and all other human beings, mixed with propensity to good things and propensity to do evil. But they don’t cancel each other out, both have ongoing and continuing consequences. Both carry on in time. All our efforts to change, as long as we won’t admit as American those things that contradict our mythology and fable of America, will be constantly be bound up with that which we wish to deny.
This is deeply difficult to accept, probably most especially for progressive Whites, that our system and ideals are corrupt at the root. The bad fruit is produced by the plant of our system not some external infestation. America isn’t the solution it is the problem.
This shouldn’t lead to inaction but a clear eyed action that is willing to look at what needs to be done and do so without an appeal to the authority of America and the founding fathers of this Nation State. They were just human beings, with mixed motives who did both good and horrendous things. FDR did a great amount of Good and he dropped two nuclear bombs on civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and put the Japanese in concentration camps. He wasn’t a good man; he wasn’t an evil man. Just a flawed human being mixture of good and evil as we all are. So too is the U.S.A. which is only a group of human beings flawed and with a distorted desire for some semblance of the good.
We achieve the good and truth at times, and perhaps at times our mythology and fables have lead us to achieve those good ends, yet at this time our ideal blinds us to the true mixed reality of the U.S.A. and that “America” has never existed and can never exist. We must seek something else, something less elegant and more down to earth. A recognition that our human achievements are always less than. That is, there needs a bit of humility especially if we are White, and perhaps especially if we are White and progressive.
A theological account of this can be found here .