One of the most common arguments against racial justice from whites goes something like this: Sure, history has been unfair to Black folks, but why should I take responsibility for it? I wasn’t a slave owner. I didn’t segregate the schools. I never put on a police uniform and shot anyone unjustly.
This train of thought has several interesting implications. Namely, it puts forth a unique conception of citizenship — that to be a good American requires only paying attention to the problems one causes. Whatever injustices that came before, though sad and tragic, are not important. As long as you are kind to neighbors, raise a good family and pay taxes, your duty has been met.
But when one really analyzes the matter, it is clear such thinking is entirely insufficient. Consider another context: Say one night a man is talking to his wife and she’s aggrieved about something that happened in her past, perhaps mistreatment by an old boyfriend. Tears come down her face as she describes the pain he put her through, the years of manipulation and physical abuse. It is clear she is desperate for a loving touch and a kind word.
Now imagine the husband responded by saying, “I did not cause these problems, that guy did. Therefore they are not my responsibility. Take these issues somewhere else.” Would anyone call that kindness? How long do you think the marriage would last?
The wife expects to be assisted in overcoming her traumas, so she may have a great future. Because that’s what love demands.
Similarly, caring for America means taking an interest in every inch of our long, tortured history — from the slave auction block to the ghettos to the anguished cries of George Floyd. In addition, we must look these wounds in the eye, and take steps to heal them. Patriotism requires prioritizing racial justice, which is an idea the young understand in their bones. They are not radical in the slightest, but merely resurrecting what it means to be a good citizen.
Everyone in this nation enjoys a whole host of blessings — freedom of speech, the right to protest, economic opportunity — which were brought into being by the sacrifices of previous generations. It is only proper then, that in addition to enjoying these gifts, people are asked to take responsibility for those social ills, which are equally their inheritance too.
In 2020, we endure another Great Recession while millions of Black people suffer incredible grief over police killings that seem to have no end. The news becomes more calamitous by the hour. Thank God, however, for the anti-racists, who are committed to fighting for a world of decency, no matter the cost — be it tear gas, police batons, or mocking words from more timid souls. Through their dogged efforts, America may one day stand as tall as she deserves to be, and appear all the more beautiful for her scars, instead of crippled by them.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident.