This is who we are

19 Jul

Several years ago in Los Angeles, a guy cut me off in a parking lot. That escalated into yelling out of windows and, to my utter shame, I yelled for this Arab-looking man to go back home.

I was ashamed then and more so now and have never repeated this epithet.

But to say this is not who we are as Americans is not entirely true. This is who we are on our worst day. I would give a lot to be able to apologize to this man.

Matthew Sunderland, Joshua Tree, CA in “16,000 Readers Shared Their Experiences of Being Told to ‘Go Back. Here Are Some of Their Stories” in The New York Times, 7.19.19

In a pattern of reporting on hate speech and action that includes a subsequent disavowal by communities of what got said and done by members of their communities in their communities (“those aren’t our values”… “that isn’t us…”) I appreciate this individual owning their actions, and thereby owning that this is him. Not all of him. I believe what Bryan Stevenson has said: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

And still. This is Matthew Sunderland. This is California. This is the United States.

And so could be the admission and the desire to repair.

I worry about the denials of communities and individuals regarding “who we are on our worst day,” because if we don’t admit it, then we can never repair it and get better. And that’s the insult upon injury: you’ve been told to “go back” and then that it didn’t really happen, it couldn’t have. Because that’s not us. OK?

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