There are 323.8 million people in the United States. Does it surprise you that 47% of Americans feel like strangers in their own country? My guess is that if you’re an American, you’re not surprised.
Americans aren’t known for taking vacations generally because they don’t get much vacation time, or even expect it for that matter. Americans do, however, create “exit plans” usually every 4 – 8 years around every presidential election.
We show indifference, frustration, and a lack of responsibility for the people who are supposed to be representing us in our own government and see them as “in power” and us as “following.” The general consensus is that “someone in charge will handle that.”
Americans don’t feel connected to America. Even my 17 year old daughter said she wasn’t proud to be an American, and that she was “proud that she was not proud.” Talk about heartbreak for all the tenants of being in this country that she doesn’t understand!
History has it’s place…
However, before I bring up our sorted, dysfunctional, horrific, embarrassing, and unsurprising past as a country, let me tell you a story about Coca Cola.
Coca Cola also has a dysfunctional, horrific, embarrassing, and sorted past that is unsurprising to most – meaning, most people know about it. The famed, dark, caffeinated drink, before it became the famous icon it is today – had actual cocaine in it and wasn’t a soda at all, but an alcoholic beverage of wine.
You heard me. Coca Cola mixed alcohol and hard drugs in a drink that – get this – only affluent white people were allowed to drink in the 1880s and 1890s.
The addictive qualities of the cocaine in Coca Cola made people not only crave the soft drink, but become addicted to drinking it. This was actually seen as OKAY medically. At some point, the wine was seen as unhealthy, and it was replaced with sugar syrup. This was much less expensive to make, and everyone could afford it, however, segregated America was not ready to share the privilege of drinking the tasty addictive beverage with Black people, and laws were passed to remove the cocaine from the soft drink with a high racial motivation, even accusing Black men of raping white women if they had access to cocaine in the soft drink!
Even with this past, today, Coca Cola is celebrated for the future they’re a part of.
They’ve been around for 129 years. They reinvented themselves and made their future more important than their past. And even though people know their history, the history doesn’t stand in the way of the inclusive future they built.
Today, Coca Cola can put your name on one of their cans or bottles, and whether you drink Coca Cola or not, you buy one because you see yourself in it.
Not because of who they used to be in the past, but because who you can be as a part of where they’re going.
And you can walk away not being associated with that past but as part of their future. Remembering the past, but the importance of the future being the focus.
Now let’s talk about America.
America is the birthplace of the Transamerican Slave Trade experiment in action, first tested in Haiti and put into action in the United States. The Middle East had been enslaving Africans for at least 1,400 years before that, but it was never done as brutally, as horrendously, as disgusting, or as devastating as it was done in the United States. At the same time, socially and economically, slavery marked a time of prosperity for people who got the privilege of being seen as human.
Human experimentation was performed on my ancestors. From medical advancements in gynecology, to seeing how diseases like polio and syphillis advanced and affected the human body, to the use of self-replicating cells that didn’t belong to the lab that stole them, but have saved millions upon millions of lives without supporting Henrietta Lacks (He-La cells) or her family…
Despite the numerous, uncountable offenses and crimes against humanity America has been the stage for, black people, my ancestors, dreamed of being seen as Americans and being acknowledged for the tremendous contributions they’ve made to American society.
They dream of their children being educated in American schools without worrying about racism. Having professional careers in American companies without being paid less for being black. Starting their own Black owned American businesses and getting the same lending support that their white counterparts receive. Shining in a country they once couldn’t even be seen as human in.
And my people are still celebrating “firsts” in industries and sectors where they once were unable to participate.
America is also the birthplace of the genocide of the America Indians, thanks to Christopher Columbus.
America is one of the largest centers of sex-trafficking in the world.
And one of the biggest harbingers of war.
And one of the biggest supporters of poverty.
And. And. And.
Because the people in “power” don’t represent our values.
The foreseeable future is not only political party continuing to be the single largest divider, with the values gap between Democrats and Republicans even larger than race, sex, or class…
But our youth will continue to become disconnected from what makes this the land of opportunity – the sense of self, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – with the mental illnesses to match having a lack of self-awareness, lack of self-expression, lack of personal power, and a lack of personal freedom as a result of trauma trauma being the fissure that keeps us from truly getting to know ourselves and others outside of the stories we create to figure ourselves out without the proper scaffolding.
Our children and grandchildren will completely lose touch of the personal freedoms, self-expression, sense of civil liberties, and personal power that make our country the land of opportunity for the other 53% of the population that feels close and connected.
This country has been balancing awkwardly on the pseudo idea that this country has always been “great” when it really hasn’t been that great socially or in justice.
But it can be if we focus on the future.
Introducing the We Are The People Project
The We Are The People Project is a platform to collect American stories in a digital quilt, to celebrate your differences as a part of the Great Mixing Pot this country was intended to be, of all nations coming together in one place to create opportunity for all, and to share your history as an American with other Americans so that we can unite in brotherhood.
By sharing our stories and putting our values in the forefront, we will change our relationship to other countries that are greatly dependent on our economic wellbeing, making us a more responsible country not only in our own neighborhoods and communities, but on the world stage.
Hate and ignorance come from what we don’t know about one another, and the things that we just don’t know that we don’t know about who we share this country with. For hundreds of years there have been efforts to divide us as people in local, state, and federal law, in institutions, and even politically. We don’t need those entities to tell us what country and brotherhood are or to create commonality with our American brothers and sisters.
Now is the time to tell your own story and what you want this country to be for yourself and your neighbors today forward.
This Google Doc provides more information on the project as well as three steps you can take to participate:
Do you want to help get the word out about this project on social media? Do you have skills that would help us to create a visually appealing website? Do you want to volunteer your time by collecting stories of people in your community and posting them to the digital quilt?
The We Are The People Project is looking to create state specific groups in all 50 states. If you’re interested in leading a project in your state, send an email to Tamara Rasheed at Tamara@TamaraRasheed.com.