I bet you miss her.
Enduring these last four years of hate, ineptitude and chaos has created a new longing for a return to the old America. The next few weeks leading up to the 2020 election will be filled with people who want to go back to the coronavirus-free, more tolerant America that they remember.
You probably don’t remember her like I do.
When we close our eyes and reminisce, we usually remember the loveliest, loudest parts of a thing like the way you can recall a marvelous trumpet solo and somehow forget the man emptying the spit valve on an unblemished marble floor. Maybe, during the spitting part, you had your eyes closed like a dog hiding beneath the kitchen table on the Fourth of July. After the fireworks, you forget about the scared puppy and only recollect the way America turned the night sky into a birthday cake as the candles sparkled just above your head.
Or, like when your mother told you to run to the mailbox and you wouldn’t even have time to put on shoes. And when you hopped off the front porch, you would pause for a moment and scrunch your toes on the lawn before peering into that little box. There was always something important in there.
If you are nostalgic and romantic, you sometimes still think about the cool morning dew on the grass underneath your feet even though it was actually 89 degrees outside at 3:27 in the afternoon when you went to the mailbox, so there definitely wasn’t any dew, but sometimes you had to kick the dirt off of your feet because your lawn wasn’t that luscious but no one gets wistful about sandy soles or second notices from the power company and, of course, you took the mail for granted because there were hundreds of thousands of invisible, dependable elves faithfully working to make sure the stuff that was supposed to be in your mailbox was always there because this was America, where you never once had to consider that someone would sabotage the goddamned Postal Service so, instead of standing in awe of the Pennysaver that spontaneously manifested itself in your mailbox, you manufacture memories of cool, wet American grass between your toes.
I miss that America.
Remember “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for?” Remember the “Shining city on a hill?” Remember “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?” Remember that “A government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth?” Your memory may now be clouded by profane utterances about “sucker” soldiers, “shithole countries,” and the “sons of bitches” in the NFL. But, for a moment, try to remember.
The America I knew didn’t lie to us like this new American liar. Remember when she would take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and would bear true faith and allegiance to the same?” And she would do it “freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.”
Oh, if she were alive today!
And damn, was she pretty.
Back then, she didn’t have to wear a mask to the supermarket to keep herself from dying, so you could see her face. Every now and then, she would smile at you in the checkout line with all those white, pretty straight teeth beneath that charming button nose.
Of course, you had seen the scars she left on your grandmothers’ back and knew your granddaddies’ blood had dried underneath America’s perfectly manicured fingernails. But she was cordial and called you “sweetheart” and “baby” and “citizen” and sometimes, when you were starving, she would give you a lollipop, and everyone remembers when she gave you that lollipop and forgets how hungry you were.
I miss how she carried herself with dignity and respect for all the world to see. How she’d publicly condemn lynch mobs and terrorism while silently allowing terrorist lynch mobs to terrorize us and lynch us. How she would wash the blood off her palms and lift her torch-holding hands into the birthday sky with a light inviting the poor, huddled masses yearning to breath free. How she had the biggest prison population in the world that was mostly made of poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
That is the America we need to get back to.
Remember how she thought it was self-evident that “all men were created equal?” Was there ever a single solitary moment in her entire existence when she ever treated “all men” equally? Didn’t she say her only goal was a “more perfect union” that offered “liberty and justice for all?” Remember how she kept getting less perfect as she disbursed justice and liberty at the leisurely pace of a lackadaisical snail?
This new America doesn’t believe in democracy, the Constitution and science like the America I remember. She doesn’t even care about the American dream. But I remember a girl who based everything she did on the genetic inferiority of Black people and the superiority of whiteness. The old-school America denied Black people their humanity, equality and the constitutional right to vote until...
Well, I’ll let you know when she stops.
To be fair, you never loved her either. You weren’t that stupid. She was not a thing to be loved.
But remember when you said you loved her?
They told you to say it. And, because you were young and innocent, you just said it. You said it as loudly and as convincingly as the people who actually believed they loved her. You put your palm over your heart the same way they did and turned your body slightly to the right toward the flag and told the lie like they taught you to do it.
And it wasn’t a lie. You were just saying words. It was just a poem you recited before the assembly in the cafeteria or the lesson on long division. But, if you’re being honest, you kinda liked the way your tongue paradiddled when the L came after the P before the double L that preceded the other L that followed the F. “I pledge allegiance to the flag” was a delightful snippet of meaningless alliteration, so you made your mouth into a lovely little patriotic trumpet and not once did you spit on the marble floor.
Those were the good ol’ days.
Remember when you asked her to just say that your life mattered and she laughed at your request for reciprocal love? She guffawed, didn’t she? Remember how she pardoned the people who shot your baby girls and strangled your little boys? Remember when she sent soldiers with long guns as if you were the ones who were out of control. Remember how she played those performative trumpet solos for Trayvon and Sandra and Philando and Eric and Breonna and George? Remember how her tongue stayed limp and, instead of justice, she gave you a new syrup bottle, a Google doodle and a very special episode of Two and a Half Men? Remember how she always, always, always spit on the floor?
Before she tweeted about “law and order” or chanted “send her back,” remember how you believed she might one day love you, too? That if you could only purchase some bootstraps, enunciate your “Rs” and smile big enough to show her that your teeth were white and pretty just like hers—she would invite you to become part of her? Remember when she hoodwinked a man who dreamed about a country that would “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood?” Remember how she killed that dreamer?
Remember how she killed all the Black dreamers?
Because she was really good at enticing us to our own throat slittings, she would extend a scintilla of something that made you believe your dreams could come true. Maybe it was that 13th time she amended her Constitution. Or the 14th time. Or the 15th time. Or when she acted on civil rights. Or voting rights.
Or that one time—if you can think back to the show-your-teeth-in-the-supermarkets era—when you were almost done with believing in her possibility, she chose a man who was smarter, less corrupt and more charismatic than all his predecessors. But, because his skin refracted light a little differently (the same way yours does), America tried to convince you that this extraordinary act proved how much she had changed. She acted as if one election erased all her violent history like an Etch A Sketch in an earthquake. And there, under the glimmering, spectacularly lit birthday sky, you almost believed her.
But you know the America that we are experiencing now is the same America that freed the slaves, ended Jim Crow and elected Barack Obama. But it is also the same country that enslaved Black people, put a bullet in Martin Luther King’s jaw and elected a dimwitted, immoral blunderbuss of bullshit and racism. You, more than anyone else, understand that this country’s quest for normalcy and peace of mind is just a fantasy based on the Norman Rockwell that only existed in the gossamer memories of the patriotic hypocrites who benefitted from white supremacy.
You know that country is not a thing to love. It is just a place that holds a collection of people between lines on a map. You understand that it is stupid to love a particular piece of dirt based on a make-believe portrait of an America that, for Black people, might as well be a fictional character.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this nation’s Black citizens is that we do not hate America.
We have always lived in a patch of grass and dirt that refused to count our votes and treated us like the residents of shithole countries. So we dedicate an astonishing amount of effort and energy to perfecting a union that has never displayed a nanosecond of love for us. America has kneeled on our necks, lied to our faces, manipulated the media against us, enriched itself by stealing our wealth and gaslit her patriotic admirers into believing that she has always been perfectly healthy.
“Don’t let it dominate you,” said America about the deadly virus of white supremacy. “Don’t let it take over your lives. We’re the greatest country in the world.”
I know you miss her.
However, it is easy to wax poetic about a beautiful, soaring trumpet solo that was written just for your ears. I imagine the melodies and harmonies are difficult to forget. But now that you’re the ones mopping up a floor slippery with spit, please: