Dear President Trump,
The contemporary voice in service this morning was a poem by Langston Hughes that I told you about just ahead of July 4th, 2017 – Let America Be America Again. Three people took turns reading it and the congregation got to participate by reciting the parentheticals, the first one of which is “(America never was America to me.)”
Even though I referenced the poem before, I want to bring your attention to the very last line, which I neglected to lift up two years ago. After talking about all that we, the people, must redeem, to include the land, the rivers, the plains, the mountains, and even though he doesn’t say it explicitly, our lives, he ends with “And made America again!” He isn’t saying we need to make America great again – he’s saying we need to start over and make America again, we need to make an America that works for all of us.
The spirit of this last line is threaded through the entire long lament of the poem as he enumerates the groups of people who don’t benefit from the promise of America, who’ve been duped by the aspirational language and tricked into thinking that if they look out for themselves and grab what they can, they’ll be ok. He’s basically calling out how all the equality rhetoric and the bootstrap propaganda has kept people trapped and that we need to see it for what it is and push a hard reset.
I didn’t notice two years ago or this morning in service, but reading the poem again this evening online, I see now that women aren’t referenced and that there’s a lot of “man” and “men” language throughout. Since (as you know) I’m quite attuned to exclusionary language, I figured I better double-check the church bulletin. It would’ve been really weird for me to not have been tripped up by the male focus and sure enough, I see that someone, no doubt our lead pastor, went ahead and substituted gender neutral language. It reads so much better with those edits and I feel sad that Hughes didn’t see that it’s important to extend full personhood and enfranchisement to women even though he wrote it in 1935 when precious few men (or women) were aware of this pernicious bias.
And now, having looked up when he wrote the poem and seeing what a long, long time ago it was, there’s another layer of sadness (and anger) at how much America is still that old America and still needs to be made again. The other day a friend of mine at work said that she often finds herself exhausted by the entitlement of the white men she deals with all the time. She said she wonders whether we can make the necessary changes within the existing frame or if we just need to burn the whole thing down and start over. I get it – we live in a country that can’t even ratify something so basic as the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee equality under the law regardless of sex.
I’ve told you this before, but even the Declaration of Independence tells us to burn it down when the government fails us:
“……when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
We’ve tinkered around the edges and yes, we’ve moved many of the goalposts out some, but the path we’re on is taking too damn long to get to an America that supports all the people’s safety and happiness. Thus, I think we are the point where we need to hit a hard reset and make America again.
May we all be safe.
May we all be safe to pursue happiness.
May we build a government grounded in respect for each one’s health and well-being.
May we know that the means will dictate the end and so may we go forward in peace.