The American Experience

Charlie Gu | JULY 4, 2020 

Being an American means you can’t:

 

Listen to loud music - Jordan Davis

Go jogging - Ahmaud Arbery

Return home from 7/11 - Trayvon Martin

Seek help with your car - Renisha McBride

Reside in your own home - Breonna Taylor

Being an American means: 99% of the time, your murderer won’t be held accountable.

 

You’re three times as likely to be killed by police than your peers. In 8 of the largest cities in your country, your friends and loved ones will be killed at a higher rate than the US murder rate.

 

I know it’s cliché to start an article about America with the document that serves as the reason we can even call ourselves the “United States Of America”, but truth be told, there's few other texts that better represent the ideals that have guided and will continue to guide our growth as a nation.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

You've heard this famous quote an innumerable number of times, and for good reason: it's beautiful, it’s eloquent, and it makes for really nice contextualization in your APUSH DBQ. But what if I told you there was more to the document that breathed life into our democracy than Thomas Jefferson’s proverbial opening line?

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it's the Right of the People to [alter it].”

 

Here, Jefferson and the Founding Fathers championed the idea of the “social contract,” an Enlightenment idea articulating that the government has obligation to tend to society's welfare; if it is to fail that obligation, such a government should exist no longer. If you asked any random person on the street if they think that our government has failed its duty to the American people, or “[become] destructive,” as Jefferson might put it, I'd bet a lot of them would answer yes.

 

In recent weeks, this answer is becoming increasingly justified. With the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American male jogging in his Georgia neighborhood, and George Floyd, who was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck, outrage has erupted across social media and on the streets of American cities. Many compared the kneeling officer in Floyd’s killing to the kneeling of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem. For his stand against injustice, Kaepernick paid the price of being outcast by the team he once called home. Despite the actions he took and the future he sacrificed, injustice in our country has persisted, most notably with Floyd’s murder. The protests have been accented with vivid moments - snapshots in history, if you will. Whether it be looters gratuitously smashing the windows of businesses, leaving shards of glass in their midst, or small business owners staring at their shattered storefronts, seeing decades of hard work reduced to dust, or police officers resorting to excessive violence to quell the disarray, it’s easy for Americans to see the protests in an overwhelmingly negative light. It's the side of the protests that the media doesn't show that reflect the truly unifying nature of this country: a group of protesters blocking arms to protect an isolated cop or protesters in New Jersey joining together to dance to the “Cupid Shuffle.” If there’s anything these protests have shown, it's that division has always been deeply woven into the fabric of American society.

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