The United States is the only home I’ve ever known, outside of a few months here and there in other locations. I was born here, grew up here, largely live here still, and though I’m also a German citizen as of last December, I still identify almost solely as American. Nearly two years ago exactly, I wrote an article expressing my shame at that identity. It was hard to write, incredibly emotional, and I took a great deal of flak for doing so. I was told that a travel blog shouldn’t engage in political commentary, that this had no place in this community. So today, while my country burns, when my shame is greater than it has ever been, let’s talk about the good old US of A in the language that perhaps those among my fellow writers who criticized my last article will understand.
For decades, the United States has been one of the top – if not the top – tourist destinations for foreigners, and for good reason. The culture of New York and Washington, beauty of the national parks, the diversity, the food: all of these are worthy reasons to visit. The country has also largely been stable and safe. Americans, on the other hand, have been warned to avoid places of political unrest, of violence, of limited infrastructure or lacking freedom.
Today, as those in the high towers of power here in the US condemn violence and oppression elsewhere – Americans are good at nothing if not criticizing others – our own record has fallen to the equal of many of those unstable, unfree societies we are warned to avoid. Here, in the home of Martin Luther King, Jr., American law enforcement and leadership has resorted to judging other based on the color of their skin and nothing more. People of color are murdered by police over petty crimes that would lead to a simple desk ticket for a white male. Politicians scream that it is the fault of “the Democrats,” rather than addressing systemic issues. Those who protest such injustice are labeled by the President as “thugs” or “sons of bitches” regardless of whether they engage in violent or peaceful demonstration. (And this is to say nothing of the “citizen’s arrest” culture where white racist non-police feel the need to act as law enforcement toward black people, acts that often end in random violence toward those innocent black people, like Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Arbery.)
If this were happening anywhere else, the US Department of State would be quick to slap on a travel advisory, as it has for Hong Kong over the Chinese Community Party’s crackdown on civil liberties there. And yet those same tactics (tear gas and pepper spray into crowds, curfews, militarized troops, and rhetoric about shooting people to make a statement) are being used right now on streets all over America, defended by those same hypocrites who call out other governments daily. Only today (Wednesday, June 3 as I write this), the Trump administration announced it would no longer allow passenger planes from China to fly here, in protest of the Chinese government’s Hong Kong policies. Would France be justified in doing the same to flights by US airlines?
There is no easy fix to systemic racism or to police brutality, just as there is no easy fix to the complicated political situation in Hong Kong (other than giving it independence, which surely won’t happen so I discount it). But as we grapple with the fallout from those issues, let’s not kid ourselves: if America was ever the greatest nation on earth, it isn’t any longer, or at least not right now. Right now, we are acting like a failed state, the very sort we are warned against visiting.
Are you as a tourist likely to be shot at while walking down the street here? No, certainly not, at least not if you’re white. But don’t fool yourself in thinking that all those terrible things the world has to offer can’t also come to the US, especially if you are not white. Our police are not being held accountable by those in power, and I don’t want there to be another round of protests based on your unfortunate demise at the hands of law enforcement. (Or at the hands of those who use times like this to take advantage of the world, looting and rioting, or trying to escalate violence.)
These issues are not likely to be solved soon, and not even a Trump resounding defeat in November’s election will fix them. These are things in the fabric of our nation’s history and character, a nation built with amazing ideals and little practical enforcement of those very same. This is a nation that had to engage in a civil war to end slavery, that had concentration camps for Japanese-Americans, where you are more likely to be killed by police as an unarmed black person than as a rifle-wielding school shooter who happens to be white.
So yeah, I’m ashamed at this country, or what’s left of it. I’m ashamed at the lack of any leadership from any quarter that offers more than sound bites. I’m ashamed at how many people here think looting a Target is as bad – or worse – than police murdering a black citizen. So while there are amazing things to see, places to visit, and people to meet here, for now, heed this advisory and travel elsewhere. You can do better. We apparently can’t.
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