Red, White, and Blue

Nothing’s changed, America. In many ways, you’re still the melting pot that you were before, the place where cultures and peoples of the world come together. You still have that banner of red, white, and blue, accompanied by a stirring anthem drawn from the early light of your own dawn.

Except everything’s changed. Everything that matters, at least—what’s on the inside.

You have never been perfect. Racism, sexism, and so on all played, and still do, terrible and unforgettable roles in the American experience. There are dark chapters in your history that can never—and should never—be erased and forgotten.

A vision, nevertheless, always remained at your heart. Even in the darkest times, progress continued toward a better, more inclusive, and more beautiful America. Despite festering sores, you continued to push forward toward the ideals at your core, the founding belief in equality and faith in universal opportunity.

Never before, with so much progress achieved and with the globe so connected, has that progress and vision been assailed and repudiated so loudly and by so many. Never before have core principles been so openly assaulted and the shadowy corners of American identity so enthusiastically embraced: rejection over acceptance, alienation over toleration, and insularity over empathy. What kind of melting pot do we face now?

Once, in that constant, fundamental vision, the fire burning beneath you was drawn from the torch of Lady Liberty herself—not the copper one towering above Liberty Island but the one in America’s founding vision. It was a flame that nurtured and cultivated, like the lonely campfire that promised salvation to a lost traveler and around which a bustling settlement would eventually form. That fire radiated with hope and warmth; it would greet new arrivals to this land for centuries, even before a majestic statue took up watch on New York Harbor.

Now, the fire burns with ardent passion, often ardent hatred. It is not the flame that nourishes but the one that destroys; it is not the benign fire that cleanses the field in preparation for the next wave of crops, but the one that sets the entire farm alight. It is the fire that blazes in hearts and now across cities. Rather than caress with warmth or inspire optimism in a brighter day to come, this fire, left unchecked, turns its victims to ash. The torch has fallen from the Lady’s hand.

Once, each ingredient in the melting pot was appreciated for its uniqueness while becoming part of the whole. Every new person and culture provided a unique flair and taste all their own, the individuality accentuated by the mixing rather than diminished or erased. The existing blend adapted to accommodate the new arrival, and in return that arrival did the same. All the while, in each individual and distinct eddy of the pot the ingredients melded together in ever-slightly-different ways, resulting in a mosaic stew with an identity all its own.

Now, brought to a furious boil, the contents of the melting pot start to fade into the steam; whether they vanish or simply assimilate makes no difference. The charming variance and uniqueness disappears into blandness and uniformity, and that’s called progress. What is one person, or even one culture, to do against the implacable tide? Either conform or be boiled away into nothingness, cast aside into the air.

Once, the spoon that stirred the pot was gentle and careful. Its considerate movements would send out soft waves, allowing the individual ingredients to form their own interactions and influences. It kept a careful, watchful eye on everything but rarely did more than encourage what already existed within to seep through and come together.

Now, the spoon often stirs more vigorously and forcefully than ever before. Rather than allowing connections to form naturally, the spoon pursues a certain design. Instead of developing perceptions based on personal experiences, people enter with preconceived notions that irrevocably color their approaches.

Once, we were content to call each other American, and that was enough to bind us inextricably together. Now the questions are different: gender, religion, politics, ethnicity, and so on. Where once similarity was enough, we now search for every possibility of difference to divide into us and they, and it’s tearing us—you, America—apart.

It’s time to remember: we’re red, white, and blue, not or. Let’s keep it that way.

Darwin Yang '19, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Leverett House.


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