What is America? Well, it depends on who you’re asking. America could be a land
of dreams and opportunities for some. Where you can do what you want and possibly be
what you want. Where the Internet could make you a star and talent is not a prerequisite
for fame and fortune. A place where you could build a car, build a house, build your
brand, Build-A-Bear. A land of strip clubs, strip malls, and emojis . Where you could
watch football on enormous TVs. Where you have a billion channels, but nothing is ever
on. Unfortunately, for many, that is not what America is like, that is not the America
they have experienced. America may be called the land of the free, but not everyone
here is really free. It is a racist, homophobic, and misogynist society. Where people
hate, judge, ridicule, and disrespect you just for who you are, for who you love, for who
you worship. Where unsubstantiated stereotypes are facts. Where bullying is frowned
upon, yet everyone seems to do it. Where the poverty and mental health problems are
swept under the rug. Where the homeless sit in front of check-cashing stores, hoping for
sympathy, but are given apathy instead. Where Donald Trump can grab her by the pussy and
still become president. America is a lot of different things to a lot of different people at
different times. America is a constantly changing perception.
To a woman, America is a glass ceiling. It is a constant battle for equality and
independence. Where having more experience and qualifications will not ensure that
you will get paid more than a man who doesn’t. A place where everyone judges you on
your appearance and where beauty matters most. Where your body is manipulated in
magazines to appear unachievably perfect. It is using plastic surgery to try to achieve that.
It is skinny jeans and Spanx. It is body shaming, stretch marks, waist trainers, and Flat
Tummy Tea. Where laws about what you can do with your body are created by old white
men without any input from you. A place where you are blamed for crimes committed
against you because of the way you dressed, or you were too flirty, or you were too drunk,
or you led him on. Where you can want, but not too much. Where you’re supposed to
just be quiet and stay in your place. Where you’re supposed to be barefoot and pregnant
in the kitchen. It is cheating husbands and abusive boyfriends. Where sexual freedom
also means slut. It is short skirts and six-inch heels. Makeup, push-up bras, and tramp
stamps. Where sexual harassment is just boys being boys. It is pick the kids up from school,
drop them off at soccer practice, take them to the doctor, make dinner, clean the house, do
the laundry—you’re expected to do everything. It is your mother asking, When are you going
to get married? Where everyone wants to touch your belly when you’re pregnant. It is bridal
showers, baby showers, sonogram parties, gender-reveal parties, and push presents.
A place where if you say, I don’t want to have children, people look at you like you’re crazy.
Where if you get too mad, people ask, Is she on her period? It is Wonder Woman. It is Fearless Girl
on Wall Street . . . and a man wanting it removed. Where being too much of anything is a bad
thing, and double standards are the normal standards.
For the working class, America is taxes, taxes, taxes. Where the more you make, the
more the government takes. It is unfair wages. It is living check to check. It is IRAs, 401Ks,
Medicaid, and Social Security all coming out of your check. It is Affirmative Action. Where
you punch in and punch out, punch in and punch out. It is water cooler gossip. It is I Hate
Mondays and Hump Day! and TGIF! It is sick days, retirement parties, and mass layoffs. A
place where the factories are closing, and the jobs are going overseas. It is nepotism and
office Christmas parties. It is two-week vacations. It is short maternity leaves. Where you
put food on the table, pay the rent, and hopefully have enough left over to go and see the
new Marvel movie.
For black people, America feels like it isn’t for you. A place that your ancestors built
but you don’t own. It is three hundred plus years of legal racism that hasn’t completely
ended yet. It is major obstacles you face day in and day out. Where you’re portrayed
unfairly in movies and television. Where the media paints this picture of you that is full of
constant rage. It is being feared but also fearing for your own life. A place where the police
may kill you just for being black. It is a bias that you cannot shake, poverty that weighs on
your back, barriers that you cannot get past. It is being good at sports or knowing how to
rap. Where you visit jails to see relatives. Where your friends make fun of you for speaking
properly. Where you use your white-person voice whenever you call customer service. It is
cornrows, diamond earrings, fried chicken, Chinese food, rap music, and grape soda.
It is the BET Awards and Black Girls Rock! It is McDonald’s. It is Big Tobacco taking a special
interest in your community. It is drug dealers and pimps. Where every black person isn’t
a drug dealer or a pimp. It is high HIV infection rates and higher unemployment rates.
It is rappers perpetuating stereotypes that everyone dances to. It is illegal guns in every
neighborhood. How, when no one ever leaves the neighborhood? It is parole officers and
the new Air Jordans. It is nappy hair, getting your hair did (sic), and good edges. It is on
fleek, trappin’, ratchet, ballin’, counting bands, getting my coin, fatty, a dub, baddie,
twelve, loud pack, secure the bag, thot, keep it 100, glowed up, where you invent your own language.
It is Michelle Obama and Obamacare. It is the first black president and
a Pyrrhic victory. Where the first black ______ still happens. It is thick women and lip gloss.
Where there are no black-owned businesses in your neighborhood. Where being a video
vixen and an lnstagram model are #lifegoals. Where if your baby mother is a stripper
or a startender, that’s normal. Where if your baby father is a dope boy or in jail, that’s
normal too. It is Basketball Wives, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Love & Hip Hop. It is Hot
97, Where hip-hop lives and The Breakfast Club, the world’s most dangerous morning show. It is the
Black Lives Matter movement. It is the murder of your people by your people. Where
black lives don’t matter, not even to black people.
When you’re a Latino immigrant, America is a better life. It is the ability to help
your family and provide a brighter future for your children. It is a foundation. It is hope.
A place where lazy Americans complain all the time. Where you get paid in cash and don’t
have healthcare. It is sending money back to your country for your abuelos. It is building
walls and crossing borders. It is ICE, detention centers, and deportation. Where Me no
speak no English is your defense mechanism. Where they think you’re all a bunch of drug
mules and criminals. Where the President wants you to go back to where you came from.
Where you’re the fastest growing population. It is first-generation Americans. It is so
many wonderful opportunities.
To white people, America is . . . America. A place of hopes and dreams. It is
privilege. It is freedom. It is Give us back our country, but from whom? A place you
discovered. Where stolen land is claimed as yours. Where you celebrate Christopher
Columbus Day. It is guilt for how your great grandparents treated black people. It is
having a black friend. It is Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It is the KKK and the NRA.
It is mass shootings and lax gun laws. It is your second amendment rights. It is good
neighborhoods and neighborhood watch. It is poverty, white trash, and trailer parks. It
is biracial babies. Where racism doesn’t exist anymore. It is being politically correct. It is
racist jokes. It is Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. A place where a cop saying
I feared for my life is a good enough reason. It is looking down on anyone that doesn’t speak
English. It is seeing yourself in every movie, television show, and magazine cover. It is
owning everything. Where you can be anything you want. It is tans, lip injections, hair
weaves, and butt enhancements. It is saggy jeans, hats to the back, and hip-hop. It is
emulating black culture but still clenching your purse when a black person passes.
When you have a felony, America is a closed door. It is a lack of opportunity. A
place that is unforgiving and never lets you forget your past. Where you never really
pay your debt to society. It is Have you been convicted of a felony in the last seven years?
on job applications. It is Sorry, we’re not hiring at this time. It is We did a background
check, and you lied about your criminal history. We have to let you go. Where you have to take three mandatory
programs a week, so how are you expected to keep a job? Where the odds are stacked
against you. Where your family still thinks you’re selling drugs. A place where people
whisper, It’s only a matter of time before he goes back to jail. Where you’re trying to do the
right thing because you have a daughter. It is heading back to the same neighborhood
you came from in hopes of a different outcome this time.
For the rich, America is a playground. A place where you do whatever you want
and have whatever you want. It is power. It is control. It is fast cars and cocaine. It is
private jets and empty mansions. It is Ivy League schools and country clubs. It is good
cigars and golf, expensive clothes and lobsters. It is jewelry and tears, divorces and
second wives. It is alimony and suicides. Where you’re only one bad deal away from
losing it all. It is sheisty lawyers and tax cuts. It is balls, banquets, and dinners. It is big
yachts and mistresses. It is luxury skyboxes and floor seats. Where money is a panacea.
Where you make the laws, bend the laws, and break the laws. Where you control the
media. It is political allies, lobbyists, Super PACs, and controlling the elections. It is
butlers, nannies, and third wives.
For a parent, America is filled with so much danger. A place that you worry will
hurt your children one day. Where you must protect your children. It is misleading.
A place that is full of tricks and scams that you must warn your children of. Where It’s
ten p.m., Do you know where your children are? Where people tell your children they can
be whatever they want, when the truth is they can be whatever they’re good at, and
then it still helps to know somebody. It is formula milk, teething, pacifiers, Wet Wipes,
It’s your turn to get up, throw up, and dirty diapers. It is step-up ceremonies and paying
for photos, kindergarten graduations and paying for more photos, elementary school
graduations and paying for more photos, junior high school graduations and paying
for more photos, high school graduations and paying for more photos, then hopefully
college graduations but no photos. It is minivans. It is the talk. It is lectures and You’re
grounded! Where you want the best for your children and are always going to be
concerned about their wellbeing. Where No matter how old you get, you’re still my baby.
When you’re a teenager, America is where your parents just don’t understand.
A place that is filled with old and outdated rules. It is college applications, but being
unsure if you even want to go. Where hanging out with friends means everything to
you. It is high school bullies, the popular kids, and prom dates. Where you try to fit in.
Where you smoke weed and daydream about the future. It is This is your brain; this is
your brain on drugs. Any questions? It is learner’s permits and after-school fights. It is
tons of homework. It is cutting class, peer pressure, and virginities lost. Where This is
my house; these are my rules is supposed to be law. It is crushes and heartbreaks. Where
you secretly watch porn. It is You hang up; no, you hang up; no, you hang up first. Where
you argue with your parents, slam doors, and they say, I brought you into this world;
I’ll take you out. It is Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook Live. Where you want to be
accepted for who you are, but don’t quite know who that is yet.
To the elderly, America is being forgotten. It is wheelchairs and walkers. It is
I’ve fallen and I can’t get up commercials. Where you’re shuttled off to nursing homes.
Where your family doesn’t visit. It is AARP and Social Security. Where con men try to
steal all your money. Where your grandkids spend all your money. It is funerals and
Depends. Where you fall asleep in front of the TV. It is bingo and casino trips. It is
Viagra and dentures. It is What did I come into this room for? It is Del Boca Vista, Florida.
It is doctor appointments and more doctor appointments, pills and more pills. It is
body aches and Bengay. It is things not being the way they use to be. Where they say
things are getting better. Where you’re able to see that things are only getting worse.
It is being able to hold your great-grandbaby.
Some people say Make America Great Again. But we can’t because America was
never great to begin with. We can make America appear to be great again, but it will
never be great. America’s good is constantly outweighed by the constant oppression
that it perpetuates, and it is only getting worse. With the Muslim bans disguised as
terrorist vetting, continued killing of unarmed black people, Fox News, North Korea’s
nuclear threat, and President Trump’s Twitter account, it is hard to tell if it will ever
get any better. America, which was once the most powerful and respected country in
the world, has become a laughingstock. It is seen by the rest of the world as a bunch
of hypocrites who are violent and weak. A place that will criticize everyone else’s front
yard but won’t look in its own backyard.
Before I wrote this, I read an article in GQ Magazine about Mahershala Ali, an
Oscar-winning actor. In it he said, “I absolutely love this country, but like so many
people have some real questions and concerns about how things have gone down
over the years and where we’re at. And that’s from a place of love, because I want the
country to be what it says it is on paper.” I couldn’t agree more.
What is America to you?