by Rob Colfax
I was not born in these United States. I’ve lived most of my life here, but I was born in the United Kingdom.
When I came here as a very young child, the U.K. wasn’t feeling very united, and my family apparently thought that the U.S. would be a safer place to bring up a child. That just goes to show you how little we know about what goes on outside the little circles in which we move from day to day. It’s not very united here either. Never has been, really.
I never thought too much about that. As I grew up here, in school we were taught all about how the U.S. became the great “melting pot” (they hadn’t yet got onto the more politically correct but less accurate “tapestry” metaphor). But from day to day, what I saw was that the neighbors thought my father was a snob because he never lost his accent; one particularly unpleasant man was fond of torturing him by sneering, “Can’t understand ya – slow down and speak English, buddy!”
My mother had to fight the cable company for years to get them to carry a local PBS affiliate who featured an hour of Britcoms scheduled late on Saturday nights; otherwise, we were stuck with The Benny Hill Show for her weekly fix, which she did not appreciate nearly as much as I did. (I was twelve at the time and could appreciate chasing half-naked ladies running around the lawn far more than the nuances of Are You Being Served?. Naked ladies cut across every culture, I think, if you’re twelve.)
As an adult, I became more aware of what went on in the world, as well as details of U.S. history that often get omitted in high school classes (whether accidentally or deliberately or simply because you had too many snow days that year to cover everything). I learned about the Dred Scott case and the Scopes trial for the first time in an obscure Monday night law class for journalism majors. My early teachers had been far more interested in passing down the myths of Daniel Boone killing a “bar” (bear) and George Washington never telling a lie (an unlikely story about a politician if I’ve ever heard one).
Journalism showed me much about how things work in this country. The practice of asking questions, digging around, thinking about what you’ve found, then writing about it, can be a very rewarding process. I’d recommend it to anyone, though not necessarily as a way to make a good wage.
Having married a woman whose work often takes her to Washington, D.C., I gradually became more politically savvy, though I often still feel like an outsider. Even having grown up here, the ideas that seem so common among today’s conservatives seem very foreign to me; I cannot fathom the logic of teaching religion in science classes, or giving more money to the rich when the poor are getting poorer, or meddling in other people’s sex lives. I will probably never understand why some people get their knickers in a knot about someone they’ve never met being able to get health care for the first time in years. I don’t understand a state capitol building flying the flag of a country that hasn’t existed in over a hundred years.
What I do understand, and what has finally let me feel like maybe I actually belong here after all, are the decisions last week by the Supreme Court regarding “Obamacare” and same-sex marriage. This makes sense to me.
It’s good to see common sense and kindness prevail once in awhile.
It doesn’t exactly make me “proud to be an American” – we still need to solve intolerance and brutality and poverty and ignorance and a host of other ills – but it does make me optimistic that the better nature of our people might win out after all.
Tomorrow, next week, next year, I’ll get that nagging feeling again that tells me we’ll never make it work – that people are too selfish, too mean, too invested in their own willful stupidity to change anything for the better.
But today… today, I have hope.
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