Simon: The deception of the melting pot

Shawna Simon, Guest Columnist

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When I started school, I was taught that America was a melting pot. My teachers emphasized the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma Lazarus’ words were a promise that I believed in.

As the eldest child of immigrants, a lot of things about this country were hard to understand. Phrases and foods were difficult to get used to. The first time we saw the word “ski” appear in homework, it caused a lot of confusion.

The children in my kindergarten class would tell me I was “too dark” to play with their dolls. They were genuinely surprised that I lacked the “scent” that their grandmothers told them a black person would have.

My parents and I learned together what these insults meant. To be sure, these were clear signs that I was not an American, and my parents tried to tell me as much. But I was a child and I didn’t let that tarnish my vision of the “melting pot” I was told we live in.

Even though I experienced the racial divide through countless microaggressions in the years following, like people asking if I wash my hair or if either my toothpaste or soap were, in fact, black.

It wasn’t until my high school freshman social studies class that I knew for sure that the “we’re a land of immigrants,” “everyone is equal,” was pure indoctrination.

The teacher asked us what we thought was a simple question: “Who is an American?”  The class looked around confused. We thought we all were.

That’s when our teacher shattered my illusion of what America is. She told us to imagine an onion, each layer a characteristic of “an American.”

The first layer was male. Then the layers’ list went on to include white, able-bodied and heterosexual, but it didn’t matter.

From the very beginning, it was clear that I would never fully be American. My view of America was forever changed that day.

The 2016 elections felt like déjà vu. It brought back those same feelings of disappointment and shock.

The fact that much of the country voted against their own interests to elect the 45th president as the leader of the free world was a jolt to me and shattered another piece of my reality.

The realization that the people I see on the street, in my neighborhood, even my friends, heard his hate, the racism and the vitriol, and still chose him to be the leader of the free world has made me the most cynical form of myself that’s ever existed.

There’s a constant thought in the back of my mind that the person I’m speaking to considers me an unwanted inhabitant of this country. I’m still getting used to the feeling that a friend is smiling in my face knowing that he or she voted for a man who refers to me and the people who look like me as “the black.”

These emotions are further fueled by the fact that not one of these people I’ve known my entire life have said or done anything to denounce a single member of the current administration’s racist, false or completely insane comments.

They ignore all the horrible acts committed against minorities in the name of Trump’s America. The same people who overanalyzed and degraded every move and word former President Obama made have gone mute, and I can’t help but notice.

Between the doublespeak and lies the 45th president spews and the rise in hate crimes nationally, I don’t know what to trust in anymore.

I had successfully convinced myself that I belong here. I convinced myself that any discomfort I felt was just a minor inconvenience. But that couldn’t be further than the truth.  None of what I was taught about America is true.

All of a sudden, a former nude model is a more acceptable First Lady than an Ivy League-educated attorney. It’s no longer acceptable to criticize the person occupying the Oval Office when, months ago, our president was the devil incarnate.

Nothing makes sense anymore. Blindly following misinformation and downright lies is not patriotism. It’s idiocy.

The late Malcom X once said, “You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it.” America needs to read these words now more than ever.

Most people in this country don’t even see me as a person, much less an American.

Shawna Simon is a University of Toledo alumna.

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Simon: The deception of the melting pot