Real America (again)

I’m reposting this after almost a year.  Seems appropriate, considering the (very sad) state of politics these days. During campaigns, I’m always reminded of Sarah Palin’s “Real America” mantra so prevalent during the last presidential campaign. Somehow she positioned folks from the heartland as having one up on the rest of us, to which I’ve always had something of a visceral reaction (hey, I’m Real too!)

To me, that people from Middle America are what constitute “real” is a bit off base. At first, I used to wonder how could they experience REAL when their demographics make up a fairly homogenous group of people who may not have been to an inner city, or a diverse environment laden with all the folks they claim to hate. It’s easy to hate that with which you’re not familiar.

I checked online: the Mirriam Webster dictionary’s definition of “real” is: a : not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory : genuine <real gold>; also : being precisely what the name implies <a real professional

What is scary or unknown can be considered unreal – how can we have connection to something if we don’t have any concept of it?  What if it’s not like us?  It gets labeled as a threat (to fear), or worse, becomes totally ignored.  I often wonder how humans have become so woefully wonderful at de-humanizing each other.  Easier to deal with I suppose, to make what’s not like us become the enemy. Then we don’t have to deal with it on a deeply emotional or practical level, and can just throw it away (but where is away?)

This objectification of “bad” allows us to not take responsibility for our own behavior.  It gives us permission to ignore our own contribution to the negativity and to create an ongoing cycle of intolerance, overreaction, and retribution.

So Sarah Palin’s version of Americans may be PART of “Real” America, which I believe is much broader and more diverse in scope.  To me, Real America is inclusive of those who seem “different” – all those gays, lesbians, and transgenders, our Black (+ White) President, Arab-Americans and Muslims, different colors, races, religions, behaviors, the poor, the rich, and our shrinking middle class.  It is made up of people who have different opinions, look different, live in different parts of the country.  It is our “melting” pot of history and the tradition of so many cultures that used to be what made this country so unique.

In fact, maybe “Real” America is the inner city, the outer city, the suburbs, our rural communities and everything in between.  “Real” includes our prisoners (who we like to throw away behind bars) but most of whom will come back to our streets.  It is our police officers, and fire fighters, and politicians, and all of our citizens.  It is the collective.  One type of person or place does not make for real  – all of us do.

Instead of the labels, I wonder what might happen if we replaced suspicion with curiosity, and our hoarding mentality with generosity towards others?  What if we embraced our differences rather than belittled them?

What if we found our compassion, humanity and power again in the strength of community and citizenship rather than “us” against “them”?  What if we stop depending on our leaders to lead us, and led ourselves through an acceptance and celebration of diversity and action?

What if we didn’t try to change others’ beliefs, but focused on cultivating our experiences to be more worldly through open examination and allowed people’s experiences to inform their beliefs rather than have others dictate their advice to us?

What if we accepted that constant change is the nature of things?

What if let our acts of kindness and care define us rather than our stuff?

All of our America is rich and full of diversity.  That is what makes it “real,” at least for me. And I continue to want to find ways to pull us together, not apart.

Addendum:  It’s possible that “Real America” is what exists inside the “Trash Fence” at Black Rock City. But I’ll save that topic for another post… ;-)

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. More than 8 years ago, I founded and continue to manage the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin Prison, a rehabilitative organic gardening program designed to re-connect men to themselves, their communities, and the natural environment. Building on that work and my experience in communications and organizational consulting, I plan to help transform people, communities and organizations (outside the prison industrial complex) through connection to the natural world... To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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One Response to Real America (again)

  1. I greatly appreciate your ideas, and wish that there were politicians who shared them. Luckily there are individuals who do.

    Don’t worry about Palin or others who refer to citizens of the plains states as “the real Americans.” They say such things because maps of political party affiliation show that progressives, liberals, and other left-leaners tend to live near the coasts, often in densely populated areas. Several hundred miles inland the population becomes more conservative and more sparse. A Republican speaking to the people of Kansas as “the real Americans” is little more than a feeble bonding experence for a politician, just as if a Democrat were to say that to the people of San Francisco or New York. As an independent progressive I recognized a long time ago that “the real Americans” might be best defined as the Native Americans that we all displaced a couple of centuries ago, but no politician would ever say that. The simple fact is that we are all real Americans now, and that fact should propel us to work together to achieve common goals such as happiness and health. Instead we focus on our differences and work in cliques to achieve profit and accumulate signs of wealth. The competitive nature of our consumerist culture impedes our ability to work collaboratively in our common interest. Happily there are individual Americans who both reject the dogma and work within it to better the lives of those around them. Thanks for being one of those people.

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