This IS America

If you like to play on the lake you probably keep your gear in a water tight container in case it falls into the drink. We like to protect our stuff.

In the dinosaur days of photography, I developed my own film in a dark room constructed to be light tight. We like to protect our images.

After more than six decades lived absorbing, assimilating, criticizing and ultimately acquiescing to the culture in which I swim, I’ve accumulated plenty of stuff and developed an image of America that is culture tight. We like to protect our own bubble.

Last night my gear fell into the water, my pictures were ruined and my cultural bubble burst and splattered all over me.

By accident of birth I’ve lived in the American experiment all my life. I am happy to live in this country, rather than in many others. If it’s a privilege, I freely admit I did nothing to earn it.

Raised in the north, I’ve lived my adult life in the south and have always felt like the irritating grain of sand in the oyster that eventually suffocates in the secretions emitted to coat the irritation. I’m still not southern and few would call me a pearl.

Regional, cultural differences blossom in this country, but that’s part of what makes it beautiful. It’s what gets us in the car to see things unfamiliar. We can eat ethnic food anywhere, drive through coal country, cattle country, mining country, prairies, mountains or deserts and say, “This is America.”

We can see the world’s largest twine ball, or Mount Rushmore, or Hoover Dam, or China Town or the Bronx and say, “This is America.”

We can rejoice in our differences, our diversity, in our inclusiveness, in our historic open arms, in our different houses of worship, accents, or food choices and say, “This is America.”

But now, after every horrific massacre, school shooting, hate crime, mass murder of gays and Jews, and shootings of unarmed black men, some microphone jockey will urge us to stay calm and not despair because “this isn’t America.”

How many times can you say “this isn’t cancer” before you admit that seeping, bleeding scab on your forehead really is cancer and its ugly and you need to do something about it?

I’ve come to the horrible realization that this IS America.

What was a silent, deadly undertow of distrust, prejudice, economic superiority, income polarization, selfish nationalistic identity and hate of “other” has become the tsunami that is washing our nation into the sea.

I’ve felt it for some time, but I was forced to admit it Monday night (Oct. 29) when I sat among many hundreds of Winston-Salem citizens gathered in vigil at Temple Emanuel in mutual support of our Jewish neighbors following another massacre by a middle aged white man. This one over hatred of Jews.

It’s always hatred of something “other” isn’t it, someone who is not like me, someone who threatens to come and get something I think is rightfully mine, and only mine.

The synagogue last night was filled with “other.” Other faiths, colors, genders, styles, languages. It’s a beautiful thing to participate in an atmosphere like that, bound tangentially to each other by common concern.

Thoughtful, sincere speakers who did not look like me opened my eyes to the level of discrimination prevalent in this country. I thought Jews were being hyper-sensitive to feel anti-Semitism everywhere; that we’d made big progress in black-white relations; that LGBTQ persons were finding it easier to live who they are.


This was not a political rally but neither speakers nor participants tried to gloss over their conviction that the tiny hand pulling back the curtain on America’s pervasive prejudice belongs to the president. Any reference to his divisive rhetoric that waves the permission stick over our innate hates and prejudices drew loud applause.

We were not alone. Per PRRI’s 2018 American Values Survey, 54 percent of Americans believe the president’s decisions and behavior encourage white supremacist groups.

Although those in the room were nearly universal in their perception, we still wonder, of course, “What can we do?” Resoundingly, we were encouraged to vote!

And be kind. Be wise. Don’t let those win who incite fear to keep us apart, to keep us leery of “the other.”

And don’t despair or this brief era actually will become the new definition of America.

God forbid.



5 thoughts on “This IS America

  1. Oh my gosh Norman… Your words helped put what I have felt right in front of me 🤔 😶 !
    I have never read up on political persons so much in my life! I hope to vote for the ones that can help us heal.


  2. Norm,
    I am still participating in the Tuesday morning Bible Study that you and I used to share together. In September, one of the challenges in the lesson was to go to a public place, sit and watch the people, select people in need of a prayer, and pray for them. Later that week, I had to be on campus at NC State University. I decided that would be a good place and time to follow up on the challenge. I got some Howling Cow ice cream (Wolf Tracks flavor) and went to sit on the iconic Brickyard. My first impression was that I felt very old as my white hair stuck out like a sore thumb among the young students. I watched people for a while and did not see anyone especially in obvious need of prayer. However, what attracted my attention was the diversity of the student population. They were from every place imaginable. They represented all races and ethnic groups and many, many countries. I suspected they represented all sexual orientations. I easily imagined they represented all religions. I marveled at the diversity. My prayer was that we all live in peace and harmony on campus, in NC, in the USA, and around the world! As you noted, that prayer was needed then and now. I continue to pray for that harmony. God Bless us Everyone!
    ps–I would easily accept you now as Southern despite your Northern roots!!


  3. My husband and I both loved your column this morning. We also attended the vigil and found it very moving. We moved here two years ago and we enjoy so many things about this area, just one of which is being a part of interfaith events such as that one. I’m happy to say we’ve met many friends who choose to spread love, acceptance and hope to combat the negative thoughts and actions around us. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and important words!


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