By Angelica Beneke
Special to the Chronicle
In August, two events that defined America occurred: the white nationalist protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-white nationalist protester 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed. On top of this, Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas Gulf Coast, most notably the Houston metropolitan area. The area experienced severe flooding, winds and tornadoes, affecting homes and businesses in areas already prone to flooding and causing gas prices to skyrocket as many tried to flee the devastation.
These events are worth noting together because they have one thing in common: people on social media saying, “This is what America looks like. This is who we really are.” What’s bothersome about this sentiment when it comes to Harvey? They used the local, state and national responses to the devastation of Harvey to say America doesn’t have a racism problem. Look at all these religions, races and creeds coming together! Racism isn’t who we are!
But the first step to fixing a problem isn’t shoving it under a rug and pretending it doesn’t apply to you. What happened in Charlottesville is indeed America. From the murder of indigenous peoples by the colonists, to the forced removal and labor of black people from Africa, to the internment camps of the Native Americans, Filipinos, Japanese and Peruvians and to the present-day police violence against and murder of people of color, such as Renee Davis, Anthony Antonio Ford and Tommy Lee, racism has always been part of the American identity.
And yes, there are several government programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher program, Affirmative Action and the large number of scholarships designed to help people of color. But, they are far from enough, as Charlottesville has shown us.
What’s happening in Houston, one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country, though? That’s also America. In fact, it’s what the American people should strive to be. People should strive to not wait around for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when natural disaster strikes their neighbors.
People should strive to not close themselves off and hoard all they have and don’t need when their fellow citizens lose everything. People should strive to not sit around and determine whether others are worthy of help, especially not on the basis of age, sex, race, immigration status, orientation, relationship status or religion or creed.
People should strive to not sit back and say, “My tax dollars will take care of it. I don’t have to do anything else.” People should act when others need help.
I’m not saying that Houston’s recovery efforts are perfect or that every individual is an ideologically pure saint. If they were, people wouldn’t post signs on their doors or mailboxes saying they’ll shoot looters if they’re on their property. As a born-and-bred Houstonian, I can attest that these people aren’t joking around. But the overwhelming consensus to help others no matter who they are, to listen to what they need and to act on it without waiting for government aid? That’s something to take note of and aspire to.
Don’t wait for another natural disaster and use it as an excuse to help people. Reach out and help someone right now. Listen carefully to what they need, act on those needs. Learn from the city of Houston, Texas. And be what America should be.
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