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Five ways you can be a better American than the President

President Donald Trump's comments about Haitian and African immigrants seeking refuge or a better life in the United ...

Posted: Jan. 14, 2018 10:24 AM
Updated: Jan. 14, 2018 10:24 AM

President Donald Trump's comments about Haitian and African immigrants seeking refuge or a better life in the United States and his stated preference for immigrants from wealthy, European (and largely white) countries were breathtaking in their unmasked and unequivocal racism.

Those of us appalled by his comments may clutch our pearls on social media or in conversations with like-minded friends and family. But at the heart of it, the President's statements are not that different than what many of us hear at kitchen tables, water coolers and bar stools across America. Our outrage is, at least in large part, a response to the fact that it's the President saying it.

Outrage is not enough.

It's one thing to point at the words of the President and call him racist. It's quite another to look at our own actions and take responsibility for the areas where we fall short.

As we honor the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., culminating on Monday's federal holiday, and as we drift into year two of the Trump presidency, here are five things everyone can do to be better Americans than the President.

Challenge your beliefs. Racism starts in the mind. It is one result of a cesspool of accumulated and socialized beliefs and judgments about who you are and who others are based on skin color and the associations that come with it.

Everyone holds such beliefs along a continuum, regardless of whether you had a black best friend in the sixth grade or your sister is married to a black man. To challenge your beliefs, you must face them. As James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced."

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Many people try to distance themselves from their racist beliefs because they believe they are a "good person." However, racism has nothing to do with your goodness. You can still go to church on Sunday and be a racist at work on Monday, if you demean or dismiss the contributions of your black colleagues.

You must be willing to be uncomfortable if you want to do the hard work of ending racism. You must endure the heat of our own discomfort, the iciness of the fear of saying or doing the "wrong thing" or the scratchiness of annoyance in confronting a racist family member, neighbor or co-worker.

Close the minority achievement gap. The average reading score for white, fourth-grade students was 26 points higher than the average score for their black peers, according to the most recent data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress. The 26-point score gap remained unchanged from the score gap in 2013, the previous assessment year. And it was only six points narrower than the score gap in 1992. This means that after more than two decades of policies, lawsuits and funding battles, black children are still not reading at the same level as their white classmates.

A plethora of factors both inside and outside of the classroom contribute to the minority achievement gap. However, black educators I've worked with say that they are seeing the need for more mental health services for students as many minority and low-income students are showing up at the schoolhouse doors in the morning after experiencing severe trauma -- witnessing a painful or harmful incident such as abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and loss of, or separation from, a parent -- the night before.

We can work to improve the quality of life and educational attainment of students by supporting public funding for mental health professionals in schools.

End militarized policing of black and brown neighborhoods. Racism is most damaging when it comes to the use of military tactics in communities of color in the "war on drugs."

While most Americans (67%, according to Pew Research Center in 2014) prefer drug treatment over policing and prosecution, more than 800 SWAT deployments were conducted by 20 law enforcement agencies during 2011 and 2012, according to the ACLU's statistical analysis. Of those deployments, 62% were used solely to search for drugs. More than 42% of the people affected by SWAT deployment to execute search warrants were black, 12% were Latino. SWAT teams and tear gas have no place in our homes.

Vote. Mid-term elections will take place on November 6. In Congress, 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and 33 seats in the US Senate are up for grabs. Thirty-six states and three US territories will hold gubernatorial races. Many states will hold legislative races.

We have seen the impact of the strength of black voter turnout in Alabama with the election of Democrat Doug Jones to the US Senate. We must work to beat back voter suppression laws. At least 99 bills in 31 states were introduced last year to restrict access to registration and voting

Why is it important to think about how you might become more American than the President? Because: In the fetishizing of the office of the American president, we have forgotten that the three most important words in the founding of our country are "We the people." Our greatness has nothing to do with the size of our possessions, it has everything to do with the size of our hearts.

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