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Whose America Is This?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 17/03/2016 Mark Gerzon
CHRIS ROCK THE OSCARS © ABC CHRIS ROCK THE OSCARS

"This is not my land."

The man who said this a few weeks ago is born and bred in America, a megastar, a multimillionaire, and a household name to most Americans and his legions of fans around the world. I have spent more time listening to and watching him on television than I have to some of my own relatives. SO when would this famous man say that the United States of America is "not my land?"
The fact that comedian Chris Rock, who hosted this year's Academy Awards, would make this statement raises an even deeper question. Who actually thinks that America belongs to them? Whose America is this?

Blacks like Chris Rock will say that America is not their land because they still feel like second-rate citizens. As Chris Rock told his Essence magazine interviewer, Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabella Wilkerson, wealth and fame have not changed the color of his skin. He is still stopped often by police, for no other reason than he is a black driving an expensive car.

Other minorities, Latino and Asian being the largest, also feel the country does not belong to them. They are still perceived as just that -- "minorities." And even as the percentage of nonwhites grows beyond fifty percent, people of color still feel that they are perceived, and often treated, as if they are interlopers in a nation of European descent.

Many women also often feel disenfranchised in the "patriarchal" nation of America. Even though they won the vote generations ago, the power structure is not gender neutral. From corporate boards to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from the gridiron to the Oval Office, men rule the roost. This may be changing, but not fast enough.

Although it goes without saying, the LGBTQ community does not feel America belongs to them. The victories of the gay rights movement are too recent, and still too fragile, to have erased generations of discrimination, invisibility and violence. They know American politics and culture is still predominantly in heterosexual hands.

Neither the 99 percent nor the 1 percent, for different reasons, feel they own America. As Bernie Sanders has repeatedly hammered home, the 99 percent have been so impoverished while the top 1 percent have been enriched that they feel the country's assets have been stolen from them. Meanwhile, the 1 percent understand math well enough to know that, no matter much money they have to throw around, they cannot out-vote or out-march or out-fox the overwhelming majority of Americans.

But what about the classic elite: white heterosexual men? Don't they feel that America is their land?

According to many polls and new longevity research, white men also feel disenfranchised and disempowered. The surge of working class white men who support Donald Trump are gravitating to his slogan "Make America great again" because they feel "their" America has been lost. The wound of Obama in the White House will be healed, they hope, when it's occupied by a "good ole boy" once again. As their thunderous applause for Trump's promise to "build a wall" indicates, many of them feel that the country that once belonged to them is in danger of being taken over by outsiders. Many of them feel that the gains of racial minorities, women, gays and other once marginalized groups equal their loss.

So is it possible, then, that no group feels confident that America belongs to them?

While that may seem to be a strange proposition to consider, it actually makes sense historically. This land, in fact, does not belong to any of the above groups. White or black, Latino or Asian, gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female -- none were the original "owners" of this continent. We all colluded in taking it from those who had tended the land for millennia.

Native Americans, as we now call them, are actually the only ones who have a legitimate claim to this vast continent that majestically spans from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So Chris Rock is not being "unpatriotic" when he utters the truth with his customary candor. He is right: this is not "his land." But what needs to be added: it's not yours or mine either. And, no matter how much real estate he owns, it's certainly not Donald Trump's.

We are all visitors here. It's time we admit it, bow in gratitude for the privilege of living on Turtle Island, and humbly ask how, together with its original inhabitants, we can care better for each other -- and for our common home.

Mark Gerzon, President of Mediators Foundation, is the author of The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide.

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