Subtext 2012: What is America to Me?

By |2012-05-17T09:00:00-04:00May 17th, 2012|Opinions|


Now that we officially “know” who the two candidates will be on this November’s presidential ballot, it looks likes the games have officially begun – well, according to the media. But for those of us living with the inequities and injustices of a society steeped in racism, homophobia and a good measure of xenophobia, the race has really never ended.
The question IS not democrats vs. republicans, or even Obama vs. Romney, but what kind of country/society do we want to have and leave as a legacy for our children? This is a question I have raised again and again in the past, yet it still bears repeating, especially today when I see too many friends, allies and progressives sleepwalking through this election cycle.
You probably have heard or seen it as well – people who have watched the GOP melodrama of candidates jockeying to be front-runner, being the party flavor of the month only to crash and burn, and leaving Mitt Romney in the position he has held right from the beginning, despite the misgivings of many conservatives.
The Bachman, Perry, Caine, Gingrich and Santorum side-show may have been amusingly fruitless as far as the selection of the candidate, but throughout this long drawn-out process, the extreme right was able to keep the conversation going much longer than anyone anticipated.
This is a fact that cannot be overlooked or taken lightly. Those who would attack women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, immigration rights, labor and turn back the hands of time to a less tolerant, less inclusive era, have been able to mobilize their base, getting them to polls and caucuses to keep their divisive agenda, not only in play politically, but in the daily conversations across the country proselytizing to swing voters moved more by fear than logic.
To be fair our side hasn’t been sitting on our hands, watching “Dancing With the Stars” and doing nothing. We may not have had a heated primary season like 2008, where the prospect of a Clinton or Obama presidency offered the promise of a change we could believe in, but we have witnessed and been a part of change.
Even though this administration banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the Federal government, we still don’t have the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) and despite evolving on marriage DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996, remains on the books.
Foregoing the litany of gay appointments, there has been progress under the Obama administration.
We’ve celebrated the end of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell”, and the passing of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
There was change we definitely could believe in – benefits were extended to same-sex partners of Federal employees; hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicare funds were required to allow LGBT visitation rights; the United States refusal to sign the United Nations declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was reversed; the ban on HIV entry was lifted and partners of same-sex foreign service employees were issued diplomatic passports and provided benefits.
All the heavy lifting didn’t take place just inside the “Beltway.” Since 2008 Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, New York, Washington DC and most recently Maryland have embraced marriage equality. And after a crushing defeat in California, LGBT families were given new hope when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared Prop 8 unconstitutional.
It hasn’t been just on LGBT issues where there has been progress.
Outraged by the growing awareness of youth suicides, musicians, actors, politicians, teachers and every day people stood shoulder to shoulder demanding an end to bullying, declaring “It gets better!” and adopting Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way” as our anthem for acceptance, inclusion and an end to the hate.
Across the country the “Occupy Wall Street” movement brought communities together to focus attention on the issues of social and economic inequality. We all – gay, straight, brown, white, black – were the 99 percent.
These past three years has placed each of us smack in the middle of the intersections of social justice and LGBT equality destined to sink or swim together as we continue this struggle to define what direction this country will take in the years ahead.
I was reminded of a song I heard during the sixties when our country was going through another tumultuous period of great change. I wasn’t paying much attention but I remembered one line – “What is America to me?” I didn’t remember the name only that line.
Turns out it (The House I Live In) was written by a Jewish poet/song writer Abel Meeropol, who because of anti-Semitism, published under the name of Lewis Allan. He also wrote the anti-lynching poem “Strange Fruit.”
It was recorded in 1947, by Paul Robeson, an African American concert singer, recording artist, actor, athlete, and scholar. He was an icon of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1964, Sinatra with a few revisions recorded it.
“What is America to me?
A name, a map or a flag I see,
A certain word, “Democracy”,
What is America to me?
The house I live in,
A plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher, and the people that I meet;
The children in the playground, The faces that I see,
All races and religions,
That’s America to me.”
The lyrics ring true even today in this house, America, we live in. The question remains “What is America to US?”

About the Author:

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her blog radio podcast “Collections By Michelle Brown” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. Current and archived episodes can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at