Half Past the Month: ‘I Am an American’ — Sort of

April 19, 2017

EACH YEAR the suits in the window offices of the corporate media think up socially aggrandizing projects to justify annual bonuses. It is a gruesome ordeal for all involved.

The reporters take the brunt of it. They are sent on bizarre assignments, the points of which are known only to the senior editors who wrote up the formal bonus paperwork and are depending on a good outcome to pay for their swimming pools. And there is the hapless readership, including parents left to explain to their children why their newspaper is giving away especially colored prophylactics as its way of observing LGBT National History Month (to pick an example from random memory).

Last Sunday, the Indianapolis Star began such a project with help from its partners at USA Today and Gannett — or at least that is a good guess. It is called “I am an American; We Are One Nation.” Each week, the newspaper will introduce its readers to “an exceptional American who unites, rather than divides, our communities.”

In these troubled times, who wouldn’t want more of that? Give the managing editor his bonus in advance. Let’s read about the Harlem chess champion, the surgeon who spends summers volunteering in Uganda, the one-armed paper hanger, or whatever.

But wait . . . the initial installment is, well, less than uniting. The editors presented as their first “American” someone out of the Barack Obama playbook, an overeducated former social worker, now community activist, with a masters degree in we know not what.

She tells the newspaper that she became a community activist on observing that a six-year-old boy was growing up without a functional family. OK, good enough, commendable of course, but this revelation comes 54 years after “The Moynihan Report” and 42 years after Thomas Sowell’s “Race and Economics” and 33 years after Charles Murray’s “Losing Ground.”

Nor does her solution broach any of the intractable problems identified in those works, namely the unattended consequences of welfare, the destruction of the black family and the broad cultural disincentives to find work or build a family. Rather, she recommends poetry.

“Today, she is working to foster honest dialogue across racial, religious, gender identity, ethnic and socioeconomic differences,” enthuses the Star. “Her organization began as an artistic space that brought spoken-word poetry into local churches to open conversation about issues. The group holds multiple monthly gatherings, from book discussions to larger events.”

Her politics aside, who wouldn’t wish her luck with that? It is a matter of pride that we live in a country wealthy enough to afford payment for such work. The misgiving, though, begins when our poetry facilitator is asked the critical question, that is, what it means for her to be an American. Here is her answer in full:

“It means, for me, living in a space that is still learning to love, and to even love who I am. And it means loving it enough back to expect more of it.”

Gannett might hold the bonuses. Expectations for “I am an American; We Are One Nation” are not high.

— Craig Ladwig


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