As you may have heard, artist Mary Engelbreit has become the center of a firestorm of controversy this week for a piece of art she created to benefit the Michael Brown, Jr. Memorial Fund. The art, visible at this link to an "artnet news" story on the controversy, depicts a child in his mother's lap; a single tear courses down the mother's face as they gaze at a newspaper headline from "Everywhere, U.S.A." reading "Hands up! Don't Shoot!" The little boy's hands are raised. Engelbreit's caption reads "No one should have to teach their children this in the U.S.A."
I believe in aspiration. I routinely encounter history students who are comprehensively distressed by the many misdeeds of the American past. I tell them this: American history is littered, from its origins to the present, with racism and injustice. We've done terrible things, and we need to understand what we've done as a foundation for living better into the future. What we do have, though, is a set of founding documents that have been expanded over time to mean way, WAY more than our Founding Fathers could ever have dreamed. Their expansive language of liberty and justice has been successfully employed to fight for the rights of those they enslaved, and those they refused to let vote or hold property. It continues to animate our better angels to advocate for continued progress toward a path to justice and equality that Does. Not. Yet. Exist. And guess what? They're Americans, gifted with this legacy. It's their -- our -- job to continue the quest.
They look a little shell shocked sometimes, but I think it's good for them.
We can do better. We should do better. We have been granted an incredible legacy that should empower us to do better. Engelbreit's right. No child should ever have to learn this lesson, and no mother should face the pain of teaching it.
Patriotism should always come with a to-do list. In that spirit: