This was a reply I wrote to a Facebook friend in response to his post about My fellow white Americans. | I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog. Since he has a public Facebook account, you can access the discussion directly if you're interested, but please do be polite. We do not believe in Mob Action here. This is a place for Individuals of Integrity.
I'm pretty proud of this reply so that's why I'm capturing it on my own blog. I'm pretty sure he'll say I missed his point. Maybe I did. I still like what I wrote.
It's interesting that what you associate with personal responsibility, victim-blame, is completely different than what I associate with personal responsibility.
To me it means this: I am responsible for my actions and the content of my character. No one else's actions speak for me. And none of my actions speak for anyone else. I am part of no collective.
Easy or not we, as humans, each start out with some condition and we do our best from there. I don't think anyone truly has it easy. Some people are blessed with material well-being and get everything handed to them... the unlucky in that set also lack purpose in their lives. Maybe the absence struggle made them weak. I don't know. What I do know is that I don't take for granted that anyone had it easy and I admire people who do the best with what they have.
In a framework of personal responsibility, what matters is that you decide for yourself what your idea of being a good person is and you do your level best to deliver. It is your own job to be the steward of your character, no matter how shitty your circumstances. That's what personal responsibility is to me. And it doesn't mean you always have to be happy... it just means you give it all you've got.
Now... the person who wrote that article clearly hates America and thinks that it stands for racism and sexism and all that stuff. And yes, sure, these have been a part of the history of the United States but it is not in the **essential ethos** of the United States, which is spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
Consider this... at the time of the writing of the Declaration, women didn't have the vote and black people were slaves. Some people consider this to be evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the United States and clear signs of the hypocrisy of the "founding fathers". Sure, you could look at it like that.
But what I see is that the essential ethos of America, spelled out in the Declaration, projected forward beyond their present state in universal terms: all humans equal in the eyes of the law endowed with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The clarity of that vision was so forward-thinking that not a single word of it has to be changed in order to remain consistent with women being able to vote and the abolishment of slavery and equal treatment of gays by the law.
So, yes, America's history includes ugly acts. Are they America's essence?
I say no.
As it happens, I also think that the solution for racism and sexism and any other kind of irrationality has to be individual in nature. So if personal responsibility isn't part of it, I don't think there's a way.