Those who are worried about terrorism should be able to express that worry without being branded an Islamophobe. Those who view America’s seismic demographic changes and massive influx of immigrants with anxiety should be able to express that anxiety without being branded a racist. Transformational population change is dislocating, and diversity has costs. But we’ve been through this before. Over and over, throughout American history, waves of new immigrants have come to our shores, always met with suspicion and fear that the nation’s character will be endangered, its streets made unsafe, its values lost. Every time, we’ve overcome this fear, prospered, and grown stronger.
With every wave of immigration in the past, American freedom and openness have triumphed. Will we, telling ourselves “These immigrants are different,” be the weak link, the first generation to fail? Will we forget who we are?
At the same time, those committed to exposing the grotesque injustices of America’s past and present— they are right too, and doing us all a service. No country can be great if it can’t be honest, and America, in particular, with its resounding constitutional principles, needs to be held to its own standards or fall under the weight of hypocrisy. But other generations seeking justice have done so for the promise of America. Even as James Baldwin lacerated the “collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes,” he made clear that his dream was to “achieve our country,” “to make America what America must become,” for “great men have done great things here, and will again.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that African Americans sitting at whites-only lunch counters were “standing up for the best in the American dream.”