I am 32 years old.
born in California 1983.
born to immigrant parents. Arab. Muslim. escaping war.
32 years as an American.
32 years of that honor and distinction.
of dancing around the world with the most valuable passport in human history.
32 years of watching this experiment fail and collapse into itself.
I remember the Berlin Wall. watching it fall on television. Peter Jennings reporting.
I remember joy wrapping the world so tight no one could breathe.
we won. love won. unity won. openness won. democracy won.
the narrative was convenient.
America spent its century both freeing and dominating the world.
freeing. torturing. humiliating its own.
what was the civil rights movement if not a fight for basic dignity?
what was Vietnam if not abuse?
and America survived both with minimal adaptation.
an empire of systems. always acting to preserve those systems.
whether breeding right-wing assassins to destroy civil rights leaders or to pretend that you, as a citizen, are heard.
the collapse of the Berlin Wall, of the USSR, became propaganda to keep this network functioning.
we won. we’re still here. we run the world.
and three years later Rodney King is beaten mercilessly by police. it’s recorded. the police are tried and found Not Guilty.
and LA burns. and I am too young to understand why. to understand what it means.
and nothing changes. the systems function through it all as they always do.
America’s platinum respirator.
over 20 years since then.
people that look like me, talk like me, have parents like mine are ripped apart halfway across the world by America’s nihilistic shadow.
over 20 years since and Americans darker than me are exterminated en masse by a system that has become too efficient at maintaining the status quo.
that’s probably its only fault: it works too well.
when the extremist right disproportionately controls America’s governments…
when the choice of President comes down to a hawkish neoliberal willing to endorse the extermination of Arabs on behalf of Israel and a megalomaniacal tyrant that cannot discuss anything beyond a second-grade reading level…
when black Americans can be gunned down, broken, stomped on, have it all recorded, broadcast, and have nothing change…
that is America’s empire of systems working too well.
and that’s the sick genius of it.
this kind of oppression has no symbol. no joints.
it is a titanic sea of ghost limbs heaving in the dark.
you might be able to see it with the right kind of eyes, but it’s not like before.
it’s careful. quiet. thick. flaccid.
it’s not black students blasted with a fire hose in small-town America.
it’s not Kent State.
it’s not police tanks.
it’s Fox News, casual racism, microaggressions, the necessity to listen to what the Nazis have to say in pursuit of some theoretical objectivity.
America can handle a riot or 10.
it’s done it before when it was much less sophisticated.
and I don’t know what the solution is.
I don’t know what I can even say that other, better, people haven’t already and I don’t need to add commentary to the overwhelming body of recorded, state-sanctioned violence.
I can only say that America is the most complex mask ever invented.
the face you see depends on who you are, where you’re from, who you know, how you look, how you got here.
and in 2016 all I can be sure of is the glistening furnace staring down the end of us, sweating with anticipation like so many cops stuck in their fearful fever dreams of violent heroism.
welcome to the land of Don Quixote.