I’m not breaking up with you, but I need some space.
We’ve been together for a long time now, almost 22 years. We’ve certainly had some good times, and I would not be the person I am today without you. I’m outspoken, I’m expressive, I’m courageous, and I’m passionate about the rights of people. I’m exactly the woman you want, USA. But I wouldn’t be writing this letter if I didn’t feel like you’ve burned me.
I think it all started when I was in Kindergarten. I remember pledging allegiance to you everyday before class started. We learned about how we were the land of the free, the home of the brave. As I got older, we learned about how you came to be the independent nation you are today, the great egalitarian principles you decided to uphold, and how your influence over others grew and grew. You even branded it: “Manifest Destiny”…
You became so beautiful to me. I loved you. Throughout my early schooling years, I not only believed you were the best nation in the world, but I was under the impression you were the only nation worth living in. I truly did believe all other nations were poor because they were not as prosperous as we were. And I really did think that we were the only democratic government in the world, the only nation gracious enough to allow people of all races and backgrounds to happily mix– the “melting pot,” and the only place you could genuinely have freedom and equality. I even thought that all other nations in the world envied us because they wished they could be as great as we were. I was so proud to be an American.
It wasn’t until later I began to realize I was not only naive, but completely wrong.
As I got older and read beyond what the schools were teaching me, I learned that my impressions of you were so skewed. What my teachers had been feeding me was propaganda. Perhaps they were just trying to paint you in a desirable light, but they managed to paint completely over your ugliest parts. Your many, many ugly parts… I wasn’t getting the full picture of you from the very start. For the longest time, I didn’t even know there was anything ugly about you to speak of.
First I learned we weren’t the only democratic nation in the world, there are plenty more. And we aren’t the only rich country, there are many great, prosperous places to live. Then I learned we aren’t the only nation to have diversity. There are plenty of places with diverse peoples. Not only that, but you give the impression that our diversity was created by your open graciousness, when in reality you drove away an entire race of peoples so that you could build yourself up off the backs of a different enslaved race of peoples you shipped over. Later your people waged war on each other, you almost divided yourself because so many people wanted to continue slavery. You didn’t allow black people or women to vote until long after your establishment based on freedom and equality. Then you began to wage wars on other nations for not holding the same beliefs as us… Yet you said you tolerated all beliefs when your founders wrote in the First Amendment allowing the freedom of religion. You put Japanese people in internment camps on our soil while at the same time condemning the German Nazis for doing the same thing to Jewish people.
But we were taught that just because something happened doesn’t mean you should talk about it.
And then I began to learn where you really stand in comparison to the rest of the world…
You are not a democracy.
You proudly boast that you’re a democracy and every vote counts. Yet in reality, you allow the richest of the rich to buy out the votes and leave the rest of us to count as a near-zero, statistically non-significant vote each (1). By virtue of their extreme wealth, about 400 men run the US (2). Unless you are in the top .0001% of the US, you have virtually no impact on public policy. Why should I even bother to vote when my input virtually doesn’t matter? I don’t have enough money for you to care about what I want.
You have the most people with no health care, and the highest healthcare costs.
With nearly 50 million people without health insurance in 2010, you’re the only wealthy, industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have a universal health care system (3).
You have some of the best health care in the world yet you only allow people to have it if they can foot the tremendous cost. Here people must decide what’s less painful– suffering through their health issues or suffering through the costs of their health care. Some people have to give up everything they have just to stay alive.
My family has suffered through the costs of healthcare. And from them I learned to only use our healthcare system when I’m in very serious need. I have skipped out on going to the hospital and the doctors when I knew I should have gone, but didn’t because I couldn’t afford it.
You have the highest obesity rate.
The US tops the list in highest obesity rate. More than a third of the country is obese (4). This could be the result of many American issues– poor portion control, food excess, unnatural additives to food for preservation, poor health education. One in four children in the US is now considered obese. And $147 billion is spent a year treating obesity.
Yet you shame fat. Your media makes it a mission to idolize those with no body fat. You plump people up, and then you make them feel terrible about themselves. When I was younger I experienced this. I was heavier, not even obese, and everyday I was self-conscious and ashamed. Your media and culture assured this. What quality of life is that?
You have more prisons than colleges. You have the highest incarceration rate.
For every 100,000 American citizens, 714 of them are in prison (5). There are more than 5,000 jails and prisons in the US, and about 4,600 degree-granting colleges and universities in the US (6). There are so many people incarcerated that prisoners outnumber college students (7). How can you say you’re free and just when you’re punishing more people than you’re educating?
You tear families apart by imprisoning so many. You take away so many people’s lives over petty crimes. Over 50% of inmates in federal prison are there for drug offenses (8).
You put a dear friend of mine in prison for seven months. You put him there for attempt to possess a controlled substance (marijuana) over 35 grams. He was caught because the partner he was drug dealing with was shot and killed in the driver’s seat of the car they were in, in an attempt to steal their drugs. My friend was right next to him. As if watching his friend’s entire life be taken away in an instant wasn’t enough punishment, you took seven months of his life away. I cried a long time when I found out. He spent the first 36 days of his sentence in solitary confinement, not because you put him there but so he could avoid any possibility of being put in the same cell as the murderers of his friend.
Writing back and forth to my friend while he was in prison was hard enough, I can only imagine what it was like being in there. He said the guards often treated him terribly. They called him names no matter how polite he was to them. Somehow he got through it all. I hope that never happens to anyone I know ever again. But with the system you’re running, chances are it will happen again.
You spend more on the military than anyone in the world.
You spent $640 billion on military expenditures in 2013 (9). The second highest spender was China, with $188 billion. No one even comes close to touching you in this department. It’s quite ironic that you are a world power that convinces its people that we are to bring democracy, freedom, and peace to others with billions of dollars in weaponry and maliciously calculated tactic.
Not only do you spend more than anyone on military, but you spend more on military than on almost anything else. In 2011, you spent 17% of our money on military programs (10). You were however kind enough to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to spend 23% of our federal funding. That was nice of you. But since you’ve spent so much on military, there’s less leftover for more important things– like education. The Department of Education spent only 2% of our funds in 2011. It’s no wonder so many kids want to join the military– that’s where the money is.
Have you considered that perhaps if you allotted more money to education, we wouldn’t have to spend so much money on the military? Because if you’re practically educating kids on the principles you claim to stand for– equality, justice, liberty– they wouldn’t see the necessity of war as their parents and grandparents do. Perhaps they would understand the world the way I do– we’re all humans, and nobody deserves to be violently coerced by their fellow human, no matter the ideas for which each one stands.
Did you really learn nothing from the Vietnam War? You lost a war you had no business fighting. War only hurts. It does not help. The pure motivation of war is the dissemination of ideas, and how are you to accomplish that when you’re forcing it onto people, destroying the same people you want to persuade? The more you fight, the more you dig yourself into a hole of hatred from which you cannot climb out. A 2013 Gallup International survey said that people saw the US as the greatest threat to world peace. Triple the amount of people who said the same about Pakistan, and four times the amount of China. I fear that if you continue on this path of destruction, you will bring about your own demise.
You have the most guns and the most gun deaths.
The truth is, we don’t even know how many guns we actually have because there’s no mandatory gun registration here. However in 2014, the US had the most guns in the world with an estimated 90 guns per 100 residents in the US (11). That’s 50% more firearms per capita than the next two highest gun nations, Serbia and Yemen.
And you certainly have more gun deaths than any other nation. For every 100,000 people, there are 10.2 firearm-related deaths (12). Your people are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people from another developed country (13).
Many of your people say that you gave them the rights to these guns for self-defense. While your founders endowed this in script, they meant it to be as a protection from you. Now each time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, a gun is used 11 times for a completed or attempted homicide, 7 times for a criminal assault or homicide, and 4 times in an unintentional shooting death or injury (14). Must 23 innocent people really die or be injured to defend one person? I hardly think your fathers believed 23 people must suffer at the expense of one life saved.
We’ve also had a growing problem with police violence. Because you love guns so very much, many police can get away with murder because of their position in society and our liberal excusal for use of guns. We don’t even have statistics available to know how many people have been killed by police.
There are guns all over our media, in our TV programs, in our movies, in our video games. It’s impossible to escape the gun culture. You spur it on, you encourage it. I’m afraid of it. My worst nightmares have guns. When I’m out in public, I’m always looking over my shoulder, looking at people’s waistband, looking at cop’s holsters. In an instant lives could be over, and I have no choice but to share space with these weapons.
How have we banned books and Kinder eggs but not banned guns?
You have one of the worst murder rates.
In 2012, 4.7 people were murdered for every 100,000 people. Of developed nations, only Brazil, Estonia, Mexico, and Russia had higher murder rates (15). Not to mention 67% of American murders are gun-related.
You have some of the greatest income inequality.
In 2009, the poorest 47% of Americans had no wealth. As in, absolutely nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets. Whereas the richest 20% of the US owns 93% of the country (16).
We also have some of the lowest social mobility. Americans have a 47% chance of being stuck in the same economic class as their parents. Nearly half of all your people will have nothing and nearly half of your people will also gain nothing. How equitable.
When the Great Recession hit in 2007, it hit my family hard– just as it did for many of your families. Jobs were lost; we had to make serious cutbacks. Nothing is different nowadays. Politicians like to talk about how you’ve recovered well since then, but the truth is only the wealthiest recovered. Since the recession ended, for every dollar earned by a family in the bottom 90%, a family in the top 0.01% earns nearly $1,000 (17). The middle class has disappeared.
You have a very high poverty rate.
Half of Americans qualify as impoverished or low income (18). Half.
You also have the greatest number of children in poverty.
You have the second highest carbon emissions, and the most politicians denying climate change.
Just behind China, you are responsible for 14.69% of carbon dioxide emissions (19). Yet 1 in 15 Americans still deny climate change (20). These Americans who deny climate change have a strong tendency to be Republican and/or religious. While 97% of scientists agree that man-made climate change is happening, these people continue to ignore these facts– which are a threat to the survival of the human race (21). We will not survive unless we change our ways.
You discriminate heavily when it comes to religion.
Your First Amendment includes the freedom of religion. But there is no doubt that you favor Christianity. You cannot pick up American money without reading the words “In God We Trust.” Our pledge to you includes the word “Under God.” Disturbingly, most Americans would rather knowingly vote in a president that committed adultery (a sin, I might add), than vote in an atheist president (22).
As a result of this religious favoritism, other people of different beliefs are often discriminated against. Muslims in particular suffer a great deal of discrimination due to unbridled prejudice influenced by the war you started in the Middle East. As someone who grew up atheist, I can also say I’ve faced discrimination, exclusion, and perhaps most of all, blind assumption that I too am Christian. I’ve spent many years cursing your religious environment that neither accepts nor understands me. For a place that so proudly says it represents all faiths, you’re quite dishonest.
You still harbor terrible gender inequality.
You have come a long way since the waves of women’s movements. But still you pretend to harbor no sexism. In 2009, full time, year round working American women earned 19% less than their male counterparts. In 2011, women ran only 12 of the Fortune 500 companies (23). Today only 17 seats are held by women of the 100 Senate seats, and 92 women of the 435 House seats. Equal you say?
Of 190 countries, the US was one of three (with Papua New Guinea and Swaziland) that still offers no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave. If you’re an American woman and there’s a chance you’ll ever get pregnant, you’ll probably get screwed.
1 of every 6 American women has been a victim of completed or attempted rape in her lifetime (24), and 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime (25). But so many of these women won’t report these crimes because of the oppressive patriarchal culture to which we are subjected. Many times, silence is much safer.
As it stands here right now, both corporations and fetuses have more legal personhood than women (26). And there are male lawmakers pushing everyday to limit the rights of women to their bodies. Your own male employees seek to control female bodies.
It pains me to admit I fall into some of these statistics. And I was not helped by the people we’ve hired to protect us. Instead I was pushed aside and again forced into silence. I could write novels about the discrimination I’ve faced as a woman in the US, and that still wouldn’t be enough to right those wrongs. If you’ve taught me anything, it’s that a woman’s voice is not as meaningful as a man’s voice.
Just like with gender inequality, you still have horrible racism issues.
In the wake of multiple shootings by white police of black men, the more latent racism you thought was put down by the civil rights movement 50 years ago has resurfaced. The truth is, racism never went away. The majority white population just assumed it had disappeared because they don’t experience it. Perhaps your racism is not as outright and brash as it was years before, but instead it’s become more quietly systematic.
The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, 10 minutes from where I grew up and 25 minutes from where I live now, pulled me into a battle. A battle to be heard. Not only did I witness that battle on the streets between protesters and police, but in everyday dialogue. We may never know what actually happened the day that Darren Wilson shot that young man, but the larger context of what preceded and followed will never sway me from seeing how much you still truly undervalue our black countrypeople.
The response I witnessed– from police to prosecutors to media to neighbors to even some friends and family– was terrifyingly racially biased. Heartless. Malicious even. So many around me found every chance to excuse the white police killer and condemn the black victim. It let me know quite evidently, I am surrounded by people unaware of white privilege. Regardless of what the truth really is about that shooting, the response to it confirmed everything I feared about the community I live in. You never banished that horrible institution. You let it live on quietly until so many people died, we couldn’t be quiet anymore. And still it lives on.
African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be pulled over and frisked than white people. In 2009, two thirds of the people receiving life sentences to prison were non-whites (27).
Not only is institutionalized racism reflected politically, but it’s also still very much cultural. In a study about implicit bias, it was found that two thirds of white Americans have an implicit bias toward European Americans, and half of African Americans also have a bias toward European Americans (28). While this is different than racism, it still shows an enormous, unconscious bias toward whiteness. Because this is unconscious, it’s a lot easier for people to manifest this bias consciously without recognizing it as a bias. And that’s a huge problem, USA.
Post-Ferguson, I witnessed a black child scurry to hide from a white police officer who came to help her mother, a victim of a car break-in. She knew he was there to help, yet from experience she perceived that black people must be afraid of white police officers. She had clearly witnessed white authority go unchecked. I tried to comfort her with the knowledge that he was going to help her mom, but she was still too scared to trust him. She was 6 years old. How was I to tell a black child as a white woman that she shouldn’t be scared?
And you still discriminate heavily against LGBTQ.
Largely due to your favoritism of Christianity and Christian exclusion of anyone but heterosexuals and cis-gender people, gay and transgender people suffer much discrimination. You say everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so why do you limit some people from having their happiness when they are of no harm to others?
There are only 12 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace (29). It was not until very recently that certain states began allowing gay couples to marry, and there are still 13 states that ban gay marriage (30).
It’s very sad, the hate crimes and hate speech that gay and transgender must suffer through in a country that so proudly declares liberty for all people. So many of my friends have had hateful words yelled at them, simply walking down the street, because of their sexual orientation. They’ve been discriminated against and told there’s something wrong with them. Why? Why must you allow my friends to be treated that way when they are simply closer to finding who they love?
All of this considered, and we were taught it’s better to be silent than to make you uncomfortable.
Look, the truth is you really lack maturity when it comes to owning up to your mistakes and your present day wrongdoing. The UK takes responsibility for all their imperialistic history and current struggles, even Germany owns their horrible Nazi past, but you just avoid all accountability for what you do and what you’ve done. At least those nations are more honest with themselves. Don’t you see? It’s not just the mess you’re in, it’s that you deny and lie about that mess to everyone to make them believe there’s no mess at all. You make claims with false reason. You are just another religion I cannot find faith in.
You’re an indolent child when it comes to admitting you’re wrong. Yet any time you see another nation doing something you view as wrong, you jump at the chance to fight them. Your hypocrisy has spun the entire world into problems that you cannot fix.
This is why I need to take a break from you. I loathe what you’ve become, what you’ve been this whole time– a world-class counterfeit. You’re not the nation you attempted to persuade me that you were. And I fear that so many other children will grow up naively believing what I did about you. I fear that so many of them will never learn the truth about you. I fear that so many around me will always be ignorant of any idea that doesn’t support your exceptionalism.
You lied to me. You turned your back on me. You stole from me. You left me to fend for myself when I needed you. You broke my heart, USA. You promised me so much, and followed through with so little.
All you wanted was my mindless loyalty. And in such times as these, how could you ask me to be loyal to you when you have so little loyalty to me? You’re not my protector. You’re a destroyer. And I have to take time apart from you before I can decide to give you another chance.
So I’m leaving you. I’m sorry it has to be this way, but you’ve lost me. I need to take time to figure out which parts of myself are truly me, and which parts are you. I think we can both grow from this. I hope with time I can learn to love you again, but I can make no promises. (I would not do what you did to me).
You have truly come a long way since your revolutionary beginnings. The progress you’ve made is not to be scorned. But you still have a long way to go and I truly hope the best for you. Forgiveness is never out of the question.
Your tired, your poor, one from your huddled masses yearning to be free,