We need a more honest definition of what it means when America is called to own up to its past. On the surface, this call is made to sound like an olive branch: The system is against me, but I am willing to work together to fix it as long as I receive the apology I am owed. In reality, however, owning America’s past looks more like a convenient way to blame others for your own shortcomings. Accountability only goes so far when the only one allowed to be exempt is yourself.
Too often, owning our past is viewed through the lenses of social justice and equity, which seek to redistribute privileges within society. This is based on the assumption that America was structured to ensure minorities would have a systemic disadvantage. This narrative is not only untrue, but it is harmful to everyone. Many claim they have been denied their fair share as if society inherently owes anyone anything. Because this claim is based on false expectations, those who wish for compensation do not receive it, which leads to anger. They have been brought up to believe they are owed what others have simply because they exist. When reality rears its ugly head and the spell is broken, what choice do these individuals have but to blame everyone else?
Blaming other people for your personal problems is wrong, yet everywhere we look it seems this idea is being tolerated, sometimes even encouraged. Even at Ole Miss, incoming students are pushed to complete “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training” before experiencing interactions with their new peers. This is not a mere reminder to be respectful and tolerant of those who are different from you. This is blatant discrimination toward any student who is deemed privileged by current societal standards. We call for justice to be served to those who have been denied opportunities by the system and seek to right this supposed wrong through equitable treatment. This is presented as providing what each individual needs to have the best chance of success in their lives because of one disadvantage or another. But the truth is, that this is impossible as nobody is guaranteed success. No one person has the right to be successful, especially when their success comes from stealing other people’s things.
I believe all Americans have the right to pursue happiness — a major aspect of our country’s founding lies in this principle. What I do not believe is that modern Americans are denied this opportunity. We live in a time of great entitlement and a sense of being owed something; the gritty truth is that we are owed nothing. Success and happiness are brought about by strong values and hard work, both of which are demonized in our society.
What presents itself as a crusade for truth and fairness is really a sham for angry individuals with misplaced moral superiority. When I hear someone calling me to own America’s past, I cannot help but believe that what they truly want is for me to apologize for a privilege I do not have and show repentance through giving them what they want, free of charge. In a culture where the only just outcome is a selfish one, there is no justice.
Hannah Newsom is a senior majoring in elementary education from Tupelo.