America's Unchanging Sands

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Building a sandcastle on a riverbank in Sacramento was supposed to be my escape. I needed a place to get away from the bad news. But there’s no avoiding what's ingrained in American soil.

It started out promising enough. As I stood on the bank of the American River, carving a moat around the castle I'd constructed with my daughter, I pointed out how the size and speed of the boats dictated the intensity of the waves. She was more fascinated by the shimmers of gold flakes in the river. I thought: What did the natives used to do with the gold that came from the water?

But my short-lived daydream was washed away as a big white boat came sliding down the river. It held an American flag on the starboard side, a "Trump 2020" flag on the port side, and a large white man at the helm. My thoughts quickly turned. Trump is going to get elected again, isn't he?.

I gave up on digging a protective moat. I really thought a sandcastle would provide some sort of serenity.


My goal had been to use Memorial Day weekend as a mental getaway. Despite continued new cases of COVID-19, California's stores, restaurants and religious centers had entered various stages of re-opening, and I needed to get outside.

I was simply aiming for a healthy balance of maintaining my distance and keeping my hands clean, while getting away from staring at screens. I wanted to be able to close my laptop, put my phone down and get away from the head-spin of the week's news cycle.

But the headlines kept coming, reading like the collision of two oceans. The story of President Trump golfing in the midst of a pandemic, as the New York Times prepared a full front page with 1,000 of the 100,000 people who’ve died of COVID-19. The names of just one percent of the dead, and a piece of each person’s story: a reminder of what’s really been happening.

And then there was good ol' Joe Biden’s comments during an interview on The Breakfast Club, in which he essentially said: if you don’t vote for me, you’re not black.

Disgusted, I put away my phone. Addicted, I periodically picked it back up. I bookmarked, and then later read, a piece by Derecka Purnell laying out the shortcomings of former Vice President Biden and the Democratic Party in relationship to African American voters, in three layers: historically, in the recent past, and the mistake he made last week.

It’s a subconscious action: I’d look up and poof, my phone would be in my hand again. I accidentally scrolled social media and saw political banter from friends and journalists. I even read Ice Cube’s comments about developing a black agenda. And then I read the other end of the spectrum of political involvement—people saying they’re not going to vote at all. I laughed and put down my phone again.

Damn, there really is an election this year. And these are our options.

By Saturday night I gave in, and reverted to intentionally looking at the screen. I figured it’d be good to take in some form of livestreamed art. I hadn't considered that would mean I’d still be hit with waves of reality about the world we live in.

Because for every bit of enjoyment brought by the live Verzus battle between Dancehall legends Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, there was twice as much bad news in return. The story of the woman posting racist signs around San Leandro. The video of Amy Cooper falsely accusing a black man of harassment in Central Park.

Further tilting the scales were protest signs in my direct messages about the killing of Breonna Taylor. And this morning, waking up to the Washington Post video of an officer killing George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis.

I just wanted to get away from it all for one weekend. A simple request. Advised not to travel, I didn't go too far. I’m still wary of mass gatherings, so I didn’t want to attend any Memorial Day parties. I’m watching my weight, so I didn’t want to eat any barbecue.

I just wanted a little mental freedom. But instead, I’m here. Writing about America being America again. About how it’s anything but great. About how it’s not just its elected officials, but the people who fail to live out the promises in the country's founding documents. And how it's my people who often get the short end of the stick.

And given the way things are shaping up for this election, it sure seems like it’ll continue for the foreseeable future.

Yup, that big white boat is gonna keep blissfully floating along, on waterways that flow through terrain that used to be home to people who actually cared about the land.

Knowing there's little I can do to change it, my goal is simple: build a sandcastle for my little one. But it's hard not to feel like giving up.