Portrait of a "good" country
An exclusive preview of Sofia Ali-Khan's forthcoming memoir "A Good Country: My Life in Twelve Towns and the Devastating Battle for a White America”
By Sofia Ali-Khan
In August of 2017, eight months after Donald Trump took office, my husband, my two young children, and I packed up all of our belongings and moved from my childhood home in the Delaware Valley to Canada. It wasn’t Trump that precipitated our move, though. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the concurrent spike in nationwide anti-Muslim bigotry had only helped us to understand that we were America’s most recently racialized outgroup. This forced an honest reckoning with our nation’s unbroken legacy of forcing the migration Brown and Black people to its geographic, economic, and social margins.
In America, we are taught history as if in daguerreotype photography, a kind of early black-and-white portraiture, capturing a precise likeness but of a limited and usually manicured subject. We are taught out of order, out of context, rarely with local or personal connections, and generally so partially that what we learn is mythology rather than history. The purpose of that mythology is to establish and maintain the narrative of a good country. For example, when we are introduced to the portrait of Thomas Jefferson, we are taught a certain catechism about him: He was a founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the third of our nation’s presidents between John Adams and James Madison, a property owner, and, when he was secretary of state, champion of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.
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