I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the best way to help. The best way to help those who have lived a thousand years of pain, who have endured a physical and emotional suffering that will forever be etched in their bones, but who will now be turned back at my country’s borders. Those who, even before today, had unimaginably few options to lift themselves out of the heart of darkness into which they had been tossed by nothing more than randomness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the best way to help, because that same randomness has granted me a nauseating privilege. The privilege of being the only child born to two educated, limitlessly loving—and yes, white and wealthy—American parents. At its core, privilege begets resources—educational, financial, social—that others will never have. To reach the end of life and realize that one had not dedicated those resources to undo at least a small part of the randomness that granted them in first place, would be the height of human failure.
I used to be affiliated with an organization whose motto is “Putting the last, first.” They specifically sought out those whom the Powers That Be had put last—refugee communities no one else knew existed, children who had been left behind by the system, families that were unseen—and instead put them first.
But by putting America first, we are relegating far too many people to be the last—people who deserve our support and care and love simply because they, too, are human. In this way, “America First” also puts America last—last in humanity, last in compassion, last in lifting up the tired, the poor, the huddled masses—which is what made America first, in so many ways, to begin with.
So what do we do—how do we help—when much of what we’ve done can be so easily undone, and by one ignorant fool? The only answer I have right now is to put people first—ahead of ideology and politics, ahead of nationality, ahead of careers and money. Because before we understood who was American, or Syrian, or Afghan; before we decided who was a Republican or a Democrat; we knew we were, first and foremost, all human beings.