This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
"Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." These well-known words conclude our nation's pledge of allegiance, promising to grant freedoms to everyone as a whole, stressing the unity of the American people, and implying that we are one. Students across the country recite these words every morning with their hand over their heart, never once stopping to think about how devastatingly erroneous the words are.
Americans are not "indivisible" by any means. If you were to look at American history as if it were a story, one motif crops up repeatedly throughout the tale: From America's origins to the present day, division is always present, as it clearly defines the American people.
In 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and arrived on a fateful October morning, division sprouted instantly: Natives were separated from the Europeans into the encomienda system, a social and economic system of racial separations.
Fast-forward a century to the Puritans who settled the East Coast. They were religiously, sexually, ethnically and economically divided: Puritans vs. Catholics, men vs. women, English vs. Dutch vs. French, Spanish and natives, and the wealthy vs. the poor, not to mention divisions amongst the soon-to-be states.
Spring ahead to the end of the 19th century and we arrive at the Civil War, perhaps the most prominent example of division. The country was divided into the Union and the Confederacy, while the people were split between abolitionists and slaveholders, and especially between white and black.
Then, approaching the 20th century, divisions ironically worsened with the freedom of slaves. As soon as African-Americans were granted their freedom, they were so harshly segregated that the blessings of liberty were clouded. Whites constantly looked for ways to keep African-Americans at the lowest rung possible in society and kept them politically separated by doing their best to keep them from voting. Economically, African-Americans were beneath whites as they redeemed their servitude by taking up jobs as sharecroppers, a job that put African-Americans back under the supervision of whites as they continued the same work they had done as slaves.
Even after the 14th and 15th amendments were ratified, each feebly attempting to curve harsh segregation, racial discrimination continued. Being the most obvious betrayal of these amendments, the ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson took the cake. By declaring that "separate but equal" was indeed constitutional, this landmark case set up a deep-rooted partition by allowing for complete division between whites and coloreds.
Today, many think that America has finally succeeded in achieving equality, citing examples such as the increase in stay-at-home dads correlating with the increase of women in fields typically inhabited by men, along with the fact that the current president of the United States is African-American.
Unfortunately, division still prevails as the gap between the rich and poor increases and the animosity between liberal and conservative-minded people worsens. Our representatives attempt to debate over public issues while taking too long to reach a consensus, hindering the overall effectiveness of our government. And with the 2012 election looming ever closer, Americans are in a frenzy of subdivision as they identify themselves with a certain party, bashing the opposing side in the process.
America tells the rest of the world that it's a country of "equality" and "unity." Au contraire, that is one big lie, as America's history tells otherwise: America is actually all about what side you're on.