In 1636, my 11th-great-grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, founded the colony of Connecticut and contributed greatly to the ideas of constitutional government and universal Christian suffrage in colonial America.
Among his brilliant contributions was the -- at that time -- novel idea that the foundation of authority came from the free consent of the governed --an idea that stuck throughout American colonial history.
One year later, in 1637, his government carried out the first colonial war against the Native Americans, declaring war against the Pequot tribe after a series of raids on the Saybrook settlement. After killing, by some estimates, upwards of 1,000 Native Americans, the colonists formed one of the first of many treaties that would be ignored and scrapped as the colony developed and grew.
The point of this is that no matter how far back we go into American history -- in this example all the way back to its very roots -- there are always examples of exceptionalism and hatred, freedom and injustice, and cooperation and distrust.
If we choose to, we could spend an infinite amount of time apologizing for America's past, but at some point the vestiges of hatred need to be allowed to die out -- sometimes on their own over time, sometimes through legislation or the courts.
Key to this is an acceptance that we aren't flawless and there is always room for improvement -- and there has been improvement throughout American history.
Just over 250 years after the founding of Connecticut, my great-grandfather, Billy Kee (same last name, different phonetic spelling), immigrated to the United States and served as a servant to U.S. Senator Thomas Carter.
From those lowly beginnings, he struggled and saved, and eventually became a hotel owner and the first Chinese-American mayor (Lombard) in Montana.And while not everyone has a rags-to-riches type story, this is the America we need to believe in and portray -- an America where everyone has the opportunity to advance, by at least some measure, their station in life.
What stifles this is the institutionalized endorsement of some of the remaining symbols and vestiges of hatred and bigotry of our past.
The current debate about the Confederate battle flag isn't about southerners being proud of their heritage, it's about whether or not the state should be encapsulating the values of the Confederacy into the official emblems it holds.
Why is it that we seem to forget that every step of the way -- including Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, "separate but equal," interracial marriage, and desegregation -- the states were essentially forced into compliance?
How is this really different?
While no one in 21st century America is being directly subjugated by the presence of the Confederate battle flag, its usage as an institutional emblem is a constant reminder to wounds of the past that are healing. And some of the arguments for and against its removal clearly demonstrate that these wounds are still healing, not something lingering in the past.
Somewhere along the way, however, the idea has become popularized that eradicating these last symbols of hatred is somehow "America hating." The argument plays off of exasperation, that we couldn't possibly satisfy everyone -- so why bother trying?
When we work to eliminate these symbols of hatred, we aren't despising our past -- we are honoring the fact that America can and does work, and has consistently sought to improve itself.
But most importantly, when we take moments like this to examine our past, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the fact that we are still capable of modern injustices -- and it is up to each of us to help create an America free of future injustice.