When a University of Texas student crushed his wrist and needed a trip to an emergency room, he called Uber in Austin for a ride. But when Beni showed up to drive the injured man to a hospital, he did more than provide transportation.
“This is my Uber driver Beni,” the grad student wrote when he posted this photo on Reddit Friday evening. “He took me to the hospital and [is] keeping me company since most of my family lives out of the state.”
It’s just a small act of decency, but the story made me happy. I found myself thinking that this is the real America I know. It’s a place where most people will help each other when there’s need. It’s a place where most people are still more decent, more humane and more loving than we sometimes remember.
About a month ago, an artist who goes by Childish Gambino released a video for a song he called “This is America.” It’s a cynical and one-sided portrayal of racism and injustice. The evil the song portrays does exist. I agree with the need for change to eliminate politically driven injustice, but I was bothered by the title. Is this depressing and cynical picture of America fair and accurate?
Every story has two sides. Even if there’s an ugly side, there’s usually a beautiful side as well. If you focus all on the good, you’ll see a saccharine facade that hides the truth. But if you focus all on the bad, you’ll see a dystopian cess pool that also hides the truth.
The America of injustice and racism in the song depicts some truth, but it also conceals a lot of truth.
When the song first came out and I pondered the title — “This Is America” — I was bothered by the fact that it’s dishonest because it conceals the truth I see every day. It angrily denounces injustice, but it seems to say this is what America really is.
And the notion that America is all about injustice, racism and evil is a lie.
I experience a very different reality of what America is. I experience an America where most people get along remarkably well and treat each other decently. There is certainly ugliness and hatred and squalor, but there is also beauty and love and hope.
This picture of the young black man showing kindness and decency for a young white stranger is typical of the America I know.
I’m not minimizing the things that are wrong. Although we might disagree on what they are, most of us have a vague sense of unease about the direction things have taken in some regards. I’ve talked a lot about those in the past — about injustice and political corruption and cultural evils. I don’t feel the need to keep writing about those, but let’s acknowledge they’re real — and let’s also acknowledge that if you’re black or brown or poor, you’re far more likely to experience such injustice.
But America isn’t just evil politicians sending young black men to rot in prison for victimless crimes. America isn’t just powerful people who take advantage of the poor and weak. America is much more than that.
America is the millions of people who volunteer to feed and shelter the homeless and help those who are otherwise in need. Unless you’ve been part of those church groups or other non-profits who quietly and selflessly serve, you might not know they exist.
America is a country where people with money voluntarily give more of their resources to help others than has ever been given in history.
America is a country where more and more people of different races — and mixed races — mostly work together in peace and friendship and harmony.
America is a place where neighbors still help neighbors in need. It’s a place where a fast food restaurant I’m familiar with quietly donates money and clothing to a poor employee who’s gone through an apartment fire and lost everything.
I see the evil and injustice in America, but I see the amazing goodness in our people, too. I see a lot that still needs to change — and I don’t expect us to ever live in utopia — but I see a place where there is more right than ever in many ways.
There’s something that Beni the Uber driver can teach all of us. Yes, part of the lesson is that we need to be ready to help others when they need our help — in big ways or little ways — but there’s something else.
It’s right there on his shirt: “Stay Humble.”
Not a single one of us has all the answers. There’s plenty wrong everywhere. But if we will stay humble with one another — and learn to love, starting with individuals and then learning to outgrow our tribalism — we can keep moving forward and become better human beings.
America has a lot wrong with it, but it’s only fair and honest to remember there’s a lot right with us, too.