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America's Original Sin by Jim Wallis

In elementary school I remember learning one specific thing about history: that the United States of America is the greatest country. The continent was founded by a brave explorer. The first colonies were established men fleeing religious persecution and overbearing monarchs. The country was created by a rebellious, fighting spirit. Innovation and courage has made this new nation the industrious leader in the world. The United States has never lost a war and it has never lost its moral compass.

And then I grew up.

Here is what I know now: the United States of America has a very complicated history. The continent was founded by a devious explorer. The first settlers were vicious and murderous toward the native population. The nation’s wealth was built on the backs of African slaves. The founding fathers and the Constitution endorses racism.

The history of the United States is a complicated mess. America’s Original Sin examines this checkered history and troubled present.

I know plenty of people who would respond as such: my ancestors have never mistreated the Native Americans and they have never owned slaves, this does not apply to me.

I understand the appeal of that argument. It makes sense on an individual level, however we don’t live in individualized bubbles. One must rise up and see the entire nation and society as a whole. American society was built on the historical racism against Indigenous people and enslaved Africans. It is embedded in the foundation of this country and it is difficult to repair the foundation of a house once the house is already built; difficult yet possible.

I enjoyed this book as a great overview of the issues. I think this book maybe a great introduction to some challenging topics. Books like White Fragility, The New Jim Crow and A People’s History of the United States gave me a better understanding of these issues.

At times I felt like the author kept patting himself on the back for what he and his organizations had done. Sharing your accomplishments can inspire, but it can quickly become feel self-indulgent.