America Cannot Afford to Rest on Her Laurels

Beth Chandler
Beth Blog America Cannot Afford to Rest on Her Laurels 7.14.2023

Recently, I had lunch with a friend. He shared one regret from his college athletic career: After receiving numerous accolades for his performance on the lacrosse field during his first year of college, he decided to take it easy. Throughout that first season, he was head and shoulders above most of his teammates. But instead of working hard in the offseason, he took it easy and rested on his laurels. When the next season started, he was no longer significantly better than his peers.

I share this story not to pick on my friend but to highlight the importance of continuous improvement—whether it be for an individual, company, or country. This doesn’t mean that we can’t take time to celebrate success or rest. Nor does it mean we should pursue perfection, which doesn’t exist. What it does mean is that we need to look for ways to improve, for if we don’t enhance our skills at best, we stagnate, and at worst we become irrelevant (can anyone say Kodak?).

I thought about this because Natasha Cloud, a WNBA player, Tweeted the following after the Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action in college admissions: “Our country is trash in so many ways and instead of using our resources to make it better we continue to oppress Marginalized groups that we have targeted since the beginning of times.” As to be expected, she was eviscerated for her post. I write “as to be expected” because when someone from a marginalized group shares a critique about the United States, people attack. Comments often include “Go back to your own country” even if the person was born in the United States. Or “Try living in another country like China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea if you think it’s so bad here.”

Cloud’s post reminded me of what James Baldwin wrote in Native Son: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” One can love the United States and criticize it as well. It’s not either you love the United States, or you don’t. It’s “I love the United States and it pains me and makes me angry when we fall short of what we should be for everyone in this country.” We should be working towards what America can still be and not rest on the laurels of what she is right now. If our comparison group is nations led by dictators and oligarchs, we are in trouble.

Here are a few examples of things that should be happening in this country if we are to live up to our ideals: 

  • Women should have the autonomy to make decisions about their bodies.  
  • LGBTQ+ folks should have the right to purchase goods and services from any vendor without the fear of being denied due to their sexual orientation or gender expression.  

  • The lived experiences of Black and Brown people should be considered as part of the admissions process at elite colleges, not just at military academies.  

  • Black women should be receiving equitable medical care so they are not dying at three times the rate of white women during childbirth.

In the end, it is our responsibility to strive for continuous improvement and work towards a better future. If we fail to do so, we risk falling behind the very standards we should be surpassing.