From the Classroom

Our country’s identity remains in peril

Even with a new president, deep-seated problems persist.

On Jan. 6 I remember sitting in my room, shocked at what I saw while scrolling through social media. I turned on the news and saw a group, instructed by former president Donald Trump to, attacking the nation’s Capitol building. The insurrection claimed the lives of five people and injured 140 others.

The major issues facing the United States played out in front of our eyes like a never-ending horror film. The main actors in the film were the country’s leaders we entrust with our safety.

These leaders, over the years, stood in front of the country, promising equality and better treatment to marginalized communities. Sometimes progress appeared to be made; other times, leaders lost traction or even opposed the fight for justice and equality.

While some citizens look to their leaders for hope and protection, others would prefer a leader who encourages their acts of racism and violence.

That violent, racist mindset is what led to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more.

It would be easy for me to say we need better leaders, but the problem has multiple layers that begin as early as slavery. A change in the occupant of the White House can’t solve our most deep-seated problems.

After the storming of the Capitol, Trump tweeted his support to the rioters: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love and in peace. Remember this day forever!”

That is terrifying, especially as a Black woman. How much more scared should I be of this country?

Honestly, I don’t think the racism in this country will ever get better. I wish I could be more optimistic, but this country has failed me and others time and time again. Preaching unity and peace but not showing it.

In our institutions we still see signs of the deep racism rooted in the universities and systems that preach diversity.

During the commencement speech celebrating the Classes of 2020 and 2021, I sat in one of the many rows of white chairs that filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, proudly wearing my cap and gown. Excited and happy to be in the moment, I listened to USC President Carol Folt speak about how the world needs us now more than ever.

She went on to announce the valedictorian for the class of 2021 -- Tianna Shaw-Wakeman, the first Black valedictorian of USC in 138 years. People clapped and cheered, including me, until I felt confused. I looked beside me to two of my classmates, who are Black women, and asked, “Did she just say first Black valedictorian?”

We gave each other bewildered looks. A moment of excitement turned to disappointment at the fact that it took so long for USC to name its first Black valedictorian. It exposed the racism rooted in institutions, which applaud the tiniest victories without acknowledging why it took so long to happen in the first place.

But, hasn’t that been the pattern throughout this country’s existence? We applauded the election of a new president while the defeated one initiated an insurrection. Multiple setbacks erase the triumphs of progress.

One act of diversity or change does not bring about lasting change. Repetitive change is the only way to produce real results and true democracy, where the voices of all people can be heard.

Real democracy is for the people. It’s more than one vote. It’s a plethora of communities and people who choose to step up to appoint the right people into office, who will pass the right laws for the greater good of the people.

It shouldn’t take another hundred years for another Black valedictorian at a prestigious university such as USC. There shouldn’t be another person holding the highest office in the United States commanding his supporters to hurt and harm people. And it shouldn’t take the murderous hate crimes targeting different races for the people of this country to know they have every right to demand change and act upon it.

Although my heart feels uneasy and I am not optimistic, a small part of me desperately holds out hope that the greater good will start to show in this country as we are being pushed in a different direction with new leadership. It will take an immeasurable amount of time to ease the pain of all the scars that have formed through racism, social injustice and mistreatment of communities. But the voices of the people are becoming louder and refuse to be ignored any longer.

This story was reported and written through a journalism course on opinion writing and edited by USC Annenberg Associate Professor Alan Mittelstaedt. Annenberg Media student editors reviewed the story and published it per newsroom guidelines.

Click here to read more essays from the series “America’s ailments: We’ve got issues.”

Annenberg Media is a student-led multiplatform news media overseen and funded by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Many of the journalists are working weekly shifts in its newsroom, known as the Media Center, to fulfill curricular requirements. Annenberg Media is independent of the university administration. Please direct news tips and press releases to