What does it truly mean to belong in America? Historian Philip Gleason put it this way: “To be or to become an American, an individual didn’t have to be of any particular nationality, learning language, religious, or ethnic background. All he had to do was to commit himself to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism.”

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the United States of America became known worldwide as the great melting pot. This comes from the idea that all of the cultural differences in the United States can be boiled down to form an indistinguishable new identity in which skin color doesn’t matter. Of course, the story is not so simple.

The United States of America, “a new nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” was built on the back of slavery. In 1619, English colonists brought their first African slaves to Jamestown, beginning the history of slavery in the U.S.. Approximately 10 million African slaves made their way into the American colonies before slavery was banned by Congress in 1865. But the 13th Amendment didn’t magically eradicate the policies, practices, norms, and ideologies that facilitated the trading and exploitation of human beings for profit. This dark chapter left in its wake a wide array of legacies that Americans have grappled with for generations. Racism is still perpetuated on a structural level, creating barriers to education, voting rights, wealth accumulation, upward mobility, and access to healthcare.