This past Tuesday, I was telling a friend of mine the story of a local family I know. For most of the two decades before I met them, they had been living in refugee camps in Nepal after being deported from their homes in Bhutan. Some members of the extended family were born in the camps; for others, it was the only life they remembered. The rest had been forced from their homes in the ‘90s by the Bhutanese military or ethnic violence. After many years trying and failing to negotiate a repatriation agreement between Bhutan and Nepal, several countries, led by the United States, began welcoming the refugees. Since this resettlement began in 2008, the United States has welcomed about 75,000 Nepali refugees, a bit over half the population of the camps. Organizations in several cities in the U.S. helped them find homes and work; one of the larger efforts is here in Cleveland.

I met one of the refugee families while helping a friend shoot some documentary footage on their experience with the U.S. health care system. They’d been in the country less than a year at that point (some only a few months), but were remarkably welcoming and hospitable. They invited us over for dinner a few times; both the family environment and the food were wonderful. A year later, they’d saved up enough money to buy a restaurant out by the airport, serving up my favorite Indian and Nepali food in the city. They worked hard, helped support each other, and contributed to their broader community.

This is so much of what I love about America. We’re a nation of immigrants, with a tremendous variety of cultures, and, when we’re at our best, we’re still welcoming in the world’s most tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and giving them a chance to make lives for themselves and their families.

That’s the America I love, but it’s not all we are.

A day after I told my friend this story, a white supremacist walked into a black church and, in an act of racially-motivated terrorism, killed nine people, including the pastor, an elected state representative. The killer was explicit about his motivations and intent. He celebrated white-supremacist governments both in Africa and here. He mourned the absence of active neo-Nazi and KKK groups in his community. Encouraged by a baseline white-supremacist undercurrent in our mainstream culture and the active racism common in much of right-wing subculture, he took a gun into a church and committed nine acts of murder.

That’s America, too.

It’s dishonest to celebrate the fact the we open our arms to immigrants without also recognizing that many Americans' ancestors were brought here against their will. I can’t celebrate the fact that we give immigrants the chance to build a life for themselves without also recognizing that millions of Americans were forced to build for someone else. It would be ignorant to be happy about us giving so many people a chance at a life while pretending all people get an equal chance.

Because just like the immigrant story is part of our history and, when we’re at our best, our present, the story of racism is our history and, when we’re at our worst, our present. There are still many people in America who celebrate a war fought to preserve slavery, and consider the people who fought to preserve that institution “heroes”. Across the nation, black people are about four times as likely to be killed by the police than white people. Black people are paid a fraction of what white people are paid (to say nothing about the gender-based wage gap).

We have a huge problem with race in our country, and we suck at talking about it. White people—who exert the dominant influence on our national culture—often feel threatened and attacked at any implication that they might be benefiting from problems in that culture. We pretend that the symbols of slavery and oppression are somehow innocuous, marks of pride. We talk about white people as though that was the “default”, and only note the race of “others”. We stigmatize and criminalize behavior of our black neighbors, and then wonder at the results.

I want our country to be better than this. I want to live in an America that lives up to our potential, to the creeds we claim to hold, that all people are equal in rights and human dignity. I know we can be better than this, because we often are better than this. But we won’t fix our problems by continuing to pretend they don’t exist.