Tuesday, July 4, 2017
A Day That Reveals
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Frederick Douglass, 1852
Today we celebrate our nation's independence.
How can we celebrate?
Yes, all human beings need rest, respite, and recreation, and families, friends, and communities are stronger when we can come together but how can we--no, how dare we--celebrate? All the things we believe to be so uniquely beautiful about our country were built upon a general acceptance of slavery as a way of life, built upon the broken backs and spirits of generations of human beings who had every much a right to be free as my ancestors did.
Our beautiful independence was built upon a crime. A crime for which no punishment has been served, nor reparations made.
Even as literal slavery ceased to be practiced the virtual bonds of slavery have continued in economic and political oppression. A system of criminal justice that sees some as innately criminal responds again and again with violence. The same laws applied differently. The same protections given only to some.
I can't ignore that any longer. I can't look away. Either these precious words are for all or they mean nothing:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Jefferson, 1776
What can we do with our lives to bring those words completely into reality? What action will we take, large or small, to make our nation more worthy of its original promise?
We want to believe. We want to celebrate. We want this day to be as simple as picnics, parades, and fireworks and a feeling that we are a part of a Big Good Thing.
Then let us truly respect one another and lift each other up--everyone--without exception. Let every human being be truly equal under the law. Let education and health care, housing and employment open doors for all without prejudice. That's what Independence Day should be about. That's the Big Good Thing, and it isn't easy.
We have to work for it.
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