Earlier today an elder lady asked me if I knew why we celebrated the 4th of July. She wanted to test me. Too many Americans don’t know why, she had said.
“Have you ever seen the painting by John Trumbull? The founding fathers looking all humble?”
That’s what popped into my mind first, but instead I jokingly said treason. I don’t think she was terribly impressed, she may have wanted something more academic.
As I sit and write fireworks are booming and bursting all around me. But I’m not watching any displays tonight. I didn’t last year either. It makes me a bit sad because I love the big shows and the patriotic feeling of Independence Day. But as I get older I am more aware and feel more torn about freedom. More aware of those who don’t have it and torn about how we show our pride.
“What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” Fredrick Douglas once asked.
While black Americans now have the same freedom in theory and law, I see what they still lack all these many years and much blood later. They, and others of color, still lack the same privileges as their white counterparts. They are likely to earn less and be incarcerated more. Even when they do the same jobs or commit the same crimes as white people.
As the booms echo I think also of those who are locked up in detention centers without any kind of certainty as to when they will be free. I think of their children who’ve been taken from them, who cry for them and feel confused in a strange world.
Many other grievances touch my thoughts, but the bottom line is that there is not as much freedom in this country as we would like to believe.
Thinking of treason and those founders there is inspiration. They didn’t get it all right, they were flawed, but they did something incredible when they challenged their leadership, their government and demanded freedom. Though they themselves did not ensure it for all people, even while they wrote it on parchment, they did set the foundation for demanding it at all costs.
As I wrote this I was interrupted by my kids wanting to go downstairs and watch the fireworks others in the apartment complex were lighting off. I followed. In the chaos of people and noise of explosion I saw a gathering of people. A mix of white, black and Hispanic neighbors sharing sparklers, yelling and letting forth sounds of awe. It struck me then what I should have said to that elderly lady earlier today. Independence Day means this, freedom to be simply human unrestrained from color or creed. There is a great distance to go, but in moments like tonight, it feels possible.