To be honest, and likely unpopular, I am not feeling particularly patriotic today.
I think it may have started with checking the news this morning. Like most my age, that does not mean the paper or broadcast television; I get my news mostly from Twitter and YouTube. Feel free to question the validity of this, I frequently do. Nevertheless, the first three things I saw?
- Updates on the crisis at the border
- Fighting over Halle Bailey being cast as Ariel
- Questions over the ethics of Trump’s big parade today
Suddenly, I don’t feel much like celebrating and I ask myself, can I find a way to celebrate our independence from England? I suppose so, but right now it just feels as if we’ve traded one tyrant for another. Then I wonder, what was the point of that?
The early Americans decided they no longer wanted to be ruled by the king. They felt he was unjust and that they knew best how to govern their own land. No taxation without representation. Makes sense. So they fought for freedom; a noble cause.
But here is where it breaks down for me and I begin to see it as incredibly hypocritical. The freedom they won, it was freedom for white men. Not ALL mankind was actually believed to be created equal. As Abigail Adams, that prolific letter composer wrote:
“…it always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”
It is well documented that black men, some free but most slave, fought for the rebels in the war of independence. Interestingly, far more fought for the Brits (8,000 compared to 200,000). What black men wanted most was freedom and they were willing to fight for whichever side gave it to them. After the Revolutionary war many of these black soldiers who fought for America were freed, but many were sent back to slavery. On the Loyalist side the Brits sent many to Canada and England and some to Jamaica (where many were again enslaved on plantations there). Sadly, they were pawns for both sides and it would be almost a hundred more years before they gained their freedom in this country. Although I would argue, as would many, that that fight still continues.
Patriotic women of the era also joined in the campaign and fought for freedom, but they were denied representation, in the form of casting a vote, for another 137 years.
Then came the expanding of the new nation which meant removal and genocide of the country’s native inhabitants. What about their freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Let’s not fool ourselves, white men may have indeed drawn the blueprints for the freedom of this country, but far more black and brown bodies built the foundation through their sweat and death and the denial of their equal freedom.
As the tall-tales of the American dream spread around the world, the migrants came. Each new ethnic group landing here only to find themselves being denied freedoms until they either fought for it, found a distant corner of the country to dwell in, or were forgotten by the hate for the next ethnic wave coming in. As Will Eisner so profoundly depicts in Dropsie Avenue, hate was constantly being renewed — the Dutch, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Puerto Ricans, and the blacks. The social systems and the machines of capitalism all to happy to deny rights and exploit the downtrodden.
Even when an ethnic group finally felt sufficiently assimilated that could easily be upended and freedoms revoked as war has proven time and time again. To be German during the World Wars, or Japanese after Pearl Harbor or of any Middle Eastern decent (or even Sikh) after 911, was to suddenly find oneself an enemy; no matter how American you felt or were.
Today freedom is denied through systematic racism, of which the chief offender is the Justice System. Incarceration is considered by many to simply be the new form of Jim Crow. Not only do we lock up more citizens than any other developed nation, we overwhelmingly lock up black and brown bodies. But why stop at citizens?
Not only are we now locking up vast numbers of people at our Southern border (16,000 was the count in mid-May) without any hope of release, but many of these people have tried to enter legally. There is no law against asking for asylum, but asylum seekers too are being locked up. These people are denied not only their physical freedom, but freedom from safety, sanitation, comfort and family.
Again and again, it seems to me, this country proves that freedom really only exists for one kind of person—the same people who were originally given that freedom—the white man.
What then, I wonder, is there to celebrate? What is someone who is not feeling particularly patriotic this 4th of July to do?
My answer is this. What I have written. But it does not feel like enough, not when there is currently so much injustice, so I also will be donating to RAICES. Perhaps I can use my own unearned freedom to help give freedom to others.
When the fireworks start I will be thinking of those behind bars, those who fear police, those whose ability to play a Disney princess is being questioned because of the color of their skin. In short, those who still do not have the same freedom that I enjoy simply because of who I am. And I will continue to use my freedom to champion theirs; that should be what this day is about.