Freedom, She Ain't What She Used to Be (Which is a Good Thing)
This year the 4th of July felt like the first Christmas one experiences after a divorce.
Your ex has the kids. Frosty the Snowman plays over WiFi while you eat your pre-made turkey and dressing dinner alone. You feel like taking a blowtorch toward that mythical snowman. The Christmas tree that you spent ridiculous time and money on stands imposingly in the corner as a reminder that you are obligated to deconstruct it ornament by ornament, alone.
What’s the point of all the hoopla, you ask yourself? Nothing is the same anymore. Everything is upended, undefined, and called into question.
This 4th of July seemed no different. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a flailing economy, ignited racial tensions, the #metoo era, and the quarantine crazies, previously dormant questions are thrust to the fore.
These questions illuminate both a nation’s character and the nature of being human on an individual basis. How we choose to respond to these questions will forge our future.
All Men are Created Equal… but Not Treated Equally
How do we honor the Declaration of Independence, which boasts that “all men are created equal,” when 155 years after the Civil War ended, systemic racism is a concept that most white folks are only now beginning to acknowledge?
Let’s pick up the marriage and divorce analogy.
Many white folks today are “shocked” at this idea of systemic racism–like finding out for the first time that your spouse had an affair. “Well, I’m not the cheater (racist) so the problem is all the responsibility of my #@$%! ex.”
It’s fair to say that, rightly or wrongly, most white people for many decades would never think of themselves as being racist, not realizing that they participated in a system that benefited them and enabled racism. This “non-cheating” spouse is not aware of how he or she contributed to the dysfunction of the marriage, regardless of his or her fidelity (individual non-racism).
Oh, and about this “all men are created equal” bit... I’ll just leave the fact that women were left out of that equation and let all those implications hang out there on their own.
Statues and Symbols
President Trump held a rally of sorts with Mount Rushmore as his backdrop on the evening of July 3rd, complete with fireworks and patriotic music. Rhetoric aside, this was iconic Americana. But to many Native Americans, Mount Rushmore represents a desecration of land that was stolen from them at the expense of many lives and their culture. And to African Americans, two of the presidents on that national monument–Washington and Jefferson–owned nearly 1000 slaves between them.
How does a conscientious person reconcile such contradictions on July 4th when for those of us who had our heads in the sand are feeling the grit in our eyes as we peer out into a landscape previously unseen?
Of course, the Mount Rushmore example is just one of many in which traditional American symbols are being reevaluated, reinterpreted, and contextualized to fit a more honest version of history. Interestingly, the tearing down of statues and symbols has seminal roots in our history. The Revolutionary War effort produced riots and removals of effigies to King George III and the Crown.
I would liken this to the non-cheating spouse who rips up photographs or throws out sentimental objects as a protest against the marriage that seemed to suddenly crash and burn. On the surface, it is a revolt against the cheater. But existentially, it is a revolt against a constructed system (the marriage) that was broken in the first place.
What about the Apple Pie?
In today’s political climate, it seems as if there is hardly a thing we could all agree upon, except just maybe… Apple Pie. Whether you like it with a top crust or a crumble, with ice cream or melted cheese (yes, that’s a thing!), or served warm or cold, few people would turn it down and even fewer find it inherently offensive.
Perhaps July 4th, 2020 is the best Independence Day yet to occur. Because some of us (a holy ton) needed a good slap in the face to wake TF up. Yes, it is ok to still love apple pie or baseball or fireworks. But perhaps this year, if it isn't already a part of your lifestyle, we should intentionally learn about the plight of Native Americans, African Americans, or immigrants. Befriend others who are different than yourself. Be open, willing, and receptive to empathize with new or different realities. In this sense, the time has run out, America. You can't have your pie and eat it too.
The celebration of “freedom” is more important than ever on this milestone holiday. But I would argue that the freedom we should honor is not the superficial treatment of “freedom” that was won by American Revolutionaries, who essentially pillaged a land and imported slaves.
Rather, we should humbly respect a new sense of freedom. The year 2020 provides a long-overdue disruption in our country that heightens awareness of injustices that must be remedied. And within this awareness, we are loosened to CHANGE our culture, our systems, our minds, and our hearts.
Then, and only then, will our country reflect that all of humankind is created equal.
You may be wondering who the cheater is in my bad marriage/divorce analogy. Without question, the cheater would be the cultural systems that have aided and abetted injustices toward people of color, and privileged white people for hundreds of years. The cheater would also be the overtly racist individuals who acted accordingly.
But if we are really honest, nearly every person has some innocent-spouse and some cheater-spouse within us. Few, if any, individuals can claim complete freedom from wrong-doing or occasional impure hearts. We contribute to the good, the bad, and the ugly of everything that has made the United States what it is. The choice we now face is, where do we go from here?
The truth is, our country’s history is complex and should not be whitewashed. Let's air that dirty laundry. It's got to get cleaned! Likewise, individual humans are complex and should not be reduced to stereotypes. When we begin to acknowledge the reality of our own individual natures, then we have the power to evolve them toward justice and equality for all.
Our country needed this blown up affair to force us to evaluate our priorities and values, and reshape the world that we want our ancestors to inherit. Let’s forgive, make right, and stay married.
Rachel Roberts is the founder of American None. Every now and then she's known to have a deep thought, usually in the most random places– like shopping for IPA and gummy bears.