I don’t know how I feel about celebrating Independence Day today. I began my nascent journey as an ally to BIPOC following the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. I devoured books and podcasts on race and racism. I know I still have a LOT to learn, but what I’ve learned so far doesn’t leave me feeling particularly festive.
Do I love my country? I do.
Am I proud to be an American? Uh…Sometimes?
By one “guesstimate”, there were 400,000 enslaved persons in this country on July 4th, 1776. The U.S. Constitution deemed each one of those souls to be ⅗ of a human being. While the colonists were declaring their independence from England, Indigenous Peoples were losing the independence they had enjoyed for thousands of years. And obviously, in proclaiming that “all men are created equal”, the Founding Fathers weren’t using “all men” as a euphemism for “all people”. They were referring to all white men. Women, particularly married women, had little autonomy. And Black women? I think we all know the answer to that one.
“But that’s ancient history!”
In recent weeks and months I find myself wondering if our country’s democracy will even survive. If the great American Experiment will ultimately fail. With racially motivated violence on the rise; gerrymandering and weak voter rights laws leaving millions of BIPOC Americans underrepresented in Washington; the obsolete Electoral College resulting in a “minority rules” government; a radical Supreme Court run amok; and a bunch of wimps in Congress who continue to embrace The Big Lie and support a wannabe dictator, things look pretty bleak. The basic human rights of BIPOC and LGBTQ folks are constantly under attack and we are nowhere near living in an equitable society. A quick look at quality-of-life statistics shows our brothers and sisters of color at or near the bottom of each measure. Even in a town that proclaims to be “nicer” than and champions “kindness”, racism and transphobia is “out and proud”.
President Biden often talks about America being an idea–an idea that we have yet to live up to. He’s not the first person to use that kind of language. Neither is musician and activist Bono, but I found some solace in this 2012 quote of his:
“America is an idea. Ireland is a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain is a great country, but it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world, as one of the greatest ideas in human history.”
So on this day, while not awash in patriotism, I am also not devoid of gratitude. Yes, I am frustrated and infuriated that BIPOC Americans do not have the privilege that I have as a white American; that racism is built into so many of our institutions. But I am also grateful for this country of immigrants, the beautiful diversity of its land and its people, and for the promise of “a more perfect union”. I think it’s ok to be both grateful and outraged. This big, messy, country is deserving of both.
I’m not ready to wholeheartedly celebrate Independence Day, proudly donning my red, white, and blue. Too many of my fellow Americans are intentionally and systematically being denied the freedoms and rights that white Americans like me so often take for granted. I will celebrate when America lives up to its promise to all its people and not just to the privileged few.
This Independence Day I will enjoy the company of my own diverse family. And I will be thinking about the concrete ways in which I can do my part to make “Liberty and Justice for All” a reality and not just a wonderfully brilliant idea.