06 July 2009

Enraged on The 4th of July

I'm a conscientious American. This means I am both proud and critical of my country. I appreciate my freedoms, recognizing my sass would get me killed in a lot of other places. I don't think there's any other country like the United States - no other nation with a people so diverse and so unified. Just this year, I've become more connected to my compatriots thanks to Twitter and Texts from Last Night. I'm learning Americans are aware, and that we're funny. I think America is great, but not the greatest. That's not to say I think there's a country that does what do better, just that we as a nation can and will improve. I am a conscientious American. And I do not observe Independence Day.

My logic is simple: my ancestors were not independent. What cause have I to celebrate? In the the land of the free - behind the homes of the brave - my people were slaves. It's not something I ever want to forget. It's something I refuse to ignore. America would be less than great to me if she as a nation had not progressed so much in so little time. It enrages me to hear people say America is great just because, to act like the country has always been what it is, and should be celebrated as such. As you know, I love birthdays partly because of the knowledge gained year to year. I think it's absurd to ignore slavery on a day focused on freedom. Last Saturday, I tried to convey that in 140 characters:

I admit a 4th of July bitterness. Yes, the colonies declared independence. And then they kept slaves for another 89 years.
I got several replies from my friend @dpwtv, who ignores that 140 character thing:

[H]umans are a complicated group. We do good and bad, depending on differing points of view. It doesn't devalue the importance... you just have to take the good with the bad and try not to let either one overshadow the other... don't forget the past, but don't wallow in it either. Life is too short. Make a difference, either big or small.. choose your battles, but don't let the fight take up your whole life. Happy 4th. Danie :)

And I felt the blood surge to my head. Slavery does not fall in the gray area of "good and bad, depending on differing points of view." Maybe it did then, but certainly not now. There is a difference between taking "the good with the bad" and ignoring the bad altogether. It's hypocrisy to celebrate freedom while actively stealing people from their homes and enslaving them. That reads to me like a true and simple statement. I have not spent my life "wallowing" in it. And anyone who has spent any time with me can testify it certainly does not take up my whole life.

[D]avid, I don't "wallow" in slavery. But I don't choose to ignore the hypocrisy for a hot dog and fireworks either.

I have no reason to celebrate "freedom" today. It's not "taking up my whole life," it's a fact.

I admit I was furious, or at least I thought I was furious. Turns out the fury didn't really come until @Sand_Rat opined:

Your willingness to celebrate the 4th is affected by decisions made by British outcasts over 200 years ago.

Just think, this backwards country may one day elect a black President. After that, maybe we'll get past slavery.
To go at it piece by piece - a lot of what we do as Americans in 2009 is shaped by decisions made by those British outcasts, so I don't see why my lack of July 4th observance should be any different. The truths we supposedly hold to be self evident were drafted by those outcasts. They formed the government under which we pledge allegiance. Yes, I feel I can take their decisions and make my own. As a matter of fact - when deciding my position - I can take the decisions of their descendants for the 89 years between the first Independence Day and the abolition of slavery.

And again, my recognition of slavery was misconstrued as dwelling. I dare say I am not someone who has yet to get "past slavery." I'm not demanding reparations. I have no intentions on moving back to the motherland. I don't observe Juneteenth, and I think it was a waste of resources for Congress to apologize for it last month. Slavery happened. My existence in this country, with this name, and with roots in South Carolina is an observance of that. I am proud to be who and where I am. I am an American. I am a descendant of slaves. And as ugly as slavery was, it helped shape the country. I will not have that ignored. There is no day to observe slaves. There's no time at which Americans say "that was really horrible." I choose to be aware on the day marking freedom. And I want my intentions be clear:
It's not about being "past slavery." I'm not asking for reparations. Still, my ancestors weren't free on 7/4/76. So I opt out

I didn't call the country "backwards." I'm not rallying for a boycott. I choose not to observe. Also, Obama doesn't erase slavery.

I have the right to not observe a holiday. I have a right to explain why. You have the right to judge me on that. You also have the right to wear blinders, and tell yourself the Native Americans just didn't want their land, and that Africans chose to come to America to help white people be better farmers. You can say this country came to be without fights between the Irish and the Italians and without mistreatment of the Chinese. You can say America is currently beautiful and that's all that counts. But if you ignore the bad, how can you truly appreciate the good?

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  1. I totally feel you. As an atheist (and someone who has never really had a lovely christmas) I don't necessarily boycott, but I try to just quietly abstain. EVERYONE, including other atheists takes offense with this and pretty much attacks me with arguments like "your opinion is wrong."
    Christmas is just not for me, but I try not to shit on anyone else's good time, and I explain that I will not buy you a present, but I enjoy Eggnog and A Christmas Story. I told boyfriend that he can have a tree, but I'm not helping decorate, or cleaning up needles. I feel like I'm being a good sport, all things considered, and, like you, I have a valid reason for my feelings.
    Why is that just not enough?

  2. I don't think you should party like it's is 1776. Maybe you know some people on the east coast who do but my ancestors were in Norway doing who knows what. Probably fishing or reindeer herding.

    You should enjoy it in the present context. I think it just happens to be THE summer holiday and "The Man" lifts the fireworks prohibition for a week. Some rich cod merchants didn't want to pay taxes 250 years ago made this happen.

    You don't have to be patriotic but you can still have fun, right?

    But you work in news and the show must go on. Maybe if you got the day off...