I hope you’re having a reflective 4th of July.
As I wrote about yesterday, I believe we need to pay closer attention to our holidays. Both for a stronger impact in our celebrations, but also to understand why we’re even celebrating. So I’m going to respectfully do the same for today. What is July 4th all about?
For me, it’s about the birth of our country, yes, but also a day to think back on and remember all the things that we’ve done since that famous day in history.
I understand the core of this holiday, and I will respect that much – freedom from another controlling country, and a whole host of virtues such as resilience, bravery, and passion. I get that, and I’m thankful for the chain of events that led to my existence. Without those things, none of us would be where we are right now.
Here’s where I start raising a skeptical brow: what did we do with this new, free country? How did we improve beyond what we fought so hard to get away from, and how have we done as a country?
In my eyes, the improvements that matter are not technological or otherwise material related. I focus on civil rights, and equality. Peace between separate nations. Looking back at the last 236 years, and I don’t see nearly enough of that coming from this influential country.
Look at one of the first things “accomplished” – we basically exterminated Native Americans in many parts of North America, just because they were there. It was all done under false pretenses such as the Native Americans being a “danger to the people of the United States,” or, “not worthy holders of God’s land,” (Manifest Destiny). Millions of lives were unfairly taken. That was how the U.S. began.
The next issue of prominence – slavery. We were the last major country in the world to abolish such an inhumane way of living, but not before forcibly moving millions of Blacks from their homes in Africa and putting them through back-breaking labor and abuse. Washington himself owned 300 slaves.
Just because it was illegal to own slaves didn’t mean anyone had to treat Blacks fairly. So for the next hundred years there were ridiculously prejudice struggles over something that should be a fundamental right (and is according to the Declaration of Independence – all men were created equal). Even today, though, many African American people are still treated without proper respect.
Which leads me to my next point – civil rights for all people.
Woman had to be looked at completely differently for the first time – as good as any man. Homosexuality was considered a sickness in the U.S. for the longest time. A disgrace, a sin. We’re slowly gaining awareness, which is great, but not before pushing gays to the point of having astronomical suicide rates. The LGBT movement still has a long way to go, as hate-filled judgements are still bandied about. Being that America is the “melting pot” of the world, shouldn’t it be at the forefront of acceptance and understanding of every kind for all people? And yet we’re struggling over things that portray blatant closed-mindedness… in the 21st century. A person is a person no matter their interests.
Possibly worst of all are all the wars that America has started, and fought for so long. Wars against the Native Americans, wars in the Middle East. Bombings in Japan, the nastiness of the Vietnam War. It’s unfathomable, the amount of death and suffering that has been inflicted on people around the world. Not all of it is our fault, by any means, but we contributors like anyone else, and that needs to be taken into account. The book A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a brick of a book that discusses all of these things from the “other” perspective. I Highly recommend the read.
Why do I bring up such dark subjects on this fine day? Because I think it’s important to remember the good and the bad moments in our history. We live in an amazingly powerful nation, responsible for changing the world in great and awful ways. There is much for us to be proud about, accomplishments only we achieved.
Sadly, we often ignore our own faults when we should focus on them for improvements moving forward. We have a bright future available for posterity, but only if we can admit what we’ve done and what we’re doing, and move on to greater levels of fairness and understanding, of reflection and introspection. Today is a day of enjoyment and fireworks, and today we have more equality and acceptance in America than ever before. But we have into take into account what we are neglecting, and change our attitudes towards that. At the very least, give the time to dwell on such things.
So I believe we should celebrate what we’ve accomplished, and mourn what we haven’t, as individuals and as a collective. Think of where we started 236 years ago, how much we’ve grown, and where we’re going in the next 236. It’s up to us living here right now to make them better for the people soon to enter our world.
- America Exceptional? (candidobservation.wordpress.com)
- Racism Review: Frederick Douglass: What, to the American Slave, is Your 4th of July? (migranttales.net)
- What Do We Celebrate this July Fourth? (constitutioncampaign.org)
- American Inequality (themillions.com)