Every year on the Fourth of July, I feel incredibly torn.
On one hand, it’s true that I have some degree of pride because I live in a nation that for most of it’s history has been a beacon of free speech, religious freedom, and democratic values. On the other hand, I have come to recognize that many of the catchphrases that have been embedded in the minds of every American- phrases like “liberty and justice for all”, “land of the free and home of the brave”, and “all men are created equal”- are indeed great ideals to aspire to, but actually represent realities that we have never experienced in this country.
On Independence Day, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document that declared the colonists would no longer submit to the rule of the British Crown. That America was an independent nation who had set its sights on becoming a democratic utopia. Except the truth is that most, if not all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence didn’t actually intend to create a country of freedom and diversity. Instead, they desired to create a country where those who believed liked them, looked like them, and thought like them could be free. At the same time, they also believed that such freedom could only be achieved through the exploitation and oppression of those who weren’t like them– namely African slaves and the indigenous peoples of North America.
See, while the signers of the Declaration of Independence were declaring their own freedom from the religious oppression of the British Crown, they were at the same time promoting the enslavement and oppression of those that they considered inferior.
So yes, on one hand I am grateful that this new experiment called The United States of America was birthed some 239 years ago, on the other hand, I am deeply distressed that over the past 239 we have not yet come close to living out the ideals espoused in that Declaration. The writers began by declaring:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
But they certainly didn’t believe this. And our government still doesn’t to this day. People of color are not treated as if they’re created equal in America. Neither are women, LGBTQ+ individuals, or Muslims. These folks are not permitted the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No, they are forced to comply with laws and regulations that suppress their freedom of expression and their fundamental dignity.
The writers of the Declaration of Independence also list a litany of grievances against the Crown, ways in which the British Monarchy had overstepped it’s boundaries and oppressed the colonists. Some of those grievances include:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
What’s ghastly is that many of these same grievances can be leveled against the American Government that the colonists founded over the course of its history in its relation to a wide array of minority groups. And it must not be lost on us that the drafters of this document refer to the indigenous inhabitants of this land as “merciless Indian Savages“- and our government has continued to treat the native population of these lands as such even up to our modern era.
So while this was indeed a declaration of independence from the rule of the British Monarchy for the colonists, it was also the beginning of a 239 year reign of oppression and destruction that fundamentally contradicted the ideals so eloquently stated at the opening of this Declaration.
So, again, while I am grateful that I live in the United States of America, it is not lost on me that my country has never lived up to the ideals in the document that we celebrate on this day. Not only have we not lived up to these ideals, we have proudly and boldly contradicted these ideals, reigning down oppression and marginalization on multiplied millions of people.
And while it may be true that we are comparatively better than many other nations in the world when it comes to human rights, I believe we should refuse to settle for celebrating our slight progress, and instead renew our commitment to dismantling the oppressive systems and structures that the first Declaration of Independence laid the groundwork for. I believe we need a new start as a nation, one that begins with reparations and repentance, and intentionally works to embody the ideals that we have so often flaunted, but rarely lived up to.
We need a new kind of Independence Day, one that marks the start of a new era of American history where we refuse to put politics above people, where we truly believe in the dignity and equality of every person who makes their way to the shores of this land, and that celebrates the full array of diversity among humanity.
We need a new kind of Independence Day that refuses to allow the top 1% to control 99% of the wealth in our world, and that says we will no longer allow discrimination against anyone because of the religion they practice, the gender identity they embrace, or the person they love.
We need a new kind of Independence Day that refuses to sit idly by when we see images of thousands children being locked in cages in unsanitary conditions at our borders, and makes known that this nation founded by immigrants will continue to welcome with open arms all who seek to find a new life within our borders.
We need a new kind of Independence Day where we do not celebrate our military might or nuclear power, but rather revels in the unity we have with nations around the world and the ways we as a global community have and will continue to work to advance human rights.
When we begin to move towards that kind of Independence, then I might be able to celebrate with joyful abandon. But until then, I will continue to fight for a better future in the nation that I call home.