July 4th: The Freedom That Wasn’t, and Still Isn’t, For All.

This day commemorates a day where wealthy white men wrote out a list of grievances against a King who wasn’t treating them with the same level of harm as they themselves were treating the people of African decent whom they were holding in literal bondage.

These white men complained of high taxes while they supported laws that would allow people of African decent to be murdered on a whim.

Does this sound at all familiar to you?

Right now, many white people are saying they are living in a fascist state because they have to wear a mask. They’re saying the measures being asked of them to save lives is akin to fascism even though no one is arresting them.

Meanwhile, black women are killed by police while asleep in their beds. Black boys are killed by police for holding toy guns. Black girls are physically assaulted by police for “talking back.” I can’t even list all of the ways in which black people are hassled, arrested, assaulted, or murdered just for being black because that would be its own essay and requires daily updates. Our indigenous people are also over policed, over incarcerated, and there is an epidemic of missing indigenous women.

Particularly, during this time of COVID-19, many white people are exaggerating their own lack of freedom while ignoring that the suffering of black, brown, and indigenous people is much worse than their own. No one can be free if they can’t even feel safe sleeping in their own bed. Yet, I routinely see white people who never speak up about racism complaining how this country has become a totalitarian state.

The past mirrors today. That’s not a coincidence.

Until we truly reckon with the past, until we are willing to face that these “founding fathers” were not merely flawed, were not merely “a product of their time,” until we acknowledge the hypocrisy of writing out beautiful words about “liberty” while supporting the capture, rape, torture and murder of African peoples, until we acknowledge the genocide of Indigenous peoples- until we do that- we will not change. We will not grow and we cannot be better.

False arguments abound that taking down statues is erasing history.

No. What we are looking for his more history.

This isn’t erasure. This is the opposite. This is revealing what was already erased. This is excavation of what was buried.

Let’s teach the 4th of July, yes. Let’s know its importance in our history but not as the birth of a great nation of freedom but as a day when a promise was made that has yet to be fulfilled. But it hasn’t been fulfilled because it was written by wealthy white men *for* wealthy white men. So, in a way, it has exactly been fulfilled. But then how we teach it is the lie.

I grew up watching the musical 1776. That movie makes a huge show of how much some of the founders wanted to abolish slavery because of a passage that Jefferson wrote condemning the practice (though Jefferson owned slaves). But in the end, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin “compromised” in order to create the country because they couldn’t get the Southern states to sign the Declaration if they kept a passage that critiqued slavery.

I ask, if you are not personally affected by the existence or abolishment of slavery, what kind of compromise was it for you? If you are willing to postpone the literal physical freedom of others so that you may have more freedom than you already had, should we call you noble and keep statues of you?

Given the language of the Declaration, which makes it sound like these men are themselves enslaved, you can be sure they wouldn’t have made that compromise if it had affected their own lives- if they were the ones losing that kind of freedom.

Please read through the Declaration. Especially if you claim to be a patriot, how often have you actually read the full document? Read it. Read it and remember that (a) this country was birthed out of riots and rebellion and (b) it was also birthed with a lie so big that we are still lying to ourselves today. Read the Declaration then read Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.”

To celebrate today is to celebrate a day where people cheered for freedom while holding chains in their hands that keep others precisely away from freedom.

I don’t want us to erase the past (as if we could). I want us to own to the full truth of it.

I used to have the wistful hope one finds in Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” I suppose I may still hope for that ideal because the Declaration also states:

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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Those words were written to justify a rebellion of wealthy white men. Those words were written to justify riots and treason. But if we now claim that the Declaration should be for all people, then all of the protests of Black Lives Mater are perfectly justified within this passage. They are not just justified, they are sanctioned.

We must decide if freedom is only for white people. We must decide if rebellion is only for white people. We must decide if sovereignty is only for white people. If we are stating the Declaration is now to be regarded as a document for all people, then freedom and rebellion must also be for all.