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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Preparing For The Fourth Of July

A week from yesterday will be July 4th. That is the day where we celebrate our independence as a nation, a nation that is alleged to believe in fairness, equality, justice, and opportunity. And when we slip up in the present, we can always resort to the past to set our ways straight.

But like the present, the past ain't what it use to be. Anyone who has read a balanced list of sources about the past can shout 'AMEN.' When we step back and observe how we celebrate the Fourth of July, we should note it has much in common with the other holidays we celebrate in that they are crafted so we can feel good or better about ourselves. On Thanksgiving Day, we feel good or better about ourselves by engaging in gluttony. We make ourselves feel better on Christmas by utilizing crass consumerism. And New Year's Eve and Day we use hope for the coming year and resolutions to feel better about ourselves. On Memorial Day, we prove ourselves by how we honor those who have given their lives in our nation's wars and interventions. As for next week, we will feel good by association as we honor the "independent" spirit of America as demonstrated by our nation's Founding Fathers.

This need, or compulsion, to feel good about ourselves, however, silences important but disturbing voices from history just as it silences the still small voice of our consciences. So we try to celebrate unincumbered by ignoring how our lives and freedom have affected others. This is no more true than when we celebrate our nation's past  and build pedestals for our Founding Fathers so it will be easier to pay homage to them. And to  the extent that we can celebrate their achievements and honor them, we feel connected to them and thus feel better about ourselves.

And yet, history's voices can never really be silenced as disturbing as they may be. Frederick Douglass's speech on what July 4th meant to slave documents this (click here).  For while Douglass praises the accomplishments of those from America's past, he notifies his audience that he has no share in their glory and thus in their joy. Why?  It is becuase of how his people have been treated. They were ripped away from their families and stolen from their homelands so that they could wear chains and live in the service of others. And if they objected, they were beaten and tortured. If they misbehaved like others, they received harsher penalties--much like today. For while the White Americans of his time, as well as our own, congratulated themselves for how they treated each other, they lived in deep denial for how they treated others.

History tells us that we need to listen, about the barbarity that America's European settlers showed to people of color: to Blacks as well as to Native Americans. Though we know how true this history is, our compulsion to feel good has often prevents us from being fully connected with the past. And while we tolerate our own disconnection with our past, we would never allow others to enjoy such a disconnect. For how would we react to Germans who no longer felt obligated to remember the Holocaust with sadness and a sense of shame. And yet, despite the fact that we had to ethnically cleanse Native Americans from what would become our portion of the continent and use slaves to help build our economy, we often feel offended if someone would suggest that we should include remorse when remembering the past. And what is more disturbing is that both Native Americans and Blacks still suffer from the effects of their ancestors' past while we try to forget past sins.

But today is unlike Douglass's day in that we have spread the suffering around the world by intervening in 50-plus nations with over 30 of them being democracies. And the result of many of those intrusions into the democracies of others have led to dictatorships. And yet, we feel strongly led to still declare that our nation is a 'city upon a hill.' Of course, that declaration is only meant for those who are like us and who share our values. For we now refrain from so flattering our nation because of those others who have infiltrated our nation and have corrupted it. Considering that in 2013, polls showed that America was seen as posing the greatest threat to peace in the world, perhaps we should take the cue for how we are to celebrate our past and present  from others who clearly see what we really look like.



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