Today is July 4th, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In it, the colonies that would become the United States of America laid out why they felt impelled to rebel against Great Britain and form their own nation. According to that document, the rebellion, and thus the basis for the existence of the United States, rests foremost upon the recognition that there are self-evident truths about human existence: rights to life, liberty, and happiness that no human authority can or should deny.
America was founded on principles to which it has always had difficulty living up.
The hard reality is that the nation was built on the labor, abuse, and exploitation of native peoples, Africans and African-Americans, and later, various immigrant groups. In that way, people from those groups and recent immigrants have done more to “make America great” than most claiming some heritage as the Daughters (or Sons) of the American Revolution.
Don’t get me wrong. At least those associations are now admit African-Americans who descend from our founding fathers through the rape of Black slaves. There is, at least, some acknowledgment of that darker part of our history.
But, as we embark on this July 4th weekend, I can’t help but pause for a moment and reflect. Ideologically, on principles, the United States of America was founded on the belief there should be no such thing as second-tier citizens. But from the start, the new country struggled with practicing what it preached. By keeping slavery legal, the country was already undermining those principles in practice. Keeping the vote away from women didn’t look too good on that front either. Nor did the ongoing treatment of the indigenous peoples.
But the goal, the ideal, the selling point of the American republic was supposed to be a recognition that everyone had the same rights and should be treated fairly, justly, and equally. And that among those rights, everyone should have the right to representative government, to some form of say in that government, and to speak out to demand the government change for the better.
So when celebrating America and American ideals this weekend, take a moment to think about how we failed those ideals and keep failing them. Still to this day, Americans of color, LGBTQ+ Americans, and other Americans still are essentially second-tier citizens. Active efforts at voter suppression of people of color continue. If you want to celebrate America, spend some time thinking about how we fix that going forward and make America more like the principles upon which it is supposed to be based. Honor the United States by working to make it become the nation it has always promised to be.
“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.”
-Declaration of Independence
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
– United States Constitution
“[W]e Care nothing about the union; we heave been in it Slaves over two hundred And fifty years”
-from “A Colored Man’s” musing on the U.S. Constitution found in New Orleans in 1863. Union here refers to the United States, i.e., the Union during the American Civil War.
“I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
-Jackie Robinson, U.S. veteran and MLB player.
“My hands are up. Please don’t shoot”
-Numerous unarmed African-Americans to this day, facing police overreaction and brutality. Police still shoot and beat them.