It feels a bit strange to celebrate July 4th this year, and not just because our celebrations are muted by a global pandemic. We remain so far from the ideals and principles upon which our nation was founded.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal,” he didn’t include women. And he certainly didn’t mean Native Americans or the Black people he and others enslaved. Never mind the sanitized and mythologized versions of our history that many of us were brought up on. As a little girl, I thought the Indians were the bad guys portrayed in countless cowboy movies. It was only later that I discovered my ancestors broke treaty after treaty and systematically slaughtered, infected, and drove Native Americans off of their own land.
Nor does our history of slavery and continued oppression of black folks fill me with pride about being a white American. It’s not a pick-me-up to learn about Jim Crow, lynchings, voter suppression, and redlining—let alone witnessing countless examples of police brutality and murder of people of color.
Our nation has consistently valued white lives more than black lives. In her piece, “What Is Owed,” which appeared in the June 28 New York Times Magazine, Nikole Hannah-Jones does a brilliant job of recounting all the ways that black folks in this country have been held back and prevented from any possibility of acquiring wealth. She points out that “the average black family with children holds just one cent of wealth for every dollar that the average white family with children holds.”
The ugliness and brutality of our history makes it tough to say: “Yippee! I’m so proud to be an American.” And yet, the principles and ideals upon which our nation was founded still ring true. Today, more than ever, they are worth fighting for, worth working together to achieve. Imagine what our society would be like if we truly embraced and fought to make justice and equality for all a reality, and if we genuinely committed to building a multi-racial society where everyone has a shot at the American Dream. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take all of us.
But it will be so worth it to live up to the promise of this nation.
Happy Fourth of July.