A Common Memory

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 11.26.57 PMLet America be the dream the dreamers dreamed– Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek– And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

– Langston Hughes (Excerpt from Let America Be America Again)

Like many people within the United States, I’m getting ready to meet friends for fireworks and a cookout but my day is not without tension. I find myself struggling between valuing time with loved ones and feeling the weight of the knowledge of the origins of the Fourth of July.

The deeper I delve into the process of decolonizing my own mind and shedding the myth of U.S. supremacy the harder it is to celebrate days like today.

Thanksgiving day… Columbus Day… The fourth of July… these are holidays celebrating U.S. exceptionalism while erasing or justifying genocide, displacement, enslavement and colonialism that has victimized a number of people groups.

Independence day represents the birth of the United States of America. but, if we’re honest, today is mostly a day for sparklers, grills and gratuitous flag-waving. Upon its creation, this day was intended to honor the Declaration of Independence- a document stating U.S. sovereignty and freedom from the British Empire. It was and remains a document that, right below saying all men are created equal, refers to native people as “merciless Indian savages.”

It’s a holiday that celebrates the forming of a country that has gone on to decimate native land, enslave African people, and continues to exploit and dehumanize Latinx migrant workers (sometimes to the point of death). Sadly, this list of injustices is by no means exhaustive…

So, yes, I understand why some Americans can celebrate without pause but, for me, acknowledging any good in Independence day also requires seeking what Mark Charles calls “a common memory”- an honest account of all the U.S. has achieved AND perpetrated.

This must be met with constant, concerted effort to atone. How can we cease to perpetuate these injustices if we will not name them. If daring to challenge the supremacy of this country is received as though it were a treasonous offense? The reality is many of us continue to have lived experiences that contradict the American ideals of freedom and equality.

For Laurita the lived experience includes the harsh realities of current immigration policies:

Many individuals have arrived to this country undocumented, and have taken jobs as gardeners, dishwashers, busboys, constructions workers, cleaners and nannies. I cannot help but lament on this day that many of this hard working people is what make this day possible. “Independence and freedom” at the cost and marginalization of others, is often what I feel is been celebrated. Furthermore, I have found it difficult to celebrate a “family friendly” holiday knowing that many of my neighbors and church members have been affected by the 2 million + that have been deported by the current administration, in the name of “liberty & justice for all”. – Children’s Counselor Laurita Torres

For FaKelia it is the racist legacy of anti-blackness that remains ever present in the United States:

“A country built by enslaved Africans at the brutal hands of white men… A country who’s government is lead by a man of African decent, but cannot face it’s racism & surely will not allow him to recognize/address such deeply seeded racism… I can’t celebrate when 9 people who look like me, sound like me, act like me, talk like me, dress like me, worship like me, pray like me, laugh like me, love like me, AND believe in God like me were slaughtered because God allowed them to have more melanin in their skin at the hands of a monster who had less melanin in his skin… It’s the same sin & demonic force America has allowed to brood since July 4th, 1776! No Thank You!” – FaKelia Guyton

We must acknowledge the many ways in which our own government and systems of power within this country have harmed and continue to harm people of color. For people like FaKelia and Laurita this national holiday is a day of lament.

And, for now, it will continue to be so because, in our honest moments we know, Independence day celebrates “American” ideals we do not truly live out.

Yet…

“I encourage everyone to understand the history, recognize the problems of the present and take action to show the world that the status quo is not acceptable. […] I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?” – Bree Newsome

Related Reading

The Dilemma Of the Fourth Of July

The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair

Do American Indians Celebrate the Fourth of July

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2 thoughts on “A Common Memory

  1. It’s about time you updated this blog!

    I like to think that American liberty is a great idea poorly executed, especially in the hands of the ruling powers.

    • Ha! So sorry. I have been dreadful. I would blame it on traveling all month for work but then I’ll have no excuse for when it happens again.

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