My friend goes on to say that “America has achieved so much and been such a positive influence on the course of human history.” Like beauty, that statement is in the eye of the beholder. The United States often vacillates between hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of its own citizens, and humanitarianism when it comes to the treatment of the citizens of the world. We often declare what we deem to be the right and equal treatment of people around the world, yet we do not consistently demonstrate what we deem to be the right and equal treatment of people here at home.
For my friend to say that “I see no reason that our contributions cannot and will not continue to benefit the people of this country and the rest of the world,” seems rather arrogant to me, especially when we like to think we have made great strides in ensuring the freedoms of others while we are content to merely have opportunity to make the United States a better place, “little by little, as we are aligning ourselves closer to the ideal of our founding principles,” in his words.
I am not content to have the opportunity to make America a better place, little by little. By now, we should expect to make leaps and bounds toward realizing what my friend calls “the optimism, opportunity and freedom that was established at the get go.”
And here is where we began: My conflicted state of being around July 4th is that freedom was not universally established at the get-go. Remember that little stain of slavery that has not yet faded enough to be unnoticeable? Yeah, that right there.
And, that little stain of slavery should serve to remind all of us that freedom was certainly not free. It came with the highest price one could possibly pay: human lives. This country was founded and flourished on the backs of enslaved Black people who, against all odds, proved that they had both the brawn to build and the brains to band together in ways that resulted in townships like Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK, the Hayti Community in Durham, NC, and Jackson Ward in Richmond, VA.
My dear friend is proud to be an American and I harbor no resentment toward him for that. And, even as one of the most aware white men I know, for him to say that being an American comes with many privileges and some awesome responsibilities, comes from a place that has not known any other way of life besides privileges, if I am to “keep it real.”
For him to say that our 4th of July celebrations are an example of the “pursuit of happiness that is grounded in the right of life and liberty, and that to keep that happiness we must be vigilant about executing and extending the rights of life and liberty” just rings hollow to me.
And yet, I do appreciate his admonishment that we do not forget to look for opportunities to increase the life and liberty of the communities around us. On that point, I can certainly agree. Which is why I am grateful this year for the formal and federal acknowledgement of Juneteenth. Hopefully, between now and next year, when we have had a chance to determine who, what, when, where, why, and how we celebrate Juneteenth, I can derive as much pride and joy from it as my friend does from July 4th.