|Even better, may we mend our flaws ourselves. ©2020 Noreen Braman|
Just re-read Fredrick Douglass' speech about the Fourth of July, written when the country was a mere 76 years old.
He describes what the celebration of American Independence "meant" to slaves, especially in light of the Fugitive Slave laws. Much of what he talks about can still be heard echoing today in actions taken after emancipation to deliberately deprive African Americans of jobs, education, housing —Jim Crow — denial of GI benefits, redlining of neighborhoods ... all of which contributed to what is now called white privilege.
Most middle class white people would say they have not been actively complicit in this, (although I can remember feuding neighbors declaring revenge on each other by threatening to sell their home to a black family) however, that does not mean we were not the beneficiaries of the results.
The ongoing harm is not because of some one-time, "ancient history," that no longer affects current society, but has been reinforced over and over in attitude and policy to the present day.
We forget that George Wallace declared "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" not 150 years ago, but in the 70s — with lots of people still alive who listened and believed him. And carry his divisive racism in their hearts.
But, one must ask, "Who benefits by keeping American citizens divided? Who has continued to earn, succeed and increase their wealth no matter what is happening in American society?" The more "us vs. them" talk I hear, the more I realize how threatened this very small group of rich and powerful people must feel — to the point that they equate their own survival to the survival of the United States.
Therefore they push the idea that one group must be victorious over another group — inflaming fear of "the other." This is very evident by the need to categorize people into groups by race, political party, religion, and by using pejorative names and descriptions. I am equally horrified to see violence and destruction, as well as hear some declare "time for another Civil War." Look around the world and see what civil wars are doing. Count how many years countries have been torn apart, how many millions of people displaced.
The founders of the US were not gods, but imperfect humans, who, at times, acted in their own interests. Yet, they ultimately risked death by committing treason against England to form a new nation. They envisioned their new form of government would pass power peacefully, provide citizens with a system of legal redress, a process to introduce or change laws, and the right to hold their government accountable to the people. It wasn't perfect, in fact, despite writing of "inalienable rights" we have yet to assure those rights on an equal basis.
With our own Civil War as a painful reminder of how quickly a country can splinter and how long the damage remains in a torn nation's bloodstream, we, all of us, have a duty to resist the voices that seek to keep us divided: but rather find the ways to take the necessary steps to heal, improve, and unite.
To do this, it is our duty as a nation to constantly, and honestly, review our historical narrative (including painful issues), redefine our perception of "being American," work together for the greater good, and constantly ask ourselves if the United States is truly living up to the vision and ideals it was founded on.
"A house divided against itself, cannot stand."
— Abraham Lincoln (paraphrasing Jesus as mentioned in the Gospels and referred to by many subsequent writers)
“Divide et impera” (Divide and Conquer)
— attributed to Julius Caesar