“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” That phrase was written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, revolutionary and slave-owner.
Today is July 4th, Independence Day, the day we celebrate the true founding of the United States of America. It’s an incredible day in American history, probably the most important day in our history, but it’s not only a good day. It also marks the day that slavery became an national institution, American law. It’s the day we officially claimed that the land which didn’t belong to the colonizers did, in fact, belong to the colonizers. The country that Jefferson proclaimed was the land where all people are equal was, from its very conception, wrought with inequality, and he knew it.
Thomas Jefferson actively spoke against slavery, condemning it and practicing it simultaneously. When Marquis de Lafayette (who you may know as the man who confused and confounded the British henchmen in Hamilton, the Broadway Musical) pressed Jefferson on the issue of slavery, Jefferson said, in so many words, that the country wasn’t yet ready for the abolishment of slavery. Slavery–the capture, sale, abuse, rape and murder of human beings–was the economic backbone of early America, the Land of the Free, the land stolen from Native Americans.
Now, my goal here is not to bash the United States, because for all of our glaring shortcomings, we have made progress and, at times, been a force for good in the world. However, we can no longer celebrate the Fourth of July with the pseudo-patriotic revisionist lenses that white America has for so long, because that ideal simply doesn’t hold water anymore. America has never been great, not for everyone, but each new decade we’ve usually been closer to great than the decade before. When the chips are down, we tend to do the right thing. This year, the chips are down, and it’s up to a polarized, social media-driven America to make that choice.
Today, while you’re eating your barbecue and watching fireworks, or watching Hamilton on Disney+, or having a quiet evening alone or with family, I’m only asking that you take a moment to reflect on our nation’s nuanced, fractured past. Each and every one of us has a role to play in what happens next. We, every one of us, have a hand on the wheel, deciding where America turns in the wake of the 2020 reckoning. The chips are down; let’s do the right thing.
Happy Independence Day.