In the United States today, people are having backyard gatherings, grilling food, drinking beer. Or they’re going to parks and beaches. Tonight, many will watch — or even set off — fireworks (though hopefully they’ll follow my advice here). Ostensibly to celebrate the United States declaring independence from the the King of England.
England … where I currently live. Today is just a Wednesday here, although my partner’s office gifted him some treats associated with the United States (I believe Twinkies were involved). But living in the country the US fought a war to leave on this day get me thinking about the hypocrisy and the irony of the US Declaration of Independence.
The 4th of July is an odd holiday to celebrate most years, but this year feels especially off. It’s celebrating a Declaration of Independence that states, in part:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Bold statement from a bunch of men who owned slaves. Also a bold statement considering the republic that followed ostensibly separates church and state — a county that also references God on it’s currency and its pledge of allegiance (interestingly, not that many countries seem to even have such a pledge.
The US has never treated its own people equally, never fully recognized the humanity in everyone. Straight white men with money have always come first; white women have benefited greatly from inequality (while also suffering their own pain due to sexism). But people of color have always been treated as other by certain facets of the government, regardless of the high minded statements in the Declaration of Independence.
We saw this just last week, when the US Supreme Court allowed a Muslim ban, and with the caging of babies ripped from their parents. It isn’t a surprise that the US treats people from other countries as less than; it treats many of its own people as less than as well.
What does this have to do with not being a jerk? Well, here’s the deal. Someone you know might say they aren’t into celebrating the 4th of July this year. And it’s understandable. It’d be understandable in any year — patriotism is a weird thing in general (and the US version can be especially bizarre) — but these past couple of years have been especially trying. They may not want to put on red, white, and blue, or watch a bunch of bombs explode against a background of God Bless America.
And that’s their right. So don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t tell them they’re making too much out of things, that it’s just a day off, just an excuse to be with friends and drink beer. It may be that for you — and if it is, that’s fine, too. Sometimes people need a day to stop thinking about all the horrors that are going on in the world, and be with their friends. But recognize it isn’t that for everyone.
It’s also possible that some people may find some hope in using today to think about all the people in the US who are fighting every day to make it a country to be proud of. A US living up to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One where no one has to fight for their basic human and civil rights, where black people don’t have to fear the police, where people of every (and no) religion are welcomed, where refugees can find solace (not cages), where people who can get pregnant don’t have to fear being forced to use their body to grow another human being, where people don’t have to worry that loving someone of the same gender might get them fired from their office.
That would truly be a US to celebrate.