As my gut churned in protest, I hit delete. And here we are.
I was the rebellious kid who, even in kindergarten, refused to say the pledge of allegiance. While I didn’t have the words to explain my discomfort, I instinctively felt that something was off. I was especially confused as to why my black teacher was saying and enforcing the pledge. I knew that her ancestors would have been slaves at the start of our nation. I felt shame in saying the pledge because I felt I was telling her (whom I loved) that I supported slavery because it bought me a country. I felt I was witnessing her shame as she was forced to go through these same indoctrinating words, even as her blind white kids obediently and unthinkingly chanted along like good little robots. I was never a good little robot.
I worried that this meant I was not patriotic. But I actually felt a deep sense of pride and patriotism. If this is a country ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ then she was my people.
I had philosophical and spiritual issues too. We were taught that religious freedom was one of the great allures of the colonies and that separation of church and state was one of the things this great nation stood for. My preacher couldn’t explain why ‘god’ was in the pledge and on our money. And neither could my teacher. (I was also hyper-aware of what Jesus taught about money changers in front of the house of God. Was putting god on our money really any different?)
I thought of all the people who were not Christian. If America stood for religious freedom, why were non-Christians forced to associate their country with the Christian god, even while being told we upheld a separation of church and state.
Patriotism is defined as: the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country. I am deeply patriotic and hold a passionate pride and love of my country and every unique and beautiful person that makes it up. Just because America was built by white men on the backs of slaves, does not mean that we have to continue to pay homage to those white men. I am proud to be an American. I am not proud of the genocide and commodification of humans and torture that purchased my privilege to be an American. And I will not celebrate such atrocities.
I call for the homage of new, overlooked heroes. I call for a new pledge that includes every American. I call for a new national day of celebration that is inclusive of every American.
As our nation celebrates Independence Day, I implore you to truly consider what that means. And what you want it to mean. Consider the effects our historical and current reality has had on black people, Natives, Latinx, LGTBQ, and all other marginalized groups.
As I work with folks who have chronic illness, I am well aware that these are the very groups who disproportionately experience chronic illness. They disproportionately lack health care and insurance, have obesity, diabetes, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome…I could go on.
As you consider what it means to be an American and how we can better celebrate that fact, I urge you to take extra care of yourself. Pay close attention to the basics: plenty of water, clean food, extra sleep. 2020 has proven to be the most collectively challenging year in our living history and that too has disproportionately affected our marginalized communities. Give yourself some extra love, give your neighbors some extra love and reclaim and redefine what it means to you to be an American.
With much love,
Do you celebrate the 4th of July?
The Meaning of the 4th of July for the Negro, by Frederick Douglass