Before we get too giddy this weekend with waving flags, patriotic songs and exploding fireworks, how about we take a moment to consider who’s been left out?
If we go all the way back to 1776, then let’s remember African-American slaves and Native Americans for starters. We still have a long, long way to go to make up for the freedom we took away from millions of people. I wish we could have a Truth and Reconciliation process like they had in South Africa after apartheid. How else will we ever be able to hear the terrible wounds that still infect our nation today?
Let’s at least recognize the fact that the original Independence Day left out a lot of people. And while we’re at it, let’s recognize the fact that we haven’t been too quick to grant freedom (the Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed until 1964) or willing to protect it (as of 2014, 21 states have enacted new restrictions).
We also took freedom away from thousands of Native American children, forcing them into boarding schools for the purpose of assimilating them into “American” culture. They were separated from their families, forced to give up their native languages, clothing and even their names. The Church had its hand in this as well, replacing Native American traditions with Christianity. This is but one aspect of the tragic history of America’s treatment of the indigenous population of this land. But this history isn’t one that we’ll hear about on Independence Day in the midst of boasts about being “the greatest country in the world.”
Then there’s what’s become known as the Prison Industrial Complex, which is fueled and sustained by an ever-increasing prison population made up of an inordinately large percentage of people of color. The inherent racism in the justice system calls into question the denial of freedom to many who are caught in its maw.
These are just a few examples of those left out of our Independence Day celebration. We could add those who are not free from poverty, from discrimination, from the threat of gun violence, from fear of attack because of race, sexual orientation or gender identity.
On this Independence Day weekend, we would do well to adopt a spirit of humility. We are indeed a great country in so many ways. But we aren’t perfect by a long shot. So instead of leaving it up to God, as we do in the second verse of America the Beautiful (“America! America! God mend thine every flaw”), I suggest that we take it upon ourselves to “mend our every flaw,” calling on God for courage, guidance and wisdom in so doing.
Have a wonderful weekend. Celebrate well. But, please, give a thought to those who aren’t included -and a commitment to make Independence Day truly meaningful for all.