I don’t celebrate the 4th of July.
I’m an American, but I don’t really understand the point of celebrating independence from Britain. It seems a little ridiculous to celebrate freedom from a colonial power when you’re living in a country that simply became a separate colonial power, a country that was built on the back of genocide, slavery, and mass oppression. Too many of our history lessons are whitewashed, and I think it’s important to be frank and honest about that. Many of our national values are abhorrent.
Does this mean that I’m in no way proud of my culture? No. What it means is that I’m proud of certain things, but I avoid expressing patriotism as a whole because I believe that displaying the symbols of American patriotism without talking about what they represent would just make me a part of an often-unthinking mass. It’s not okay to say “sure, our history kind of sucks, but we’re past that now,” or “I know that we’re culpable in a lot of ways, but the problem is too big for me to tackle.”
Yes, it is a big fucking problem. It is a big fucking problem. But that’s not a reason to ignore it. That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that many of our laws, policies, and programs are racist. That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that we continue to perpetrate cultural genocide against indigenous cultures. That’s not a reason to accept the rewriting of history that teaches elementary school students all over the country that bad things happened in our history, but don’t worry, you don’t have to think about those.
I think part of tackling the problem is looking deeper, at what is good and what is bad in our country. For example, when I look at my Southern heritage, I do feel some guilt. I hate that my ancestors “owned” their fellow human beings. I hate the racism that continues in the South today. So I try to do what I can to fight the problems I see in the South–racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the eradication of reproductive rights, to name a few. At the same time, I look at the good things. If I hated everything about the South, I wouldn’t be eager to change it. I’d just hang out up here in Maryland and say “good riddance.” But it’s my culture, for better or worse–I love that our food kicks your food right in the pattootie. I love putting bourbon in everything. I love the mountains and the beach, I love sitting out on the porch chatting and drinking tea. I love the pace of life, the difference between the rural and urban South. I love our writers and musicians.
I can say the same about the United States. I’m an activist because I give a shit about my culture, and I want to be proud of it. Culture goes beyond government, beyond nation. If you dig deeper, you find great things to celebrate in the people who live within these borders. Among all the shitty history, you find great little stories that make you feel a sense of pride and connection to the land and the people who live on it. I don’t care about our independence from Britain. I care that we are here, that we are fighting, that we are trying to make our society a better place in which to live.