This morning on my ride with a friend, he related a recent political bit he’d seen on a late night show in which residents of a beach town in California were interviewed about the meaning of Independence Day. You can imagine some of the responses. One person thought America was celebrating its independence from the South, as if we’d won our independence as a nation from the Confederacy.
One could argue about whether that has ever really happened. With Confederate flags still the emblem of choice for so many Americans, have we really earned our independence as a nation? Do we even deserve to claim American exceptionalism when there is clearly a faction of society that does not embrace the values of equality for all Americans?
The racism simmering ever since President Obama took office has finally boiled over like a kettle of country corn. The flame beneath the American melting pot has been set on high the last six years and the hot breath of racism has steamed into the political atmosphere where it overheats the dialogue and cooks the frog of freedom to death.
Racism and nationalism a dangerous mix
Last year I wrote about the achievements of Meb Feflezighi, the African-born naturalized American citizen who won the Boston Marathon. The article was titled “Why Meb’s Boston victory confuses so many people.”
The basis for the piece was a statement I read about how many Americans refuse to see such individuals as true citizens of our country. This is true on several fronts. Some don’t like the idea that someone moved here and calls themselves an American. Others don’t like the fact that Meb has a different skin color than their own. It’s that basic and stupid.
When I posted that article to the Running section of Reddit in hopes of an enlightened discussion on the subject, it was lambasted as naive and idealistic in its assessment of racial problems in America. One angry troll ripped me for claiming that racism was a problem at all in America. “None of the people I know are racist,” he complained. “95% of the people in America are over that stuff.”
Only, they’re obviously not. Not only is race still a sensitive issue, it is a principal source of domestic terrorism, and has long been that way. White supremacy organizations are determined to dominate and dictate the social order. Once such band of nutniks, the KKK, tries to hide its fascist intentions by claiming to be a “Christian organization concerned only with keeping the white race pure.” But the KKK’s history as a terrorist organization defies those claims. The KKK has tortured and killed in the name of white supremacy. It is a racist, dangerous element of society. There is nothing about the KKK that Jesus would have advocated or admired. It is likely the KKK would put a Jew like Jesus to death on its own racist terms.
Does racism by itself actually cause problems? Or is it as harmless belief system? Is racism a lifestyle choice or a genetic predisposition?
These are questions that come to mind quickly on the heels of a man walking into a church with a concealed weapon. Then he sat through a service in order to target his victims and kill people in cold blood. His motives were demonstrably racist and he clearly stated that he want to kill people whose skin color he detested.
Clearly he’s not alone in his racist hatred. Almost a dozen churches have been burned since the murder spree. Racism is alive and well in South Carolina and many other states like it across America. The argument erupted over the symbolism of the Confederate flag and its close ties to slavery in the United States. America has responded symbolically by turning its back on the Confederate flag and demanding it be removed from state capitols and other public places. Walmart stores stopped selling Confederate-branded junk.
It’s all about the base
But these moves won’t sway people who feel their independence is being adversely impacted by the mere presence of black people, Latinos, Jews or any other race of human beings. Certain political parties and boldface sociopaths make a habit of courting this base of hateful, fearful racists as a voting bloc. Donald Trump and his comments about Mexicans comes to mind. There was a backlash in media agreements and retail partners pulling out of deals with The Donald, but here’s the sick truth: His Republican polling numbers actually went up. When it comes to race-baiting, it’s all about the base.
Men like The Donald do not accept that we are all human, and one species. They’ve bolstered their self-image by denigrated the value of other people for so long, it is a tradition in their kin and their kind. The Donald has proven he is as ignorant as some hillbilly Southern cracker with his vendetta against Mexicans. He may be wealthy, but he’s still stupid as a brick when it comes to basic human rights and equality.
Men like The Donald raise their kids to be racists and band together like a sports team with uniforms and team insignias and tons of other symbols of their habitual hatred. Some even own sports teams, yet view their athletes as property and chattel.
Defiance and true independence
I’m old enough to remember well the display of fists in the air when Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made that gesture as a statement that American interests were divided when it came to equality for blacks. I was 11 years old at the time, yet already appreciated through other events in the news that black people were still being victimized by racist policies in America.
I’d had my own direct experience with racial fear in an incident with two small black boys with whom I played during my brother’s baseball games. Those two kids were great fun until I accidentally plowed into one of them and gave him, quite ironically one might say, a black eye. The next time I saw them they told me they could no longer play with me because their mother said they had to stay away from white kids. I was six years old then, and stunned that a thing like that could happen. But I accepted and understood that their mother wanted to protect them. Who would not?
It wasn’t hard to see the significance and strength of those two athletes on the podium at Mexico City. They’d worked hard to earn their medals, yet America still deemed them second class citizens.
I now see that gesture as a plain and reasonable statement about the falsehood of independence when it is not granted equally. America celebrates the 4th of July the same way we choose to celebrate Christmas. It’s all about the Fireworks (or presents) and not much about the gratitude for life and equality that underwrites both religious faith and Constitutional rights.
World class attitudes
As athletes we know better than most that people of all races are equal. The ebbs and flow of what race pr people wins races is changing all the while. Yes, in many years the African nations and people of African heritage dominate track and field from sprints up to distance events. But white and Asian and Cuban and European athletes all also earn medals of Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Just as importantly, we recognize the importance of actually granting people the opportunity to compete on equal terms. Just a decade or so ago African and Middle Eastern women were discouraged from even participating in sports. Attitudes are changing about gender as well as race, and sexual orientation as well.
That’s what the Olympics are supposed to be about anyway. Of course drugs and cheating still affect the outcomes in many ways. But you’ll note that people of all races and colors get caught cheating. It’s a human thing that proves equality in a quite ironic way.
Your own constitution
So while we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, what we’re still effectively celebrating is a Happy Fireworks Day. Because unless we go beyond the surface reality of the 4th and big fireworks and actually respect independence for all people, not just white Americans, we’re left with a holiday as shallow and superficial as Christmas, which Fox News defends so vigorously with claims that it is being “attacked” when in fact it has already been raped and pillaged of meaning by the very faith that invented it. Christmas is a co-opted pagan holiday adapted to win converts and create payoffs for faith. Similarly, the 4th of July is a pseudo-patriotic holiday designed to celebrate unity when the nation is miserably divided by hate-filled ideologies that refuse to recognize the equality of legitimate American citizens.
So for now, Happy Fireworks Days. We’ve still got a long ways to go towards real independence for all.