It’s Time to Reframe Our Patriotism – Reflections on the 4th of July

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Each year on July 4th, fireworks light up the night sky in celebration of our nation. But what are we really celebrating? Photo Credits: Vox

Ainsley Gill, Executive News and Opinions Editor

Some days it’s hard to celebrate America. It’s hard to celebrate independence in a country with the largest incarcerated population in the world and where children and families in search of a better life are separated and locked in cages. It’s hard to celebrate a country where everyone is promised the right to a fair trial by jury but law enforcement officers play judge and jury and murder the innocent without penalty. It’s hard to reconcile the words “all men created equal” with the reality that the man writing it felt entitled to own hundreds of enslaved people and the fact that for far too long “ourselves and our posterity” included only rich white men, while the majority of those in America – non-landowners, women, people of color, those who were enslaved, and indigenous populations – were denied the most fundamental rights of our democracy. Can we truly celebrate a past so littered with atrocities committed on American ground by Americans? Can we truly celebrate a present still sullied by our nation’s significant lapses in judgement and virtue, one that continues to make the same mistakes time and time again?

On July 4, 1776, a group of flawed founding fathers gave birth to an equally flawed nation. They declared independence from a tyrannical king and dreamed of a better nation, a better way of governing, and a set of inalienable rights. But declaring the existence of these virtues was just the first step. 244 years later, we are still struggling to make these crucial principles a practical reality. Historically, we have failed many times to protect “the blessings of liberty” for everyone in America. Look no further than the atrocities of slavery, the trail of tears, and Jim Crow segregation laws, and unfortunately, these horrors aren’t banished to the dark closets of history. Today, the 13th amendment prohibits slavery, except as a punishment for crime, the rights and land of indigenous peoples are still abused, and legal barriers to equality have become more covert, appearing in the forms of gerrymandering, laws that work to disenfranchise minority voters, and the discrimination inherent in the modern criminal justice system. We didn’t truly achieve independence or any of the values thereof in 1776. It’s something that we have to make a conscious effort to expand and protect each day, to take a step closer to realizing the intent enshrined in the birth of our nation and a serious step away from the trend of practical failings that have plagued us since the Declaration was signed. These failings were morally and ethically inexcusable, so it’s not our history of them that we should celebrate each year. Rather than restricting our understanding of patriotism to a near absolute pride for everything in American history, we must view patriotism as our devotion to the realization of true independence, freedom, and equality for all Americans. Recognizing and acknowledging our mistakes does not make us a weaker nation, but a stronger one as we affirm our commitment to progress and change for the better.

So maybe the 4th of July shouldn’t be a celebration of our past but a celebration of the ideals that America was created to embody and a reminder that each and every one of us has the responsibility to bring our country one step closer each day to fully realizing them. We have to hold each other accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions. When we recognize assaults on the values of life, liberty, and equality or on the basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution, we have the responsibility to speak out and call out our country’s shortcomings. We have the responsibility to hold our governments and leaders responsible on election day by casting our ballots for the candidates we believe can help push America forward on the path to true independence, liberty, freedom, equality, and justice. So when the fireworks go off, may we look up to the red, white, and blue light flooding the sky and instead of romanticizing our past, let’s match our aspirations to our gaze as we lift our eyes to imagine a better future for our country, as we the people strive for a more perfect union.