Okay, so I’m no flag-waver. But I’ve always recognized that I was lucky to be born where and when and to whom I was born.
When I was a kid I loved the 4th of July because, firecrackers. And barbecue. And because it seemed a thousand years away from the end of school and two thousand years away from the beginning.
The 4th was always one of those holidays that seemed safe. I didn’t have to pray to the Jesus I didn’t believe in or feel weird because everyone else did. No presents, which was a bummer, but the bonus was that I didn’t have to buy any, either.
Unlike Thanksgiving there wasn’t a giant dead bird in a pan, there was a giant dead cow on a grill. Plus it was hot, everyone was in the backyard, the adults were all drunk by noon, and the kids could therefore do whatever they wanted.
As a kid I had read all the “We Were There” history books in the school library, and especially loved “We Were There at Lexington and Concord.” The Revolutionary War seemed so pure and simple. Evil Britain came to tax our tea parties, so valorous silversmiths fought Indians while building the Transcontinental Railroad as George Washington fought the Battle of Valley Forge as Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution and Ben Franklin invented electricity while flying a kite over the Delaware River as King George was slain by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys over by Mt. Rushmore.
It was an exciting time for a little kid to live, and the 4th was the perfect day to celebrate the final conquest of General Thomas Jefferson at the head of the ragtag American army singing La Marseillaise and Yankee Doodle as they whupped the bloody British at the town of New Orleans.
As I got older and rode my bike more I got more skeptical about everything. I saw things on my bike that didn’t comport with Admiral Jefferson’s siege of Vicksburg and his “damn the torpedoes” assault in Mobile Bay. I turned over “all men are created equal” in my mind as, pedaling, I saw that not only were men created unequal, but far worse, they were treated unequal.
And then as I got really older, the new history about Jefferson’s stature as a benign slaveholder began to trickle out of various scholars’ pens until it became a torrent, then a tsunami. This article in the Smithsonian from 2014 makes it clear that Jefferson was a rapist who ordered the torture of the small children enslaved in his nail factory. His never attempted ideals about the equality of men were, by the 1790s, dead and gone with his arithmetical discovery that simply owning slaves earned a guaranteed 4% profit due to what he termed their “increase.”
In plainer English, this means that he had calculated, had put a number, to the true economic value of slavery, which lay in the sexual intercourse and impregnation of people held against their will, leading to the birth of infants who in turn became slaves and producers of more slaves. The beauty of the equation for Jefferson and every white male slaveholder? Jefferson the pedophile could literally fuck his way to wealth. The more children of child-bearing age he raped, the richer he became. It’s undisputed that the genetic link between Jefferson and his slaves began at least with his father’s rape and fathering of slave children, and that the African and English commingling of genes continued throughout Jefferson’s life. No serious scholar seriously disputes that Jefferson had continual sex with enslaved women and children throughout his life. Because they were enslaved and thus deprived of free will, by definition, there was never consent. Not one time. Never.
So what is it we’re celebrating when say that July 4th is a holiday? Are we celebrating a nation that was founded on a principle, “all men are created equal,” when it’s undisputed that the author of that phrase believed nor practiced nothing of the sort?
Are we celebrating the Constitution, a formalist, legal, slave-holding document dedicated to the maintenance of the slave trade and of slavery?
Perhaps we’re giving a thumbs-up to the “long con” that led to the theft of land and dispersal of Native American communities?
I think that we all need holidays. They’ve been around as long as there have been people, days to celebrate myths, foundational stories, births, deaths, resurrections, and the mysteries of the universe. We need holidays, “holy days,” to remind us that we’re parts of a whole, a whole that we’ll never really understand of fully grasp.
And as I was pedaling up a long hill yesterday, thinking about the evil of my slaveholding forebears, I also thought that we need July 4 as well, as a holiday to think about, contemplate, and reflect on the extent to which this nation exists by the grace of its black citizens, their contributions to our national weal, their ongoing struggle, and our duty, today, to do something about it.
The Independence Day we all need is the the one that gives us independence from the lies of the past and lets us depend instead on what we all know to be right, the simplest law ever made: Do unto others.
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