The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
John Adams, to his wife Abigail on July 3rd 1776
Today is the big day America!
They day we all mark, in whatever way is meaningful to each of us, the signing of the famous Declaration of Independence. The document that listed the founders reasons for want to separate from the Kingdom of Britain. The document that set out America’s initial intentions and contains on of the most famous sentences ever written. A passage that sets the moral tone for this country.
A passage that lets the world know that America is a place where they can be free. Where you can pursue your own ends rather than those of the ones in power. Where you will never find yourself unfairly held back by the government or forced to live in such a way that leaves all doors closed to you.
I have to wonder, though, who was it written for?
We know who is was written by.
We know who is was written by, a bunch of straight, White, men.
John Adams, a man pushing for the vote of independence, convinced Congress to allow Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft. He did, and Congress edited that draft and gave us the final version. Thomas Jefferson felt his original had been “mangled” by the end.
Still, the document held and even inspired other such documents to be written in other countries. No one doubts it is a beautiful piece of writing. No one doubts it describes rights that should never be infringed upon by a government, including the right to revolution, what I, and some others doubt, is whether America believes these kinds of documents apply to all people who live, or seek to live, within her borders.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
If we believe these rights to be self-evident, and, if such rights were endowed by a creator, it should follow that we could not take these rights away, or treat people like they weren’t who was meant by all men.
And that is why I ask, who was this document written for?
I believe it was written for people who look like the men who wrote it. White, male, straight.
I know, I know, I am making this about race. To be honest, it is far worse than that. I am making this about race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, class, culture, and country of origin.
The thing is America has a very long and full history of infringing on the rights of people who are not White, male, and straight. I mean, slavery was still very legal in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson and Congress were talking about the rights of all men. What about the Native Americans? What about Japanese Americans? What about the women in this country. How long did it take for them to be considered all men? Has anyone but White, straight, and male ever been considered all men?
Some would say yes. Some would say that is all in the past, but I would disagree. To me, it seems we have learned nothing and continue to treat minorities the same as we always have to this day.
Women got the vote over 140 years after the Declaration of Independence was written and men are still erasing their voices in the debate about a woman’s right to her own body. We only just recently accepted gay marriage. It wasn’t something this country came to willingly. We had to be dragged kicking and screaming to it and we still are finding ways to discriminate whenever possible. We still disproportionately imprison People of Color, which strips away many of their rights, even upon release and after they have paid their debt to society.
For as long as I can remember we have spent a lot of time talking about Mexican people. We profile them. We threaten to break up their families. We call them border hoppers and blame them for all the ills of this country. We treat them as if their pursuit of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness doesn’t count. We treat them like they aren’t a part of all men.
I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about infringing on the rights of people who follow a certain religion or look a certain way. There is talk of profiling Muslims. There is talk of firing Muslims from their jobs. There is talk of recklessly killing them and their families. Are they not a part of all men? Are they not endowed with the same rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?
So this Independence Day, while you barbecue, drink, and watch your fireworks, think about what this day really means and who it means it for. Think about what it should mean. Think about what America stands for and how far we may have fallen from that.
Think about what made us great and whether those things are actually good. Then think about what could make us great. Think about what kind of country we want to live in and how she ought to treat her citizens, all of her citizens, not just the ones who look and think the way that the Founding Fathers did. Think about how she should treat people all over the world.
And, above all, please, be safe today.
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Featured image by Continental Congress – http://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/43289/43010, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43096934