Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day, For Those who Sit Out

It's July Fourth, the day we honor the founding of our country and celebrate the myths of America. The day we lionize our "founding fathers" as larger-than-life heroes who created democracy on this new continent. It's a time to forget that the continent was only really new to Europeans, and that the men who wrote those lovely words about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were slave-owners. That Thomas Jefferson - himself an owner of slaves - removed the part of the Declaration of Independence about the slave trade because he didn't think it would be acceptable to his fellow Southerners.

As we celebrate freedom, we should have honor those who refuse to participate in the rituals of American patriotism because they don't buy into the myths behind it.

Toni Smith, a college basketball player who refused to face the American  Flag in the 2003 season.

The thirteen-year old daughter or a famous writer who told her mother, the day after Trump's election, that she chose to not pledge allegiance to a flag representing so many things inimical to her.

And, on a bigger stage, Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem because of the disparate treatment of African Americans, including too many killed by police. It's a sad truth  that he gave up his career to make that statement.

I don't always stand for the anthem myself. Sometimes at a ballpark (the place I'm most likely to hear it) I'll quietly remain in my seat, filling out the names on my scorecard.

Why sit? Why look towards up to those who do?
Because ritual has meaning. You'll get no argument from me if you choose to stand and salute the flag and give honor to the ideals it is meant to stand for, even if we fall short.

You'll get even greater respect from me if you turn your head and sit out until such time as the actuality comes closer to the ideal.

You can let your silence be part of your voice.

To put in another way, earlier this year, I participated in the great American tradition of a protest march.  One of the ongoing call-and-reaponse chants was:

"Tell me what democracy looks like"
"This is what democracy looks like"

And, at one point, the word changed from democracy to America. This is what America looks like: people getting together to speak against hatred, against injustice. We were, as a group, one facet of what America looks like.

Sadly, democracy - and America - are also reflected in the election if a vulgar, willfully ignorant bully. One who was elected not in spite of his racism but because of it.

So long as that is part of what America looks like we should all give our respect to those who see the darkness in America and who will sit down until such a time as it lifts.

Listen to their silence. 

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