I woke up today, July 4, conflicted. This year’s celebration of independence is more difficult today than it was last year.
I returned to last year’s post and, indeed, it’s worse.
However, conventional thought and theory says I should hate this holiday at or more than the level of my rancor for Columbus Day. But… I don’t.
I don’t hate July 4. I want to celebrate my country.
And that is a feeling that is difficult to reconcile because what exactly am I celebrating? The death and massacre of black men and women and other people of color? The continued systemic racism and how fermented and embedded it is in everyday life? The vitriol against pretty much everyone I know — people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+, etc? The public discourse that is so toxic you can almost light it with a match?
I don’t want to celebrate these things. I also don’t want to celebrate false history.
The founding fathers? Most of them were slave holders. And while they were in a position to end slavery early on, they didn’t. Washington had a set of dentures made from, among other things, the teeth of his slaves. Jefferson raped Sally Hemmings and fathered several children. Others enabled this behavior or mimicked it.
And yes, these men were brilliant in their own way. Morally suspect? Absolutely.
But I still want to celebrate 1776 even though not everyone was free at the end of the Revolutionary War.
I still want to celebrate a country that gave my immigrant parents an opportunity to live and prosper even though it conspired to make them fail.
I want to celebrate a government that is, in theory, for the people but in practice is for the dynasties with the most money.
I want to celebrate the Bill of Rights and the amendments even though I know they were not originally made for me.
I want to love my country even though I scorn it because I know it can be better for everyone. Damn it, I believe in the American promise even though the promise is a lie.
That is why today I am so conflicted. That’s why today I don’t know what to do, celebrate or consider it like any other day. It’s much more difficult this year to celebrate than it was last year. I can’t even find the joy in it.
This dichotomy is bothering me like that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something. I can’t shake it. This internal American conflict. I can’t loosen its grip and so, here I am doing what I usually do in these situations, writing to understand why.
And here I am close to the end, no closer to a solution than when I began.
Maybe that is America, this country I love but a country that doesn’t love me back. It’s complex and challenging and a contradiction. So many contradictions that it reminds me of a Molly Ivins quote about another institution that also conflicts me.
“I don’t mind so much that newspapers are dying — it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”
I don’t mind so much that my country is challenging – it’s watching it self-inflict a million cuts is what infuriates me.
Infuriate. Is what I am feeling a form of anger? Maybe. Or maybe what I’m feeling is the stages of grief. Last year was denial and this year it’s anger.
If this is true, if this contradictory feeling in my chest is part of a process, eventually there will be acceptance.
I can’t even imagine what that will feel like. Just the thought of it infuriates me. But then again, that maybe what is making this year tougher than last year, the anxiety of what acceptance will look like.