The Cost of Freedom

Today’s Independence Day. To celebrate our freedom, I’ve been planning to write a piece about self-determination, celebrating the power we each hold as individuals in the United States and encouraging people to embrace this power–to take charge of their lives, and more importantly, to take charge of their country.

But self-determination is a privilege of the modern world, and the freedom we have today came at cost far greater than any one of us could ever imagine–certainly far greater than even I could conceive.

History is a burdensome beast, and ignorance is at times as blissful at it is dangerous and blinding. Through expanding our knowledge and awareness, we also expand our obligation to act on this awareness: knowledge without action is merely an accumulation of facts. It takes action to grow wisdom, and it is wisdom–not knowledge–that is the building block of change, and growth, and ultimately freedom and independence.

Some today may honor the veterans who have fought for our freedom (many still entrenched in this battle) and have secured it; others may celebrate the political and social leaders who have guided us and shaped us from times even before the founding of this great nation–and to all of these people, reverence and gratitude are due.

But it was not solely these men and women who were responsible for our freedom–and even our wealth–but the men and women and children upon whose backs this country was built. This is a story rife with violence and deceit, strife and survival–and it’s not an epic lined up for box office release, but a part of our history that has been shoved aside, buried, and continues to plague our nation with its legacies of privilege and oppression.

My words ramble, and no amount of dialog can do justice to what is deserved, so instead of writing today, I want to share this story with each of you. It may be long, but every word has meaning, and as it weaves through time and space, to the foundations of our country and those sacrificed to build it, you will no doubt be as bound to the page while reading it as I was. On Independence Day, there is no greater way to reflect on our nation–and especially remember those who’ve made it as strong and rich as it is today–than by taking the time to look back at what–and who–has brought us here today.

It is a painful, uncomfortable journey to take, but it is the right path to follow.

The Case for Reparations
Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Atlantic, May 21, 2014

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