Day of Freedom, Day of Lies

Celebrate. Celebrate the birth of our nation. Celebrate the unity of our people. Celebrate the independence we won from our oppressors. Celebrate the freedoms we all share.

And don’t, for one second, celebrate the lies we live by.

I saw a statistic the other day that said nearly half of all people living in the US are not proud to be American. Some days, I’m one of them. Some day I’m not.

It’s easy to be beset by the greatness of our country. Freedom of speech and religion, freedom to make and do what we please, freedom to name ourselves and decide who we want to be and what we want to be. Freedom abounds in our country.

What’s not to love?

But sometimes this freedom is merely the illusion of freedom.

We can read and write and watch a thousand rags-to-riches stories, but that doesn’t mean the path is there for all in rags to follow. We can read and write and watch stories upon stories of our founding fathers, but that doesn’t negate the fact that our country–even our Constitution–was written on the backs of slaves and native communities.

We can celebrate the victories of the Civil Rights Movement (while conveniently ignoring how the industrialized prison system and war on drugs have legalized bias against blacks and other minorities, leading to unjust incarceration rates that perpetuate stereotypes with boundless confirmation bias), and we can celebrate the Women’s Suffrage Movement (while conveniently ignoring the fact that women are still victimized in ways most men can’t imagine and the fact that, with endless outreach to girls in public education, our boys are falling behind, wrapped up in an “Act-Like-a-Man Box” that won’t let them out, by force or reason), and we can even celebrate the victories of the LGBTQ Rights Movement (while, yet again, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of these victories most benefit white, cisgender males, illuminating little progress for the Transgender community and queer communities of color across the country).

But through all this celebration, there’s a shadow we ignore.

We revel in the flash of fireworks, but are blind to the smoke that bellows forth.

And these are only a splattering of the contemporaries lies we live with–don’t forget the historical fictions that plague our textbooks, the Holocaust deniers, the climate change conspirators, the alternative fact propagators, the Twitter aficionados, kings and queens of misinformation, the self-perpetuating social media we live within, the Facebooks and Googles and Amazons that shape the way we see the world without our ever realizing it.

Yes, we’re free. We’re very free. Free to be led like sheep through meadows of pleasantry, blind to the wolves that barter for our bodies, slaves to a system we refuse to see.

We are chained to the walls of a cave, entertained by shadows, ignorant to the beings who cast them behind a fire we cannot see, ignorant to the daylight outside our confines.

So we celebrate. We imbibe and indulge and forget all the worries of the world.

Because ignorance is easier, and ignorance is bliss, and bliss is a high we’ll never forget if we only forget the world in front of us, the inequities around us, the injustice within us.

I love the United States. It’s my home, and I’ve been touched by so many states that have each shaped who I’ve become. Growing up impoverished, I never imagined I’d be so fortunate to travel so much–to see Denver, Colorado, for a conference on LGBT politics; to visit Hoonah, Alaska, and see my first glimpse of myself as a high school educator; to visit San Francisco, California, as a service-learning leader and trip coordinator; to spend a summer in Houston, Texas, teaching algebra in summer school; to Milwaukee, all the way from North Carolina, by way of New York state and Pennsylvania.

I love the United States. But I know that love is not always enough. Love is the easy part. It’s how we make love work that matters, and as with any relationship in peril, before we can renew our vows we must identify what ails us, to help us and heal us. We must name it to change it, and we must change a lot to restore the pride in our country we’re so sorely lacking. President Trump may have been a catalyst of this sentiment, but surely he alone is not the cause; in many ways, he is a symptom of an illness we’ve long harbored, ignored and left untreated, allowing it to fester until it ruptured and overtook us all.

So celebrate. Celebrate the good things we have, and celebrate our potential–our freedom–to fight for those good things we have yet to create.

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