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Monday, August 3, 2020

America founded on idea & promise of freedom

But what about Americans who see our country, not as a “Grand Experiment in Democracy,” but the “1619 Project” – a nation dedicated to racism, slavery and oppression?
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The Boston 4th of July fireworks, taken from Thomas Park at the top of Dorchester Heights in South Boston. Getty Images

Do people who take a knee during the national anthem stand and cheer the fireworks on the 4th of July?

For some Americans, Independence Day is the greatest holiday on the calendar. It celebrates, not just  a nation’s founding, but an idea’s founding: the idea of a “land of the free” that’s led to democracy and prosperity around the globe.

People who celebrate the 4th of July that way are the sort of people who watch “Hamilton” on Disney+ and think he’s a good guy.

But what about Americans who see our country, not as a “Grand Experiment in Democracy,” but the “1619 Project” — a nation dedicated to racism, slavery and oppression?

The “1619 Project” is a re-writing of American history that’s been promulgated by the progressive New York Times but pounded by actual historians. The premise is that America was founded by and for slavery, and the institutions that followed the first landing of slaves on American soil in 1619 — from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution to the local cops today — exist to maintain racism and oppression.

This week, the Boston Globe-Democrat ran an op-ed entitled “The Problem is White Supremacy,” arguing that racism today is America’s “universal operating system that relies on entrenched patterns and practices to consistently disadvantage people of color and privilege whites.”

“Can we have a country that’s called America or the United States in which it’s not sort of structured around racial identity, racism and even white supremacy? Yes,” said activist and writer Ibram X. Kendi. “But it wouldn’t look like this country.”

If that’s what you think of America, then how can you possibly celebrate its founding? Why would you want to?

So I assume there will be no bunting or star-spangled banners at the homes of protesters in Boston on Saturday. No readings of Thomas Jefferson’s words, either:

“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.”

“As Americans we love, and we appreciate Independence Day, but when July 4, 1776, took place, the only ones that were free from the British monarchy were our white brothers,” musician Pharrell Williams said on Monday.

He’s right, obviously. When that group of white men gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago, black Americans weren’t free. Their “equality” and “liberty” were unrealized.

But Pharrell is wrong about the white guys. They were still subjects of the British king, too. Their right to self-government, to control of their own lives, was still denied.

The Declaration of Independence wasn’t a closing document. It was an opening bid. It wasn’t an announcement of victory, but the promise of a fight. It was a gauntlet thrown down against tyranny — the tyranny of a despot in 1776, the tyranny of segregation that Dr. King would fight almost 200 years later.

If the standard for celebration is perfection achieved, then no nation would have a founding holiday. If every country is judged by the Pharrell Standard — their behavior in 1776 — then the fireworks industry would be out of business.

Because slavery existed all over the world in 1776. It existed in Brazil in 1876 and in parts of Africa and the Middle East today. According to historian Stewart Gordon, “Perhaps the last large-scale movement of East African slaves to the Middle East was in the 1920s.” (emphasis added)

And they weren’t being moved by white European males.

In 1965, Dr. King said of the Declaration of Independence, “Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.”

Amen to that, Dr. King.


Michael Graham is a frequent contributor to the Boston Herald. Follow him on Twitter @IAmMGraham. 

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