“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.” [Opening lines of the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence]
It is July 4, 2020, and I am doing something deemed quite Un-American on this traditional Independence Day weekend in that place we oft reverently refer to as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I am foregoing my God-given, absolute (inalienable) right (liberty/freedom) as a Caucasian male citizen of “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all” to pursue my very own personal Happiness.
As such, I will not be joining the happily unmasked and non-social distanced madding crowds, those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (free to do whatever they darn well please whenever and wherever they wish). I will not partake of celebratory parades, flag waving, fireworks or campaign rallies under the guise of patriotic observances that turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the disparities between the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the realities lived out among its disparate populace nearly two and a half centuries later.
This Independence Day weekend in the year of our Lord, 2020, is unlike any other I have experienced in my three quarters of a century as a citizen of this nation. For those with eyes to see, it is clear that we are a people visibly divisible with the ideals of “liberty and justice for all” merely a fanciful farce. The brutal modern day lynching of a man of color at the hands of law enforcement officers caught on video and displayed around the world has opened white eyes as never before to the injustices that black eyes have beheld for far too long. This inhumane, unjust and needless race-based murder in the midst of a health, economic and ecological crisis of pandemic proportions has brought us to a moral and political tipping point.
At this critical Kairos (decisive) moment in this nation’s history, now is the time to seize the day, now is the time to capture the moment in time that begins to return the scales of justice to the balance that was espoused in the document that laid the ground work for that “more perfect union” which is clearly a work in progress that has progressed at an anemic pace. Now at the moment when we are called to remember the birth of a nation, we are also called upon to cut through the narrative of white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, religious privilege and confess failures of our past in order to repent and turn systemic injustices around.
Here’s the reality of where we started and where we now are. The equality espoused in the Declaration of Independence was decidedly unequal. The “all men are created equal” statement in reality referred to those white males of privilege who possessed wealth primarily associated with land holding. Women were not their equal. Black, brown and red skinned people were not their equal. Even white men of no wealth (owned no land) were not their equal.
When writing the first draft of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson primarily drew upon two sources: his own draft of a preamble to the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. According to constitutionfacts.com Mason said: “all men are born equally free and independent.” Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Mason listed man’s “natural Rights” as “Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.” Jefferson listed man’s “inalienable rights” as “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Property has always equaled Wealth, and the Wealth of the nation was built on the foundation of chattel slavery. Enslaved black-skinned people were the “essential workers” that enabled the British colonies of North America to declare independence from the Crown and become the most powerful nation on the planet. Today black and brown-skinned people are still the “essential workers” that keep the economic engine operating in the midst of a global health and ecological crisis. However, the immoral truth is that “essential” is also a synonym for “sacrificial.” They continue to generate Wealth (for others) at the cost of their own Health. This is not now and never has been just. This is not what God has shown us to be “Good.” (Micah 6:8).
If we are ever to balance the scales of Justice and bend the arc of the moral universe toward Justice, white folks are going to have to dedicate themselves to an objective, reasonable, rational pursuit of American history through the lens of the black narrative. In true fashion to the title of Paul Harvey’s old radio program, we are going to have to hear “the rest of the story.”
It’s only been of late that I’ve begun to understand the rest of the story. By Independence Day 2021 I want to see major movement in this mostly stagnant story. I want to see the scales tip and the arc move toward justice, the pendulum swing toward kindness/compassion and the talk turn into a humble, reverent walk together on the paths of righteousness.
One giant step along that journey that I want to leave you with is a brilliant and revealing article from the New York Times Magazine by Nikole Hannah-Jones titled What is Owed. It is a scholarly and compelling history of how we got to this point and why we cannot stay where we are.