I love that I was born in the United States and that I have had the privilege of being able to choose my friends, my career, whether or not I want to practice any sort of religion, and how I want to live my life. I recognize that had I been born in Syria, in Nicaragua, in North Korea, or even Serbia, I would not have had the freedoms I have both cherished and taken for granted as an American citizen. But I have struggled with what it means to be American for a very long time. For me, the amazing part about being American has been being able to be adventurous and expansive. It has been a journey of coming into my own knowing that as a biracial female I can do anything, reach for anything, and become who I have always wanted to be. I have had the privilege to do so, just by being born into a country where the pursuit of happiness is embedded in our Declaration of Independence.
This is one side of freedom. One aspect of my experience.
I just watched Django Unchained the other night. This is the other side of freedom. It is the illusion of freedom. It is the illusion of the American Dream. There is no dream when we wake up and realize that we are living off the backs of others. There is no dream when we recognize our complicity in a system that is predicated on a rich/poor binary. We cannot have rich, successful people if we don’t have poor people to compare our successes to. Living the American Dream, we must realize, has never been that EVERYONE gets to live the American Dream. Only certain people can live this dream and deep down in the darkest regions of our soul… WE KNOW THIS. We say that being American means freedom for all. But look around. Is this really the truth?
Or is being American and “making America great again” really this: Only certain people are true Americans. Everyone else, who fall outside this dominant norm are “infidels,” “criminals,” “lazy,” “good-for-nothing” individuals who do not appreciate American values and must be dealt with because they are DIFFERENT, non-conforming, or outside-of-the box thinkers or believers.
I am weeping inside as I write this. My heart is so heavy. I am American. But even writing, “I am American” brings such conflict to my soul. I am an American who believes in PEOPLE. I am an American who believes in every person’s freedom and liberation from oppression. I am an American who is fiercely protective of my individual rights, particularly my right to free speech. And I am an American who is deeply struggling with being American as I see my government strip Black, Brown, and people of Difference of every right and liberty afforded to them – at least in the way “rights” and “liberty” have been conceptualized in our Constitution.
To me, being American means giving more and being generous of heart and spirit. It is not taking away and narrowing the parameters for who can receive freedom.
I was sickened when I watched Django Unchained because it reminded me of WHO WE ARE as Americans. We are both the beautiful and the underbelly of evil. We carry both in our ancestral DNA. This time of reckoning with our past and seeing how it is playing out in the HERE and NOW is important. It is more palpable and real than it has ever been, at least in my lifetime.
It is time to fully recognize that we cannot be a United States, until we accept our conflicted relationship with freedom and “American” values. We cannot love our country and hate certain countrymen and women. It is not possible. We must tell our stories, come together to listen, cry out our pain, be heard and accepted, and, finally, begin to heal. There is no other way. We cannot heal our traumatic past without acknowledging its existence.
This is what it means to be human. And, for me, this is what it could mean to be American: An American who deeply acknowledges our contradictions and who has the courage to stand up and embrace the sovereignty within EVERY human being… This is true power; the strength within to not fear; the power to LOVE every human being beyond the differences we have created that position others as wrong, less than, inferior, bad, or God-less.
On this Independence Day, I speak my truth as an American. I am American and I am so much more. But, as an American I pray my heart will be heard and that we can begin to recognize the hypocrisy: American freedom is a constructed ideal that has only been granted to a chosen few.
Please remember this declaration below and begin to imagine that these statements include all human beings regardless of gender, nationality, race, class, ability, or religious affiliation:
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Always with love,