My level of satisfaction with Daily Kos fluctuates with frequency. On many days I find the postings a little distasteful simply because of an unmitigated puerile rage that lines the very characters on screen. Occasionally though, they post a gem. This was one of those days.
Meteor Blades supplied a quick post as commentary on the Fourth of July. He started by declaiming the word hero, noting its egregious and “promiscuous” usage. I’ll admit that it is a word we are often quick to reach for, but promiscuous? I was about to wander on when I saw Frederick Douglass mentioned on the next line. Curious, I read on, and became even more skeptical. Meteor Blades lauds Frederick Douglass as his one archetype of heroism. I’m not sure that I buy that completely; I’ve never really cared for him or his work (his narrative was boring, I’m sorry). However, the piece Meteor Blades selected as evidence was convincing. Apparently Frederick Douglass had once delivered a speech on a Fourth of July (you can almost hear the deep ‘U’ that your imagination demands Douglass must have spoken with, despite being born in Maryland). The speech is good. Very good. I won’t reproduce it here, though those curious should certainly click on the link above to view the speech as Meteor Blades provided it. I will simply offer one observation, a quotation that caught my attention, and be on my merry way.
My observation: I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July. I never have, really. I don’t care for fire works. I never have, really. (You’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all, y’know? Unless you find someone who can work Gandalf’s particular brand…) I stopped going as soon as I could manage to excuse myself from family affairs, and since that time have spent every Fourth of July contemplating why I detest the way we celebrate this holiday.
I think, just maybe, I’m a little angry that we’re celebrating. I am grateful for this nation, yes, yes, yes. But most days I see too much deviation from the vision we’re supposed to be sharing in, accomplishing, spreading, to feel comfortable sitting back and celebrating what our forbearers had achieved. Celebrating such a holiday seems to suggest that those bacchanalians carousing beneath scintillating, fulsome light displays are complicit in the assertion that all is well; that the Mission has been accomplished.
Maybe I’m a little too harsh here, but when I see that the wrong words in the Declaration of Independence are still adhered to literally in some situations — that every man is created equal — while in others they are casually ignored to permit the discrimination of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, I get angry. (Have you ever noticed how the Declaration begins, “When in the course of human events” and then flutters into “man” this and “man” that? That’s substantial enough for me to believe those myths that Jefferson drafted one version with just the word human and then was pressured into changing it. But hey, call me Mr. CSI).
I spend my Fourth of Julys remembering what we fought and died for. I spend them in mild solemnity, not just remembering the path we have taken and missteps we have made, but also reminding myself of the journey we have yet to complete and the long road ahead.
Perhaps I have underestimated Frederick Douglass. His words certainly have a timeless quality about them:
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms- of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” — Frederick Douglass, 1852.