No face on Mt. Rushmore ever presided over a country where women could vote.
Three of them presided over a country where humans could be legally owned, bought and sold.
You have to get to Dick Cheney before you reach a President (or even Vice President) who openly supports gay marriage. Eventually, Barack Obama came around in his second term. A few years after Cheney. But still…2012.
For those who want to tear down the American construct, I actually kind of get it. I’ve often wondered how a black or brown person might feel living in a system no one of their ancestors had anything to do with actually setting up. Where do they find the pride? Why would their hearts swell and what would make tears flow when they saw the flag or heard the Anthem?
I guess you’d say black people in America have always been between Plymouth Rock and a hard place.
But if you want to tear it all down, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
I might start with Columbus, Ohio myself. I mean a whole city named after…well…you know.
But then, there’s New York, named after the Duke of York, who formed the Royal African Trading Company, in 1660; a company built for…you guessed it…trafficking slaves from Africa. Yes. That is who New York City is named after; one of the architects of slavery itself.
The Coca Cola company was started by an ex Confederate solider and Jack Daniel’s father died fighting for that same Confederacy. The first wrist watch ever made was given to Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Caroline. Napoleon re-established slavery in Haiti, in 1802. Her silence in the matter was deafening.
So, if you fly from Columbus to New York City, have a Jack and Coke and check your watch, I don’t even know what to say to you right now.
You are participating in Western Civilization. And when you participate, you perpetuate.
England and France both abolished slavery before America. But they all kept buying the cotton, corn and tobacco.
They didn’t bear the direct guilt, but they participated in the system.
If you’re reading this on a computer or a smart phone, enjoying the beverage of your choice, in an air conditioned room somewhere, deciding for yourself what you’re going to do later today, you are participating in the American construct. There’s just no way around it.
And at some point, as an American, you have to come to terms with how all of this got here. At that point you either accept the flaws and scars, knowing it’s a forward moving continuum that bends toward justice and freedom; basically a good thing. Or you reject the entire system outright and decide to form CHAZ or CHOP or whatever that experiment is in Seattle, that won’t exist three weeks from now.
It won’t exist because starting your own country is harder than it looks. And you’d better have a stronger foundation than just saying “everything is going to be free and no cops allowed.”
If you’re asking for food and medicine to be brought in and you still need the water, sewer and electrical grid of the country you just seceded from, you’re still participating. Anyway …
The thing that made Martin Luther King Jr. a transcendent figure for all time and a bone fide American hero, was the clarity he had of his own dream and how it related to the complication of the American dream.
He didn’t dream that the nation would be torn out by the root and reformed into something other than itself. His dream was that everyone, regardless of race, color, nationality, etc, fully participate in the American Dream, as it should be.
In order to have that dream, he had to first acknowledge that the American Dream was a good one to have and one worth participating in.
Yes, a little black boy from Georgia – a state named after King George – a slave trader – grew up to have that dream.
Even if the 4 faces on its greatest landmark presided over racism and sexism, and NONE of its national monuments were created in a time of equality for gays, and even if its largest city was named after a slave trader and its most popular soft drink was concocted by a Confederate soldier, and yes, even if a lot of the Jesus statues look like a brown-haired surfer dude from San Diego (and don’t even get me started on how California became California), Dr. King was still able to pine for a time when he could sing full-throated, “my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty …”
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American. And he wanted to be. And he worked toward being able to stand for the Anthem and the flag with a full heart.
That’s what all Americans want, even when we know America has been a mess in the making.
When I pledge allegiance to the flag (and the Republic for which it stands) I don’t just think about a bunch of wig wearing white guys who owned slaves, 200 years ago. I think just as much about MLK and Harriet Tubman and Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Airmen and Bass Reeves and Vivien Thomas and Madame C.J Walker, as I do Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.
If you’re unfamiliar with some of those names, you should look them up. They were all world changers. They were all black. And they were all Americans…participating in the dream.
You have to decide in your heart if, on balance, America is essentially good or essentially bad, and if the dream America offers is something you want to fully participate in.
And if you decide the answer for you is no, then you have to understand that even if you remove all the statues and evidence, you’re still going to be left with the same choices: do I buy a Starbucks coffee today and support a self-avowed capitalist?
Steve Harvey once said, regarding America, “The dream is the thing.”
The dream helps us re-write the future without having to re-name New York or Columbus or blow up a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It allows us to enjoy a Jack and Coke and check our watch and know that we’re not bound by how all those things got here.
They’re in our time now. And we can attach our dreams to them in new and more equitable ways.
That is the dream. And it’s the most American thing of all.
To hear the song, American Dreams, (for free) click the link: