A Fourth of July Reflection

“I am ashamed that until that last number of years, I didn’t realize that my 'good' life was enjoyed primarily because I’m white.”

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It’s July 4, 2020. I’ve chosen to not fly the flag of the United States today. The flag is a symbol. The pledge of allegiance to the flag speaks to the promise of this country: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I’ve chosen to not fly the flag because this country, its citizens and especially its politicians have not yet met the promise of that symbol. I am as guilty as anyone else and I’ll tell you why. 

Until the last few years, I thought I was a “patriot”. During my growing-up years, I stood and recited the pledge and sang the national anthem like everyone else. I enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam war and was honorably discharged. I have been married for 46 years to the same woman and have two sons of whom I am proud. I think I have lived a “good” life but what does that really mean? 

I think I am a “good” person and have lived a “good” life. I have been afforded the opportunity to live freely and granted the gift of an education from kindergarten through a bachelor degree in college. I have never been arrested. In my entire working career (except for carrying newspapers, pumping gas, doing chores and working in my stepdad’s grocery store) I was employed by only 3 different companies, the last one for 29 years. I have never been hungry, unclothed or unsheltered. I have always had access to health care. Even though my parents were divorced, except for a fraught relationship with my father, I never felt uncared for or unloved. 

I’m white. 

I am ashamed that until that last number of years, I didn’t realize that my “good” life was enjoyed primarily because I’m white. I have never thought myself to be an overt racist but I was raised in a family environment and society that talked of blacks as the “others”. My grandfather, a professed Christian and a “good” man, hurled a racial slur at the television one day when the news was reporting on the activities of Dr. Martin Luther King. Those “others” lived on the other side of town, they didn’t work, they mooched off society, they were dangerous, they were scary, they didn’t love our country, they weren’t people of faith, etc., etc. Within the last 2-3 years, I have finally begun to acknowledge and grieve that we do not live in a free country because it is not free for all citizens, especially our brothers and sisters of color. Yes, I have started to use that description because I truly have come to understand that they are our brothers and sisters who have suffered immeasurably and unjustly since the slave trade started more than 400 years ago and it continues today. 

I guess in the common parlance, that means I’m finally “woke”. I have awakened to many things in the last few years. I was once proud that I enlisted and served my country in a war that the government told me and the whole country was necessary. It’s amazing to me, and perhaps to you, that until a few years ago when I first visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C, I didn’t realize the horror of that war and the unjustified loss of 56,000 lives that our government encouraged as necessary. I was once proud to work for a company that is now nothing more than a global multinational concerned only with short term profits, shareholder value and executive compensation and with little or no regard for the employees who have made it successful or the communities in which it operates. 

I just read Frederick Douglass’s speech delivered on July 5th, 1852, well before the Civil War. It is a tremendous speech and every American should read it in its entirety. It addresses slavery and Christianity. Stick with it until the end because his comments about the many fine white Christians in this country today applies just as it did in 1852. 

The United States is in real trouble. I’m hunkered down at home because the current administration entirely failed to protect this country from a pandemic. I am ashamed that in 2020, racism and white supremacy is alive and well and, indeed, being encouraged by this administration. I am ashamed that all people who live in this country, regardless of skin color, do not enjoy the privilege of my “good” life. It so troubles me that I weep for the future of this country. There are so many issues that have risen to crisis proportions that continue to be ignored…income inequality, unaffordable health care, a tanked economy, an education system in crisis, and a climate catastrophe already underway. 

And what are so-called “patriots” doing about it today? Many are wearing and waving flags that represent the symbol of a country in crisis. They must not understand. If they did, the symbol and principles would mean something to them. They are blowing off fireworks to celebrate a country that is perhaps permanently divided between those with moral character and those of no moral character. If the flag meant something to them, they would be advocating that “one nation under God” should insure liberty and justice for all. 

That’s why I’m not flying the flag today. It’s a symbol of a country that is severely troubled and wounded and has not yet come close to fulfilling its promise to all people. I suspect some will be offended; but I can’t be proud of the flag today.