July 4th: Celebrating America's Potential
Not even two weeks ago—while walking home from a nearby store with my younger sister—a White man called us "niggers" and liars by nature. This is after we told him we didn't have any change on us (I do my best to only carry my card on me). It was the first time my 14-year-old sister had ever been called the N-word. She was dazed. I was definitely caught off guard. It was so unexpected. As the two of us walked home, we found ourselves looking over our shoulders to make sure we weren't being followed.
The experience was a harsh reminder that not everyone views our beautiful melanin-kissed skin with respect.
This past Sunday, our family worship service was filled with patriotic elements. It was a first for me. To be honest, I felt a little strange, and apparently so did my sister, as evidenced by her questions to me.
As a Black person living in America during such a volatile time, it can be difficult to navigate through the mixed feelings and questions on how to interpret, and feel about, this holiday.
Of course I'm thankful for the service of the brave men and women, of all ethnic backgrounds, who have served this country. (I've had several close family members and friends serve in the military.)
But at the same time its hard to celebrate a country that didn't intend to extend its rights to Black people. A country that, for a long time, didn't see anything wrong with the institution of slavery.
It's difficult to be filled with merriment over a country that still allows many of its citizens to be openly prejudice against Black people, a country that often disregards Black people and their invaluable contributions.
A country that tries to shun its dark history and the fact that it was watered by the blood of Native Americans and built on the backs of Black slaves.
A country that conveniently forgets that it was Crispus Atticus—a Black man—in 1770, who was the first to shed his blood, and died, in the fight for America. (Atticus was a runaway slave who later became a sailor. In him, the strength of Africa—by way of his father— and a love of land and country—a gift from his Native Nantucket American Indian mother.)
A country that sits silently by as unarmed citizens, who happen to be Black men, are gunned down in the streets.
...I would by lying if I said we didn't celebrate. We did. Danny was the Executive Chef on the grill—jerk chicken, grilled crab legs, and corn on the cob— and Candace and I were his faithful assistants.
As frustrated as I am with this country, I cannot give up on it. I cannot stop praying for it. Like the children of Israel in Babylon, I've been commanded to pray for it:
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7)
Despite the many inequalities that stem from lack of access, prejudice, and open discrimination, I cannot write the United States off completely. After all, it was here, in this country, that my parents—who, though not always welcomed—were able to work their way out of the poverty they grew up in, in Jamaica. Essentially, bridging an economic gap that would be the equivalent of living below America's poverty line and making the leap to millionaire status.
I have looked into the faces of people from different ethnic backgrounds whose faces have reflected something more than simple intolerance of our obvious differences; their faces have reflected the love of Jesus.
So there is a reason to celebrate the 4th of July.
July 4th is a day to celebrate America's potential. The possibilities. A day to celebrate everything America could be:
America could be, and has the potential to be a place where all the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, inalienable rights, would apply to all people—men and women—regardless of ethnicity, or any other demographic.
And so yesterday (July 4th), with my husband and sister, we gave thanks for good food, each other's company, and freedom in Christ.
And we celebrated America's potential, and with hope looked to a future filled with positive possibilities.
Words of Langston Hughes