Independence Day? Epilogue
Yesterday, I posted about the July 4th holiday. In my middle age, I have lost the naiveté of my youth and along with it some of my optimism. I lamented the hypocrisy of our celebrations of independence in that this “independence” should be counted as a political distinction and not an individual one. “Freedom,” at least the freedom that was espoused and so eloquently spoken of by our founders is one that sought to sever the political ties between the British Empire and its colonies on the North American continent. While Jefferson spoke of the “inalienable rights” he did not and was not speaking of people of color. He, like many of our other founders, spoke of freedom for the white, educated, privileged class. We must recognize the irony of one who would speak of these “inalienable rights” and yet own people as if they were things and not human beings who shared these same “inalienable rights.”
Anyone who does not see this needs to go back and re-read the history of our country. We need to re-read and re-interpret these accounts in the light of and through the lens of a diverse humanity which has, through the expression of American Empire, been consistently trampled upon by a neo-European hegemony. It is a hegemony that replaced equally distasteful divine right of kings with a secular theology of a flawed meritocracy which was bound by inequalities in its inception. They espoused freedom yet subjugated and enslaved a whole people stolen from their countries that were brought to build what would become the United States. These men, women, and children would never share in the freedoms or the bounties of this new Republic. And their descendants today still suffer from the institutional and systemic structures that would keep them enslaved, outside the halls of power and outside the benefits of what has become the failed “American Dream.”
In this failed state they decimated the indigenous peoples of this country combining the secular theology of meritocracy with faith, calling it “Manifest Destiny,” thereby adding genocide and heresy to their original sin of slavery. This heresy is especially ironic in that Western thought saw the God and the Christ we worship today as a white male European. It is a fallacy that all too many Americans view as fact today. It is ironic that these same people dismiss the words of Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” to wage war against their own citizens. It is ironic that we would seek to close our borders to those who seek sanctuary from violence, mayhem, and murder, forgetting those words of Scripture which admonish us “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
This is not a Black problem. This is not an Asian problem. This is not a Hispanic or Latinx problem. This is not a LGBTQI problem. This is not a Middle Eastern or African problem. It is not a feminist problem. These peoples we have consistently marginalized and brutalized are not the problem. It is not their faults as much as we would seek to make it so. It is a white male hetero, and dare I say, Christian problem. We have lived so long in this privilege we see these privileges as rights and when we see the scales start to balance, we react. We react in fear and seek to suppress those peoples who aren’t exactly like us.
I have to shamefully admit that it took me a long time to see my white male hetero privilege. Growing up poor in Eastern KY, I never considered myself privileged. Indeed there were days, especially when I didn’t have lunch money and those days when I was ridiculed for my poverty, that I felt anything but privileged. In those days, it was all about rich and poor. It was a class struggle and not a race, gender, or sexuality problem. Living in a homogenous society, read here white, the only distinctions I could see were those of wealth or lack thereof. I was spoon fed a version of history by our education system that failed to show me the truths of the conception, birth, and life of a country that espoused freedom and self determination, while glossing over the sins of our past.
I was inculcated in gender roles early on learning what were men’s jobs and women’s jobs, thinking that women could and should only do certain things. I learned early on that to be sensitive to others feelings were considered “girly,” as if that were a bad thing, and should be eschewed. As a man, I had to be aggressive to the point of overbearing to be considered “manly.” I was taught that the only “correct” expression of family consisted of a man who was in charge, a woman, and their children. Any other expression was anathema and to be prevented at all costs.
It wasn’t until I left the cocoon of Eastern KY that I started to see a different world, a more complete world. But even then, it still took a long time to see how my privilege benefitted me. Upon reflection, it was very early on that I began to reap the benefits of being white, male, and hetero. In 1977, I applied for a loan. As an 18 year old newly minted Private in the US Army, I was able to get a $13,000 loan with nothing more than my signature and a small lot in Rush, KY. I just had to show up. What an incredible amount! By the way, as a Private then, my net pay was $347.00 a month. For those who would question this benefit, I would suggest that you do a search of red-lining on the internet. This is where banks and lending institutions “red-line” areas that would be denied loans. These areas were more often than not, communities of color or non-white.
As an Intelligence Specialist I was required to have a security clearance. My privilege once again became evident, being not only white and male, but hetero. In 1977, being gay was against the law in the Army. Had I been gay and found out, not only would I have lost my security clearance, I would have been dishonorably discharged and could have likely ended up in jail. Imagine that, being jailed because of whom you loved. Can you imagine being denied your right to serve your country, denied your livelihood and your freedom because of that? My friends, it is happening every day in this land of the “free.”
I have been pulled over three times in my life. I was guilty every time. I have a lead foot when it comes to driving. My first thought in each of those instances was: “How much of a fine will I have to pay for my lead foot?” Never once in my life did I have to fear for my life when encountering law enforcement. My skin color automatically affords me a level of safety that my Black brothers and sisters do not enjoy.
Today, I have a part time job while I finish up Divinity school. It is a position that is not supervisory and is limited in its scope. Yet, because of the color of my skin and my gender I am often mistaken for a manager. I am standing there with my female supervisor waiting to get my next assignment and asked, by a man, if I am a manager. As a greeter, standing in the door, I get asked at least a couple of times a day if I am a supervisor. Just for showing up, I am automatically given a deference not afforded to others who don’t share my color or gender. I didn’t have to be exceptionally bright or gifted. I didn’t have to demonstrate any leadership traits; I simply have to show up. When I put a suit on, this deference magnifies exponentially. This is the essence and the shame of my privilege.
In spite of those noble words penned by Jefferson back in 1776, it took us 232 years to elect a person of color to the highest office in the land and from the very beginning of his presidency white male America rebelled. We have a senator, Mitch McConnell, who said at the outset that his goal was making Barack Obama, the duly elected President, a one term President. There was no bipartisan effort to work for the good of the country, there was no coming together to “form a more perfect union” for all of its citizens. There was nothing but obstruction and disrespect of a person who sought to serve the country and all of its citizens. When the election of 2016 came along, we saw yet another rejection of those noble words written by Jefferson and continued to extend the hegemony of white male privilege. In this political contest we discounted the qualifications and experience Hillary Clinton to elect the person who now occupies the West Wing. I say occupy because it seems that he is more interested in playing golf and twittering than engaging in the business of running the country.
Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but I believe that when you put resume against resume any rational individual has to come to the conclusion that she is more qualified than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. From her arrival on the public scene during the presidency of Bill Clinton to the present day, there has been nothing but hatred and vitriol coming from the white men in power, seeking to marginalize and denigrate her years of service. I dare say that her level of achievement in spite of this concerted effort should have been enough for the electorate to give her not only the popular vote, but the electoral vote as well. She succeeded in spite of the white male privilege that sought to destroy her.
And what are we left with? We my friends are left with the poster child of white male privilege. To call him a demagogue would infer a level of gravitas that he just doesn’t have. He is simply a bully, a man-child that cannot think beyond his own desires and his own privilege. His life has been one misogyny, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. It has been one of excess and avarice, embodying all that is wrong with the United States. There are no altruisms which can be attributed to him. This is the indictment of white, male, hetero, Christian America. Our political and religious apostasy is demonstrated in the 81% of white Christian Americans who voted for him and we will all most certainly suffer because of it. If white male hetero America thinks that this oligarch and his cronies will somehow benefit them, they are the most cruelly fooled.
In ignorance they hold up the very ones who take their money by crushing labor unions, reward them who would take their health care, and empower those who would ship their jobs to other countries. They reward the ones who make education so unaffordable that only the rich and powerful can send their kids to college, thereby ensuring that they will continue in their poverty, both financial and cultural. They worship those who would poison their air and their water all the while waving a flag and saying “God Bless America,” as if God would bless such ungodliness.
Independence Day. Hmm. We should be celebrating the possibility of independence because it hasn’t arrived yet, at least it hasn’t arrived for all of its citizens.