We are the greatest nation on earth, and today we celebrate our independence.
Like much of the world, we speak English – the language of the oppressed.
How did we defeat the British Empire to secure our freedom? Nation after nation, and people after people, failed to do so before us. Nations where English is now commonly spoken.
Our independence is remarkable – miraculous even. Perhaps even more remarkable, is how our democratic republic was birthed, and the survival of our fragile experiment of freedom.
However, as I reflect on our independence this year, I am also filled with grief. As a people who had been subject to oppression, we turned around and oppressed others. It’s been said, “hurt people, hurt people.”
Our great nation has been both the oppressed, and the oppressor. Since our ancestors have arrived in the Americas, we have chosen oppression. We almost completely wiped out the indigenous peoples. By just about any definition, we are guilty of genocide.
We didn’t stop there.
Our nation has enslaved millions of people, whom were stolen from their homes and families in Africa. We didn’t even call them people. Even 100 years before we declared our independence, Blacks were legally called “chattel”; personal property.
And when we finally declared our independence from the British Empire, we made the bold statement that it is self-evident that all men are created equal. We followed up a few years later with a Constitution—the legal foundation for our new nation—that counted Blacks as 3/5 of a person. Our oppression of these people stolen from Africa didn’t end with slavery. We overtly oppressed them until the Civil Rights in the 1960’s. To this day, we still have systems of oppression in place. Four hundred years of cruelty and oppression continue to wreak their havoc.
While we are the greatest nation on earth, and I’m incredibly grateful to be here, we cannot ignore our past. As Jemar Tisby writes, “there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”
Let’s name the truth. We’re a land of incredible opportunity and freedom, AND we have some very dark stains, both past and present. If we’re going to be the great nation we desire to be, we need to embrace the “and.”
Today I celebrate; AND I grieve. Will you name the truth with me?