Monday, July 23, 2012

The Acne of American Independence

So as you know, we of the American persuasion celebrated our Independence Day this month.  Or as Chris Rock tweeted:
"Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks."

He took some heat for that, but it's worth a mention. American liberty started with white men, and over the last 230-odd years, we've expanded the boundaries of legally-codified freedom to include former slaves, women, children, people of different colors and nationalities and abilities and beliefs.  Inch by bloody legislative inch, we are adding to the non-discrimination clause on the McDonald's job application.  And we're not hardly finished yet.

We tend to be proud of how far we've come - we in Texas celebrate Juneteenth, for example, to remember the day on which slaves finally achieved their freedom - but when you think about it, many of our most momentous social-progress moments were less a pioneering world achievement and more the end of a prolonged temper-tantrum.  We fought a massive, bloody war over slavery (seriously, what other country had to kill almost a million of its own citizens to get person-owning off the books?), spent the next hundred years perfecting the feng-shui of separate drinking fountains, and when the Supreme Court finally said "no, but seriously" in 1954, the result was Massive Resistance.  Nowadays, discrimination needs a softer touch - for example, just-so-happening to give hiring preference to "Laura" over "Lakisha", even when they have the same resum√© - but it's still a fine American art.

To be clear: we are not a nation of assholes.  I firmly believe that.  Our national trophy cabinet is full of fantastic achievements - in the arts, in science, in government and industry and discovery and technological innovation - that fully merit the "we're #1" foam finger. 

But socially, in the way we treat our citizens, we've lagged behind.  We were, what, the 25th country to end slavery, the 30th to grant women the right to vote, the 98th to pass something resembling a universal health care system (behind freaking Tajikistan!)  If we abolished the death penalty tomorrow, we'd be the 99th country to do so. 

Which is why I don't think we've reached true independence yet.  In this one aspect, we are still a pupating adolescent - you know the ones.  They define their cliques by who's in and who's out.  They're obsessed with siblings and peers who might be getting unfair advantages or special treatment.  And when Mom even opens her mouth to say "Honey, could you please take out the - ", she triggers a boiling geyser of indignation.  "I KNOW ALREADY - get off my back, Ma!"

Yes, the trash will be taken out.

Yes, segregation and discrimination will be ended.

But by God, we are going to do it sullenly, shoddily, and at the last possible minute.

Because that's how someone behaves when they feel insecure - when they're still trying to stake out their independence and worrying about every little infringement upon it.  Think about how different life is as an adult.  Mom's on the phone, carping at you about grandbabies and how you're not getting any younger and and what about that nice Jamie Wilkerson from last summer's Bible retreat?  "Sure, Ma," you say, hoisting your black-leather knee-highs into the stirrups on the body swing.  "Hey, I gotta let you go - I've got a few friends over."

To me, THAT is what real independence looks like.  It doesn't mean you stop caring about other people.  It doesn't mean you don't take an active interest in things that affect your life.  But you no longer have to lie awake at night, staring at the ceiling and tasting bile at the thought of someone, somewhere, telling you what to do or getting something they don't deserve.  You are secure, because you have enough.

So!  Here's to American independence, y'all: it's going to be glorious, even if it doesn't come with a bow-topped red ferrari in the driveway.

Oh, and here's to my fellow AbsoluteWrite bloggers!  Check out these truly superior links on this month's blogging chain:

orion_mk3 - (link to this month's post)
knotanes - (link to this month's post)
meowzbark - (link to this month's post)
Ralph Pines - (link to this month's post)
randi.lee - (link to this month's post)
writingismypassion - (link to this month's post)
pyrosama - (link to this month's post)
bmadsen - (link to this month's post)
Poppy - (link to this month's post)
areteus - (link to this month's post)
Sweetwheat - (link to this month's post)

and stay tuned for:

ThorHuman -
MelodySRV -
Tomspy77 -
dclary -

--Beavis and Butt-head, on behalf of your fellow Americans, I extend my deepest thanks. You exemplify a fine new crop of young Americans who will grow into the leaders of this great country.
--Huh huh huh huh. He said "extend."


  1. Very thoughtful essay. You know, I do believe that you're the first poster who has really taken the topic to the most obvious place in discussing race and society.

  2. Ha! That's me - handsomely unoriginal!

    But seriously, thanks for the compliment. I don't often endeavor to get political in the blogosphere, but I think the 4th of July is a good time to assess how far we've come on the freedom-front, and what's still left on the to-do list. Thanks for a great prompt!

  3. We have come a long way, but it's not a perfect system, though ideal. It is the people who are flawed, so I don't think it moves quite as quickly as intended by the well-intentioned.

    Very thought provoking.

    Sorry for the deletion, had a typo.

  4. That is the amazing thing, Diane - what our founders put on paper was TREMENDOUS - we've just had a hell of a time living up to it! (And you're right; it'll probably never be perfect, because people will never be perfect - but if each generation keeps gunning for "better than it was", we can absolutely keep raising the standard.) Thanks for stopping by!

  5. *applause* Very well done, sir. Yes, America is still a "young" country. Independent is a tricky word, for me anyway. I'm independent in some senses, but not others. I don't depend on my parents anymore, but I have children of my own and the decisions I make affect them so I can't always do exactly what I want to do. But, I also made the decision to have children so I'm not complaining. Anyway, it was an interesting, thought provoking essay, and I enjoyed it.

  6. Thanks, Poppy! (Will it sound weird if I tell you that your name makes me happy every time I see it?)

    And I think you are spot-on: anybody who is truly 100% independent is probably living in a cabin in rural Montana and subsisting on squirrels. Almost all of us depend on other people somehow - to fix our roads and grow our food and shoot, just to shore up our emotional well-being (there's a reason solitary confinement is the trump card of the penal system, you know?) Like with you and your kids, that's where independence becomes interdependence - and if we do it like you did (which is to say, voluntarily and with good understanding of the rewards and sacrifices involved), THAT can be a wonderful thing!