Monday, July 5, 2021

“A True Civic Education”: 1619, 1776, and the Practice of Freedom

          Growing up in the 1980s, July 4th was the All-American holiday and family affair. We had a barbeque, drank strawberry soda (because it is red!), played baseball at the schoolyard, cranked out homemade ice cream, danced in the water sprinkler, took turns standing (sometimes with shoving) in front of the box fan to cool off, and shot off fireworks as the long daylight finally faded into darkness. There were some vague ideas about history, but July 4th was never really about history. It was more of a feeling, and more than the feeling of eating too many hot dogs and potato chips. We were meant to feel proud about our nation, which popular belief assured us was the best nation on the planet, without ever providing any actual reasoning for the conclusion. Why were we the best? Because we just were. We had the best military, the best democracy, the best food, the best athletes, the best entertainers, the best everything. And if someone didn’t believe it was true, then they didn’t deserve to be here. Because the USA was for the best people in the world, and loving the USA uncritically proved you were worthy – you were part of the elite and wonderful nation of being the best and shared in its best-ness.  

“Even If It’s Painful”

          This kind of upbringing felt ubiquitous here in the Ozarks, and I suspect it is one of the most important reasons for why there is such outrage over the 1619 Project. 1619 was the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to the Virginia colony, and the Project makes the point of reframing US history from a perspective that does not ignore the role and reality of slavery, or the impacts and contributions of Black Americans.