As our nation celebrated the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a peculiar feeling came over me. One I’d never felt before on the 4th of July. I felt…left out. Definitely as if I was on the outside looking in.
Given that I was already in a somber mood – the Supreme Court is close to taking away from the majority of its citizens their right to reproductive freedom and choice. This will inevitably seriously curtail opportunities for women… in education, careers, finances, even the right to make decisions affecting our own bodies.
Having grown up feeling like equal rights were guaranteed on paper if not always in practice, I guess I never questioned being a “regular American Citizen”. Then as I watched a network TV special celebrating the birth of our country, I became aware of something. At first it was an irritant and then as the hour wore on it became an open wound.
It began with the usual reverent references to “our Founding Fathers” and continued on in dramatic quotes about the men who shaped our county. An award was being given in honor of the brave men who fight for freedom all over the world. And then in finale, a call for us to “visualize what it was like in that hot, close room in a Philadelphia hall in 1776…as Mr. Thomas Jefferson sat here…and Mr. George Washington over there and Mr. Benjamin Franklin standing over there, as our Declaration of Independence was conceived, written down and signed.
As I visualized that room, I became aware that I was outside looking in. Not admitted to the room and not given a voice. As I would have been then, looking in from the kitchen, peering around the door. Quietly standing there with my hands in my apron. Standing with me were the Native Americans, the Negro slaves, the poor, the uneducated, the landless, the so-called defectives in body and mind. Slowly we were joined by others crowding the hall…people speaking with different accents, each carrying demeaning descriptive nicknames. All of us on the outside, looking in.
Oh, I know the historical folklore is symbolic… the picture of the Founding Fathers gathered around the table is not meant to exclude. But where would the Founding Fathers have been without Founding Mothers?
We all were taught as children that the English pronoun “he” and the noun “man” are just the way the English language is written! It is supposed to mean “all”. But we humans don’t have a good track record of being tolerant with others who are different from ourselves. From the flag to the bedroom, some of us seek to force all others into one common mold of an “American”.
But I don’t think that should’ve been the spirit in which our free country was created. And it occurs to me that the pretty, “one size fits all” dramatizations about the birth of our country, the ones we’ve been shown, told to believe in and not to question, are not benign! The words we use, and the pictures we see over time influence our future. Just read the “official account” of any historical moment. Then look at the very word “history”! I mean it is literally “his story”.
Anyway as the celebrations to give thanks and praise to our (white wealthy male) founders, I just don’t feel it. And this year my decorations for my Fourth of July picnic (according to the TV special, we all have one (has anyone given the homeless and poor people their invitations?) well, my red-white-and-blue decorations are edged in black. A dream, an ideal is dying for me. I hope she can recover because I believe in her and I want her to live on. For all of us.
-Kathy Ruffner-Linn, Raleigh NOW
Kathy wrote this a couple of years ago but it is still current today