Erica reflects on the state of America’s freedoms on the occasion of its birthday. Image from huffingtonpost.com.
I always get a little squicky when the Fourth of July rolls around in the U.S. When we’re encouraged to be blindly patriotic and cheer for the greatest, freest, most independent nation in the world (trademark). My discomfort doesn’t stem from lack of appreciation for what America’s system has achieved — a flexible government that has adapted over time to accommodate a burgeoning population of outspoken and independent people. I sharply disagree with all of the “-est”s floating around. For the “freest” nation on Earth, we seem to have trouble recognizing the choices and rights of the unwillingly pregnant, the trans, the queer, and the poor. For the “greatest” nation on Earth, we seem to have a very hard time finding compassion for those who are hard up, have mental illnesses, or have been victimized.
Of course, the U.S. isn’t alone in these difficulties. Canada, often viewed by liberal Americans as what America ought to be, continues to wrestle with appropriate recognition of its First Nations populations. China hasn’t figured out that a coherent domestic violence law could save lives. In Tahrir Square, as has happened in so many other massive human gatherings, predators have sexually assaulted female demonstrators. It’s a human problem, not limited by nationality or culture, that we tend to view “equality” through a very narrow lens. Some examples:
- Cheering for the “Land of the Free” while allowing your son to wear a t-shirt that reads “Cool story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich“
- Advocating for democratic freedom while robbing another person of their physical autonomy and safety
- Claiming the right of “free speech” to use domestic violence and rape for the advertisement of products
- Cheering for the “country where we can do ANYTHING we want!” while advocating against abortion access, same-sex relationships, and gender-affirming surgeries
- Barring trans women from festivals and spaces designated “women only”
- Referring to beige items as “nude” when, for many people, beige is not “nude”
- Making any attempt to differentiate between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor
Some of these examples are minor; others are a bit more serious. At the crux of each one, however, is a certain amount of hypocrisy. Freedom is wonderful, as is equality, but in each of these examples someone is left out. In an increasingly zero-sum world, the basic human right of independence begins taking on so many qualifiers that it eventually becomes meaningless. Power, privilege, and simple ignorance — of which we are all guilty, myself included — gradually wear it down.
As always, I find myself writing into the “Now what?” corner of thinking. If everything’s so bad, how do we make it better?
To me as an American, it’s about focusing not on where we are now, but where we want to go. When I think of the “Land of the Free,” I’ve long since ceased believing that America has achieved this moniker yet. Instead, I think of it as a goal, a destination. Maybe if we say it enough, we’ll become it (hey, it works in cognitive-behavioural therapy). And maybe if we continue to check ourselves when we fail to achieve that goal — as the Al Jazeera video does — we can bring ourselves one step closer.
But only if we’re verbal. Only if we’re outspoken. Only if we continue to push, to try, and to be willing to try again when we fail.