Before he left, our former editor Anthony Pignataro gave me this advice: Follow more people on Twitter. He said he’d been intentionally doing this for the last year or two, following accounts from active Native Hawaiians, people of color, women, and other marginalized voices, and that the diversity of their perspectives influenced his views on a number of issues.
I’ve followed his advice, pursuing fringe viewpoints to a sometimes unnerving degree (Alex Jones’ tweets can be genuinely frightening). As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Diversity of perspectives is a good thing. It breaks us out of echo chambers and challenges our beliefs so we emerge with an evolved opinion or, at least, better understandings of our own views and their counterpoints.
This Fourth of July, tweets made me contemplate the celebratory mood of the holiday and questions I’d been grappling with for some time. As someone born and raised on occupied land, with the blood of the oppressed in my veins, what does it mean to be an American, and am I proud to be one? It’s been a complicated question to answer lately, and this Fourth I didn’t quite feel like clothing myself in stars and stripes, waving sparklers in hand, and chanting “USA! USA!…”
For one, our president, the elected face of the United States of America, is a caricature of the worst of us: an insecure, senile, misogynist racist with no capacity for critical or coherent thought, gilded in spray tan, who’s wealthy for erecting self-branded towers that compensate for a gaping lack of a principled, meaningful existence. He’s late-stage capitalism incarnate, a cheaply manufactured piece of hollow, gold-plated trash whose only purpose is in auctioning every last remaining truth for an inch of political advantage or wealth.
Families seeking refuge in this country, which has claimed to be a beacon of hope for the world, are locked up along with their young children. Mass shootings in public schools have become an unavoidable reality. Federally appointed officials dismantle public trust with ineptitude and corruption. While being the richest country in the world, the U.S. has the highest level of child poverty of all developed countries, social workers and teachers who are underpaid, and cities that are without clean water. The national budget prioritizes weapons that contribute to the killing of innocent people across the globe. Our love of wealth and growth has made us the biggest carbon polluter in the history of the world.
The list goes on. Then there’s the problematic history of institutionalized slavery, colonization, and theft perpetrated by the United States… These truths are hard to reconcile with the opening message of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
What do we believe as a nation in these fractured times?
Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) tweeted “A reminder this Fourth of July: it was eight immigrants who signed the Declaration of Independence. Happy Independence Day.” Juliana Pache of The Fader shot back a correction, “colonizers********” then added, “imagine calling the founding fathers (violent, racist, greedy, tyrannical men) ‘immigrants.’ where did they immigrate???? they literally took over and purposely committed genocide. the audacity.”
Local Twitter questioned the meaning of Independence Day in a place where the U.S. squashed the independence of a sovereign kingdom. One tweeted, “July 4th 1894: Sanford B. Dole as well as other haole businessmen carried out their own constitution as the ‘Hawaiian League’ and took the Kingdom of Hawai‘i as their own & later became a part of the US through illegal annexation. #IndependenceDay? I think not.”
Another wrote, “I refuse to celebrate the ‘independence’ of those who stripped indigenous peoples across the globe of their sovereignty and pure cultural identity.”
On Jul. 7, State Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) and candidate for Congressional District 1 struck a more conciliatory tone, tweeting “The Declaration of Independence outlines three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we seem to have forgotten the ‘life’ part. Our founders believed that we have a right to live—to stay alive. Housing, healthcare, livable jobs are our rights.”
But to some, this grants the founders too much. UH Maui College professor and Native Hawaiian activist Kaleikoa Ka‘eo responded to Ing, saying “Truth be told, this is political mythology. Those words were drafted for wealthy white men by wealthy white men. Never intended to apply to the poor, indigenous natives, or blacks especially the enslaved if they were truly in alienable they would not have to be struggled for”
That’s a lot to chew on for a day I’ve been told is about freedom, hot dogs, and fireworks.
Still, reflecting on hard truths and contradictions isn’t a bad thing. We should reflect on American values and this country’s troubled history. That’s the only way to negotiate an inclusive narrative that recognizes marginalized people and a history of oppression, while still valuing the founding principles with an understanding that America has fallen short of these ideals in the past. These concepts will evolve as social change occurs towards a better country for all, but only if we stop to think, talk, and organize. The ability to do just that on a day off, while making s’mores with the family is the freedom I’m most grateful for.
Photo of @BerniceKing Twitter
Discussion 7/12/2018: Proud to be American? This week we reflected on what Independence Day means in these times, in this place.
See our article: https://mauitime.com/culture/history/happy-independence-day/
Are you proud to be an American?
Take The Poll: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/proudamerican